Once we understand some of the causes, we can take action to seek help and support.

How many people have used video conferencing to the point of exhaustion, almost one year on from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Working from home, attending Church service from home, connecting with loved ones from a distance—everything moved online and onto video conferencing and team collaboration platforms.

Workers started getting diagnosed as having burned themselves out from such fatigue, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In a ranking of 69 cities in terms of burnout, a study by Savvy Sleeper showed that Asian cities dominated the Top 10. Manila ranked highest among Asian cities.

‘Zooming fatigue’ is real

Just as the term ‘googling’ is now universally taken to refer to using the Google search engine, the term for video conferencing became ‘Zooming’ last year; while ‘Zoom fatigue’ is now the term used for the unpleasant consequences from extended videoconferencing. Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), identified four causes of Zoom Fatigue.

  • Prolonged periods of close-up eye contact
    Close-ups from videoconferencing calls also encroach on your personal space. Bailenson explained: “…when you’re with coworkers or even strangers on video, you’re seeing their face at a size that simulates a personal space that you normally experience when you’re with somebody intimately.” That kind of close-up usually only happens in an intense situation like the start of a fight. He suggested reducing the size of the window or altogether taking out the full-screen option.
  • Seeing oneself constantly on camera in real-time
    Seeing yourself on camera for an extended period can cause fatigue. Video platforms usually have a square that lets the user see himself for the number of hours the videoconferencing lasts. Research has shown that constantly seeing oneself can have negative emotional reactions unless you are a narcissist. Bailenson has suggested using the ‘hide self-view’ option. Right-click your photo when your face is framed properly in the video.
  • Restricted mobility from long spurts of video calls
    To stay within in a camera’s angle of view, a person also has to stay in a limited space, with limited freedom of movement. Bailenson has suggested the use of an external keyboard so that if the camera is part of the laptop, we can at least stretch away from the screen. An external camera can also be used.
  • Video chats exert a much higher cognitive load than in-person meetings
    When making use of a video platform, we put more effort in gestures. To put your mind off understanding a wide array of those gestures, Bailenson recommended going on audio-only breaks. 

In Manila, call center workers were stuck on their video calls for so long that it affected their health negatively. One call center employee famously used his salary just to cover his hospital convalescence! Understanding some of the causes of this fatigue and improvising on the suggestions should hopefully give you some relief.

It is not all bad

Even as videoconferencing can cause problems, studies have shown that video calls help save on energy. One study showed that videoconferencing consumes less than 10% of the energy required for an in-person meeting. A recent review indicated that a majority of studies have shown that telecommuting saves energy. When commuting is substantially reduced, fossil fuel consumption also eventually decreases.

Bailenson’s recommendations seem to point out that Zoom fatigue can be avoided with some adjustments. In the final analysis, videoconferencing can be a useful tool if used with care. With it, businesses need not come to a grinding halt in the scary eventuality that the pandemic worsens further with new variants of the coronavirus.