Zoom fatigue” – yet another phrase we would never have said or heard of this time last year! And it would be fair to say that many people are in the “I’m bored of it all now” stage. 

2020 has certainly been a masterclass in seeing how mental anxiety and stress increases when we are missing some of our basic human needs.  The most important of our basic needs are currently being compromised – certainty (I don’t need to say much more on that), fairness, autonomy and especially, connection.

Anxiety and stress are showing up as unusual behaviours in our day to day.  From highly emotive responses, demanding and spiky behaviour, refusing to try new things, negativity, frustration, micromanaging, connecting too many dots, taking things personally, and reverting back to a safe zone, to name just a few.

According to a report in Psychiatric Times, “Zoom fatigue” describes the tiredness, worry, or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms of communication.  In it, they have highlighted a number of reasons why it’s become a phenomenon in 2020. 

Mental fatigue can be attributed to a psychological trade-off process, where every behaviour is unconsciously evaluated between the likely rewards versus the cost to us of doing it.  Rewards activate certain areas in the brain and increase alertness, energy, and motivation.  The opposite causes fatigue.

Fatigue (low reward and high mental cost) by using platforms like Zoom could be caused by:

  • The lack of proper eye contact, as you’re not looking directly at each other, especially if there are 3 or more people. Eye contact improves connection, and is associated with faster responses, facial recognition and increased likeability.
  • The milliseconds delay between visual and verbal responses on screen, which can have a negative effect on our perceptions of others, increasing distrust.
  • Reduced non-verbal cues we normally rely on for effective communication (such as facial expressions, touch, posture and body language).
  • Increased distractions caused by working at home (family, space, privacy), trying to multitask, and seeing your image on the screen.
  • Physical inactivity from sitting at the screen all day!
  • The stress and anxiety we are experiencing from the pandemic, financial insecurities and the extreme levels of uncertainty.

So what do we need to do to reduce our susceptibility to Zoom Fatigue? 

Psychologically, the opposite of reward is threat.  And when we feel psychologically threatened we get tunnel vision, have no new insights, decision making is harder, and it’s difficult to collaborate.  All that adrenalin, cortisol and testosterone is exhausting.

Instead, we want to activate the reward centre of our brain, and get some dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin pumping round our bodies!  There isn’t the same level of reward activation during video conferencing as there would be with face-to-face interactions, but we can improve it and make the most of the situation. And here are some ideas of how to do that:

  • Encourage psychologically safety – so people feel they can express ideas and concerns without fear of embarrassment or retribution, and that their input is valued.
  • Move from problem to solution focused.  Problems (and too much detail) can become dramas that we get bogged down by.
  • Increase the level of certainty about what’s going to happen.  Remember, uncertainty isn’t as bad as ambiguity (the brain hates mixed messages).  Keep people informed, communicate often and well, set expectations, share, send out an agenda ahead of the meeting.
  • Increase autonomy by giving people options on when and how to work, and to identify the choices they do have.  Ask people what works and doesn’t work with regard to video conference meetings and adapt accordingly (this also helps increase a sense of team spirit and therefore connection).
  • Increase trust by reducing ingroup/outgroup bias.  The ingroup are those we perceive as similar to us and the outgroup are those we don’t feel we have the same connection with. But everyone needs to feel listened to and appreciated, so give those in the outgroup a voice to be heard.
  • Reduce negativity bias.  A heartfelt thank you is underestimated.  Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggested that actively recording things you’re grateful for can have an impact on culture and the way that people interact.  At the start of your meeting ask everyone to list out people, events, lessons learnt etc that they are grateful for, and share them.  Practicing this is like exercising the “positive thinking” brain muscle, which helps you to find a different way of thinking about things, rather than dwelling in the negative.  And the more you practice seeing the positive, the more positives you see, improving overall well-being.
  • Exercise – get outside in the fresh air, find an exercise you enjoy, even dance round the kitchen to your favourite music!
  • Mental Well-beingpractice meditation, mindfulness, and to ask for help when it’s needed.
  • Meeting length – sometimes and for some discussions, meetings that are kept short and sweet are the ideal.

Hopefully, I’ve provided a few hints and tips that can be easily introduced to reduce Zoom fatigue. It would be great to hear any you’ve found.

And please get in contact if you would like to discuss this and other areas that Executive Coaching could help you and your team.

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