Zoom, Google Hangouts, and back-to-back calls are the new normal for work communication in quarantine from coronavirus. But they can wear you out much more than a quick office meeting. It’s called ‘zoom fatigue’ and it has very real effects on your brain.
Actors often speak of how tiring putting on a play or scene is because it’s projecting into the void. You’re not getting any energy back physically from the audience, like in a face-to-face conversation. This effect carries over into the performance of smiling, talking, and voicing into another void, a tiny webcam. This causes cognitive dissonance, where what you think and see don’t entirely match, and your brain works harder to find the pattern and get that feedback.
Here’s what it is, with tips on how to reduce it.
The video lacks visual cues the brain needs to read people
Your brain relies on cues. Visual notes of whether or not you’re boring someone, having a partner ready to speak, need to slow down the info you’re talking about, and much more. You can’t read boredom as easily on a gallery view of a dozen half-frozen faces. Silence? You might be boring someone or they might be paying really close attention. You don’t have much to notice and often can’t hear a muted sigh or see someone pulling up their cellphone to find something else to pay attention to. There are not enough visuals for your mind to pick up on.
“Some people have their cameras turned off, and sometimes there are more people than an array can fit, making things even more challenging. There is often a temporal delay. All of these factors make it necessary to consciously think about things that normally would be fairly automatic,” Priti Shah, a psychology researcher at the University of Michigan said in a tip sheet.
Distractions abound in a video call environment, distracting the brain
You can’t see yourself in real life. So seeing a mirror causes you to think about yourself and get self-conscious about how you look or the faces you’re making. This is another thought running in the back of actors’ minds, which is why they get tired after a performance.
Add in children, email pings on the screen, a messy kitchen, animals, or noisy housemates in the background, and you’re sure to lose focus on the important presentation. The brain is overwhelmed.
Double-booked calls leave no room for rest
Your brain cannot handle too many challenging tasks in a row. If your day has one Zoom call after another, you’re taking no breaks for the outdoors or to simply absorb info. This causes cerebral congestion, something already plaguing the modern workday.
Broken-up calls, video lag, or a lack of focus from presenters can all tax the mind. Side chats are distracting too. Questions get meetings down several rabbit holes and off-task.
Have everyone participate! Give meetings an agenda and present yours. Meetings, where everyone presents their cool way to market or their dog-walking app fix or whatever you work on, are far more interesting than hearing one person discuss a textbook presentation for an hour.
Hack off unnecessary Zoom calls. Even switch to email for things that can be emailed. Make it a phone call, which doesn’t require as much sensory guessing. Just cut down that fog of trying to interpret a frozen screen or be embarrassed about a messy background.
Make calls shorter and take breaks. Suggest this to a supervisor if possible or simply walk away when there’s a lull in conversation or before meetings officially begin. This is why the Pomodoro Technique works, 25-minute sprints of focus with 5-minute breaks.
Separate your workspace from your home space. Set up a desk or even a room divider. Get the toys out of your Zoom view, and vice versa. Get zoom and even your whole computer in a place you set it up and leave it when the workday is done.
Make it comfy. Get a standing desk if you’re fidgety or have many sitting hours. Get a footrest if you need to sit to focus. Just make it as smooth as possible to keep focus.
Get moving with every little break. Walk, meditate, or do yoga on breaks from calls. The outdoors and getting moving aren’t only relaxing, they help heal the brain.
Cut the chatter. Side chats in the little box might be fun gossip or even great for adding links. But those are distractions, and distraction causes Zoom fatigue. Save questions and comments for the end of presentations.
Chill out. A meeting isn’t everything. Whether you rolled your eyes on a key point, had messy hair for a screenshot, or couldn’t retain a really complicated topic doesn’t make you a failure. It’s just part of the process.