Science pinpoints why we all have “Videoconference Fatigue”

Can’t stand the idea of yet another Zoom meeting? Did video conferences feel somewhat novel and different a year ago but now feel like the worst (and longest) part of your day? If so, a new study just released by the American Psychological Association may have figured out why.

Researchers say people experience far more video conference fatigue if they feel no sense of “group belonging” among the people they’re chatting with virtually. Conversely, people who feel more in sync with their virtual colleagues report a positive outlook when it comes to video meetings.

A total of 55 people working in various US industries took part in this study. Each person was asked to describe how they feel about video meetings. Study authors expected to hear that longer video conferences would lead to more fatigue, but that wasn’t always the case.

“We expected that aspects of being on video would be related to fatigue, such as watching everyone’s faces closely on a screen or even watching yourself, but we didn’t find this to be true in our study. Longer meetings also didn’t impact fatigue,” says lead researcher Andrew Bennett, PhD, an assistant professor at Old Dominion University. “However, the importance of feeling a sense of belonging or connection with the group really minimized fatigue after a videoconference.”

Each study participant was given nine hourly surveys every day for a period of five consecutive working days. Roughly speaking, 1,700 of those surveys were completed and sent back, and each employee engaged in about five to six video conferences per week.

A few quotes from participants include “video chats are taxing on the mind and spirit,” “I’m tired of being in them,” and “I’m extra tired of being in them.” 

For what it’s worth, 7% of respondents didn’t indicate feeling any Zoom fatigue at all.

As far as watching oneself on a webcam, or turning a webcam off entirely, the findings were fairly mixed. Some people find using their webcam exhausting and prefer to turn it off, but many others say they find it rude when people turn their webcam off during a video conference. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference.

Across the board, however, participants told researchers that video chats have robbed us all of casual office conversation. “Everyone just wants to get in and get out, log in and log off,” one participant explained. “There’s very little chatter before and after the meeting like there would be in real life.”

Pulling on that thread a bit more, the lack of casual chats in video calls is probably a big reason why so many find them exhausting. Talking about the mundanities of life builds team cohesion and a sense of community, the very factor study authors say can alleviate video chat fatigue.

Also of particular note, the research team says their work suggests the early afternoon is the best time to hold a video conference. It was at this time participants reported feeling the least fatigue.

“We know video conferences are helpful,” Bennett concludes. “We get more emotional and nonverbal information from them, but that doesn’t mean everything needs to be done in a videoconference. Sometimes a phone call or email is more effective and efficient.”

If you can’t get through video meetings longer than 10 minutes anymore without your eyes starting to shut, maybe try striking up a conversation about something unrelated to work. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll find yourself actually looking forward to an online meeting. 

The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.