When Zoom Fatigue Becomes Exhaustion: How to Help Employees Navigate Video-Related Stress

At first pass, it’s hard to understand what exactly about sitting in front of a screen and speaking with others is so energy consuming. But there are real psychological and physical explanations for that burnt-out feeling.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers have traded long commutes for short walks from bed to the home office, jeans for sweatpants, and in-person meetings and interactions with colleagues for videoconferences. We’re saving time by dodging rush-hour traffic and hours spent getting ready, but many of us are asking ourselves every evening: Why am I so exhausted when I stayed at home all day?

If you find yourself hitting an evening slump, even if it felt like all you did was sit in your desk chair all day, you’re not alone. Experts are calling it “Zoom fatigue,” that drained feeling that comes on after long days filled with video calls. It’s not enough that we spend hours a day interacting with coworkers on videoconferencing platforms. When the work computer shuts, many are opening their personal devices to use video for social interactions such as virtual happy hours, family chats, birthday parties, and so on.

When it comes to our screens, we’re overloaded. But what is it about videoconferencing that takes such a toll on us?

Why It Is so Exhausting

At first pass, it’s hard to understand what exactly about sitting in front of a screen and speaking with others is so energy consuming. But there are real psychological and physical explanations for that burnt-out feeling, and they include:

  • Videoconferencing requires a lot more attention than in-person meetings. If you get sidetracked or distracted during a presentation in the conference room, you can still rely on discreetly asking the person next to you to clarify, or simply raise your hand to ask a question. On video calls, however, it’s hard to find a moment to figure out what you missed without awkwardly interrupting. Thus, we feel an increased pressure to give 100 percent of our attention to the meeting in front of us and may feel discouraged from taking a few seconds to brainstorm a creative idea or process a nugget we just heard.
  • We lose the ability to reference nonverbal cues. Traditional communication gestures can easily get lost over videoconferencing. Hand gestures and in-person eye contact are not easily processed through a screen, which leaves us relying on strictly what the speaker is actually saying. Knowing this, we’re hyper-focused on ensuring our words convey our message exactly as we mean it, which can stifle personality and individuality.
  • Maintaining constant eye contact and attention is exhausting. In-person interactions allow us to show that we’re paying attention in a variety of ways. But on videoconferences, the only way to show that we’re all there is by looking at the screen. We fear that looking out the window or turning off the camera may suggest we’re losing focus, and we worry that any small change in facial expression—or a yawn—will be misinterpreted.

How to Mitigate “Zoom Fatigue”

While many of us are feeling tired of videoconferencing, the technology isn’t going anywhere. As Training leaders, what can we do to help our teams cope?

For one, we can recognize that not all video needs to be live—and that includes professional development training. Consider this the next time you organize a meeting over videoconferencing. Does it truly require all attendees to participate in real time? Or is there an option to share a pre-recorded message or module they can view on their own schedule? Asynchronous video offers the ability for employees to participate at their own pace and removes the anxiety and fatigue associated with live videoconferences.

Earlier this year, our team at Vyond conducted research with True Global Intelligence and found that more than one-quarter (26 percent) of professionals think their meetings are unproductive or unnecessary, with nearly half (48 percent) of managers saying there are more meetings than required in a week. If employees felt many of the meetings on their calendars were unnecessary prior to Coronavirus, it’s no question why we’re feeling this “Zoom fatigue” so intensely. It is a combination of the specific challenges of videoconferencing and the inherent challenges of meeting overload in our regular work cultures.

You also can communicate to employees when they can simply dial in to a meeting over the phone and skip turning on their cameras. This allows people to focus on the content of what’s being presented, versus worrying about how they look or feeling afraid to remove their gaze from the screen for a moment.

We’re all in this together. The world around us is a stressful, scary place for many of us, and removing the exhaustion stemming from our office technology is one way to reduce these feelings. As Training professionals, we have the ability to arm our organizations’ leaders with the knowledge and tools they need to create a culture that curbs burnout and puts the focus on the well-being of our employees.

Stacy Adams is dedicated to helping companies build better professional trainings as part of her role as head of Marketing at Vyond, a video animation software company that supports businesses in easily creating corporate videos. Adams is passionate about the power of video storytelling and believes in its unique ability to bolster corporate learning and address workplace issues. Founded as GoAnimate in 2007, Vyond has helped Global 2000 organizations, small businesses, and individuals produce more than 30 million videos. To learn more, visit: vyond.com.