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18 Causes of Video Conferencing Fatigue

by William Elcock
18 Causes of Video Conferencing Fatigue

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of workers have had to transition to working from home. This has increased the prevalence of video conferencing and led to video conferencing fatigue — also known as “Zoom fatigue” or “Zoom burnout.” 

Zoom is just one platform, and this fatigue is related to other video conferencing platforms, such as WebEx and even FaceTime, which are seeing heavy usage due to the pandemic. 

Video conferencing fatigue happens when you are overly exposed to video calls. This increases our cognitive load and has many negative effects. 

For example, some professionals note they feel alienated and they’re losing their connections with their clients. Some people are faring worse in job interviews done via video conference. Due to the tendency of some video connections to be laggy, we may come across as being rude or less friendly. Lag can also make it difficult to react in an immediate and appropriate way, such as when someone tells a joke.

There are a number of reasons why employees are experiencing video conferencing fatigue. Most of them are tied to flaws in the way video conferencing platforms are designed. 

Platform fatigue also arose alongside the spike in the time employees spend video conferencing. In the first 11 business days of March 2020 alone, Cisco’s WebEx platform hosted a staggering 5.5 billion meeting minutes

Here, we explore the issues employees everywhere are facing due to ongoing video-based meetings at home and in the office:

female employee video conference call monitor

18 causes of video conferencing fatigue

  1. The increased level of close eye contact during video conferencing is draining: Usually, the cognitive load that occurs during a presentation or meeting is limited to the speaker, who might make eye contact with several people. However, in a video conferencing call, everyone is looking at everyone else all of the time. This causes undue stress for all of the participants of the video call, according to Jeremy Baileson, the founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab.

  1. The sizes of the faces might be too large: Baileson points out that faces in a video conference in full-screen mode are relatively large. When this is the case, the size of the face can be too large for comfort. This is because we are usually close to our monitors and being that close is usually reserved for intimate scenarios, such as in mating or conflicts. This concept of intimate space was first introduced by Edward Hall in 1969. Your brain essentially translates the proximity of faces during a video conference to an intense situation.

  1. Looking at yourself all the time is exhausting: We’re all familiar with the square of ourselves that shows up during video calls. It takes up a lot of our attention. Most people can’t handle this for long periods. People tend to be critical of themselves when staring at an image of themselves. Constantly seeing yourself as you communicate can be exhausting.

  1. Reduced mobility puts us in a worse cognitive state: In-person conversations and audio-only conversations allow us to move around more. However, due to the limited view of the webcams we use for video conferencing, we have to stay put, so the people we’re talking to can see us. Baileson notes that this makes us perform worse cognitively.

  1. Video conferencing makes it more difficult for us to interpret non-verbal cues: During a video call, it’s more difficult for us to pick up on cues such as how someone shifts their body position in response to something that was said.

  1. Non-verbal cues during a video call may be misinterpreted: Baileson notes that the person you’re speaking to might be reacting to something off-screen in cases like this, and some reactions don’t have anything to do with you. 

  1. Over-reliance on listening to words: Don’t let this one throw you off. Of course, you should pay attention to what other people are saying. However, due to our not being able to rely on non-verbal cues as much when video conferencing, we have to pay closer attention to the words that are being spoken. In a face-to-face conversation, you unconsciously monitor for non-verbal cues and can interpret what these mean, adding value to conversations. With video conferencing platforms, you use more energy trying to extract more meaning from the speech of participants. 

  1. It’s difficult to maintain eye contact: Laura Dudley, a behavior analyst at Northeastern University, echoes the cognitive drain caused by video conferencing. She notes that it’s practically impossible to maintain eye contact while on a video call. In her words, “You might find yourself toggling back and forth between your webcam and the other person, but this is not the same as sustained, joint eye contact between two people. And keep in mind that the other person is probably doing the same toggling.” If you want to look into their eyes, you have to look at your camera. And if you want to acknowledge them making eye contact with you, then you have to look away at the screen. “At one point, I was using five different video platforms to keep up with work, classes and family and friends — my head was spinning.”

  1. Video conferences can cause a similar level of stress as public speaking: Baileson notes that many people are afraid of public speaking. With video conferencing platforms, you’re aware there’s a group of faces watching your every move. This can be a stressful experience.

  1. Work and personal life not separated: Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Insead who explores sustainable learning and development in the workplace, notes that our different social roles tend to happen in different places. With video conferencing, this is no longer the case. We are basically using the same technology to carry out both work and personal meetings. 

  1. We can feel forced into video calls: Petriglieri notes that sometimes we may feel forced into video conferencing calls. 

  1. Video calls remind us we’ve lost access to in-person meetings: Petriglieri also notes that having a video meeting can serve as a reminder of our temporary inability to meet in person. 

  1. Lack of downtime: Marissa Shuffler, an associate professor at Clemson University who’s researching workplace well-being and teamwork, notes that working from home tends to give employees the impression they need to work harder to secure their jobs. This leads to a lack of downtime at home for employees.

  1. Negative associations with video conferencing platforms: We’re always unconsciously calculating the potential costs and rewards of situations. Jenna Lee, in an article for the Psychiatric Times, notes there is possibly a lack of perceived reward related to video conferences. Social interactions are associated with our reward circuits and tend to release oxytocin. Evidence seems to indicate that face-to-face interactions tend to activate the regions of our brain associated with reward. More social interaction is associated with more perceived reward. Our brain is ranking video conferencing relatively low when it comes to reward. 

  1. Anxiety about our workspaces: Video conferencing in today’s world tends to mean working from home. This leads to anxiety about our background and worrying about if children or family members will barge in during meetings.

  1. Too many faces affect our ability to properly focus: Andrew Franklin, an assistant professor of cyber-psychology at Virginia’s Norfolk State University, notes that having to pay attention to too many faces during a video call is taxing on us. This results in our being “engaged in numerous activities, but never fully devoting ourselves to focus on anything in particular,” Franklin says. Our brains often fail to manage this effectively. 

  1. Maintaining focus during a video call is taxing, and it can be tempting to multi-task: During a video call, you may be tempted to send emails and do other work on your computer. This type of distraction can be hard to avoid, since all of this functionality is available on the devices we use for video conferencing. In many cases, our attention is split between different tasks. 

  1. Technical issues can lead to exhaustion: We have all probably experienced issues with getting a video call to run smoothly. However, having to deal with issues such as lag and difficulty hearing can lead to frustration and contribute to platform fatigue. 

Video conferencing fatigue occurs largely due to the cumulative effect of being exposed to various aspects of video conferencing software for extended periods of time. 

These many factors can make the experience of video conferencing taxing, stressful and draining.

While this problem should be taken seriously, it’s important to remember that video conferencing isn’t inherently bad. It’s a useful tool that’s helping us to stay connected during difficult times. 

Armed with the knowledge of the causes of the negative effects of video conferencing and how they manifest themselves, we can make a change to improve our use of the platforms and prevent fatigue. 

Related articles

• eWEEK: Video conferencing

• IT Business Edge: Video conferencing

• Webopedia: Video conferencing

  This article was originally published on Friday Mar 26th 2021
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