Since the onset of the coronavirus crisis, many of us have been on video calls more than ever, and it’s starting to take its toll. Between the frozen screens, the glitchy audio, and one-second delays, communicating over vid-chat can feel exhausting.
But why are so many of us feeling a sense of Zoom-fatigue? Let’s take a deeper look.
How is video chatting different from face-to-face interaction?
Believe it or not, video communication takes more effort than regular, in-person conversation. Chatting over Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime requires us to work harder to process non-verbal cues, like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of someone’s voice and body language. Paying such close attention to these hints burns a lot of energy.
“Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not,” explains Gianpiero Petriglieri, associate professor of workplace sustainability at INSEAD. “That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally.”
Organic lulls in conversation, or even short moments of silence, are also challenging over video. “Silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation. However, when it happens in a video call, you became anxious about the technology,” explains Professor Petriglieri.
Marissa Shuffler, an associate professor at Clemson University, says that the fatigue can also be attributed to the very fact that a camera is facing us. “When you’re on a video conference, you know everybody’s looking at you; you are on stage, so there comes the social pressure and feeling like you need to perform. Being performative is nerve-wracking and more stressful.” Add in the fact that you can see your own image in a video conference, an experience that makes us feel self-conscious and highly-aware of the way we look.
How do our current circumstances make the fatigue even worse?
It’s fairly obvious that the ongoing health pandemic has caused stress, but how has that contributed to our feeling of exhaustion when we video chat?
“The video call is our reminder of the people we have lost temporarily,” explains Professor Petriglieri. “It is the distress that every time you see someone online, such as your colleagues, that reminds you we should really be in the workplace together. What I’m finding is, we’re all exhausted; It doesn’t matter whether they are introverts or extroverts. We are experiencing the same disruption of the familiar context during the pandemic.”
Another contributor is that we are used to separating different aspects of our lives. Most people typically work in a place outside the home, interact with colleagues in a different manner than they’d interact with friends, and have different conversations in their private homes than they might out in public. But the quarantine has caused all of our discourse to take place in the same space: our own homes. That means we are having work-related conferences, happy hours with friends, and conversations with remote loved-ones all from the same spot. You’re opening your personal space to people who are usually kept a arms length. This disruption of our normally compartmentalized lives can result in serious exhaustion.
“Imagine if you go to a bar, and in the same bar you talk with your professors, meet your parents or date someone,” poses Professor Petriglieri. “Isn’t it weird? That’s what we’re doing now…We are confined in our own space, in the context of a very anxiety-provoking crisis, and our only space for interaction is a computer window.”
So how do we cure our Zoom-fatigue?
Both Professors Petriglieri and Shuffler suggest limiting our video conferences to those that are actually necessary. Work conferences have been conducted over the phone for years and might be more effective anyway.
Also consider taking breaks between video chats. Going straight from a video conference with a co-worker to a virtual hangout with friends, might create performative whiplash. Instead, take some time to walk around, to stretch and to be with yourself. That way you’ll feel more ready to go back in front of the camera when you need to.
And, of course, there’s no harm in going old-school. “Write a letter to someone instead of meeting them on Zoom,” Professor Petriglieri suggests. “Tell them you really care about them.”