Feeling like a ‘Zoom Zombie?’ Snap out of it with these five tips

October 20, 2021  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources, ,

“Some days I feel like a Zoom Zombie,” said Marschall S. Runge, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the U-M Medical School, executive vice president for medical affairs and CEO of Michigan Medicine. “Back-to-back meetings, without a break to pause and get away from the computer, just adds more stress to my day.” 

Runge is not alone.

“Zoom fatigue” have become new buzzwords for the weariness, eye strain and stress many feel from too many online meetings. And the data shows these meetings are continually on the rise, with no end in sight, ever since office workers turned to video conferencing as the most popular way to communicate during the pandemic. 

Zoom, which became the world’s most-used web conferencing platform during the pandemic, touts these annual statistics: 467,100 business customers, more than 3.3 trillion meeting minutes, 45 billion webinar minutes and 485 million mobile app users.

At Michigan Medicine alone, a brief review of Zoom activity in the month of February 2021 showed a total of 97,925 zoom meetings, accounting for 237,438,229 meeting minutes. Based on that month’s stats, we can assume that, on average, employees attend 3,497 meetings per day, which adds up to 8,479,937 daily minutes.

These statistics and his own feeling of zoom fatigue prompted Runge and his Stress + Burnout Task Force to challenge everyone at Michigan Medicine to reduce all standard meetings to 50 minutes using Microsoft Outlook defaults, allowing for a 10-minute pause between meetings or other work activities.

While Zoom and other digital ways to communicate aren’t going away any time soon, there are some tips — even solutions — to avoid the lack of productivity, weariness, eye strain and even headaches, which often occur when we go from one video call to the next without a pause.

  • Choose your tech solutions wisely

Tsedal Neeley, Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration at Harvard University and Author of Remote Work Revolution, believes Zoom fatigue represents a broader “Tech Exhaustion” phenomenon that encompasses our frustration with too much digital communication.  

The solution:Neeley suggests that individuals or teams should relook at their work options and mix up the digital tools they use, with the understanding that different tools come with distinct benefits and limitations.

“Just because videoconferencing is a good option for remote meetings doesn’t mean you should use it for most occasions, and just because video tools allow you to fully pack your calendar doesn’t mean you should,” she said.

How do we match digital tools with work needs? Tech experts place digital tools on a spectrum from lean to rich media. Lean media, such as email, convey less information and context, whereas rich media, such as video and face-to-face interaction, convey more. Consider using lean media for simple communications and routine tasks, and save rich media for nonroutine tasks, such as brainstorming and creative development.

Communication professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), examined the psychological consequences of spending hours per day on web conferencing platforms. He identified four consequences of and remedies for prolonged video chats.

  • Reduce your close-up eye contact

In an in-person meeting, people will vary where they are looking — from the speaker, to their notes, around the room, out the window. But on Zoom calls, everyone is looking at everyone, all the time. Plus, most video calls are set up to share a close up view, similar to the personal space you’d normally reserve for somebody you are personally close to, as opposed to a business associate, or even strangers. Too much intense close-up eye contact can lead to stress, similar to public speaking anxiety.

The solution: Take Zoom out of the full-screen option and reduce the size of the Zoom window relative to the monitor to minimize face size. You can also use an external keyboard to give you more space between you and the computer screen. 

  • Hide your self-view

Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing. It is like seeing yourself in a mirror — constantly. Research indicates it can even lead to negative emotions related to your appearance or how you respond to people and circumstances during the meeting.  

The solution: Use the “hide self-view” button, which you can access by right-clicking on your own photo, once your face is framed properly in the video.

  • Get up and move

In-person and audio phone conversations allow humans to walk around and move. But with videoconferencing, most cameras require that you stay in the same spot. Limited movement is not natural and according to Bailenson, growing research now indicates that when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively.

The solution: Think more about the room you use for videoconferencing, how the camera is positioned and whether an external keyboard can help create distance or flexibility. For example, an external camera farther from the screen could allow you to pace and doodle in virtual meetings. Also, turning the video off periodically during meetings is a good ground rule for teams and individuals.

  • Give yourself an “audio only” break

Nonverbal cues and gestures are an easy and comfortable way to communicate, but in video chats we must work harder to send and receive these signals. To agree, you must use an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up. In addition, gestures can mean different things in a video meeting, causing additional confusion. Bailenson believes this adds to our “cognitive load,” like using extra mental calories.

The solution: During long stretches of meetings, give yourself an “audio only” break. “This is not simply you turning off your camera to take a break from having to be nonverbally active, but also turning your body away from the screen. 

Visit the Path Forward website for additional resources to relieve work stress and burnout or to learn about the Pause for Well-Being Challenge.