May 22, 2023
14 min read
If you log off of work after a long day of back-to-back Zoom meetings and you find yourself feeling exhausted, you’re not alone. Many people find themselves tired, irritable, and downright exhausted after a few virtual meetings. The culprit? Zoom fatigue.
The COVID-19 pandemic saw a dramatic increase in virtual calls and video conferencing. In turn, it revolutionized the way businesses, schools, and even government entities conduct day-to-day tasks. It’s a great example of diversity and inclusion in the workplace too, as more people can participate in calls.
Learn what Zoom fatigue is, including why it happens, what it looks like, and how to combat it.
Zoom fatigue is defined as the burnout, exhaustion, and anxiety centered around excess video conferencing. Although it’s named after one of the most popular video conferencing tools, Zoom, many other applications can cause Zoom fatigue, including:
Although communication technology is beneficial in so many ways, this type of fatigue is one of the unintended consequences.
The term “Zoom fatigue” was first introduced by Eric Yuan, the founder of Zoom. Yuan opened up about how he struggled with fatigue from taking many video calls. In fact, he said he had 19 back-to-back video meetings at one point.
Even though work from home jobs are convenient for many, Zoom fatigue is one of the potential drawbacks.
Although they’re both similar and closely tied to each other, Zoom anxiety and Zoom fatigue are two different terms.
Zoom anxiety refers to the physical manifestations of anxiety and dread when using video applications like Zoom. For example, you might feel panicked when you have online meetings or when you’re required to talk or turn on your camera. This results from the pressure of having to “perform” during calls, as video conferencing doesn’t feel as natural as a typical in-person meeting.
On the other hand, Zoom fatigue is the feeling of exhaustion due to the frequency or length of Zoom calls throughout the day.
In a similar vein, Zoom fatigue and screen exhaustion are also closely associated with one another.
Think of Zoom fatigue as a subtype of screen exhaustion. Whereas screen exhaustion is the fatigue you feel after looking at an online screen for hours on end, Zoom fatigue is the specific exhaustion and fatigue that comes with taking many virtual calls.
It’s extremely important to understand this phenomenon better, as this type of exhaustion can lead to other consequences, such as quiet quitting. Thanks to emerging data, researchers can use Zoom fatigue statistics to paint a clearer picture for what that looks like for employees across the U.S.
One of the most insightful Zoom fatigue statistics is the fact that employees who are younger than 50 and can work from home are more likely to report Zoom fatigue than their older counterparts.
It’s also more common for people with a bachelor’s degree or other higher education to say they experience feeling worn out from using video conferencing platforms.
Hopefully, as researchers continue to study the effects of Zoom fatigue — despite the push to return to the office — more Zoom fatigue statistics will highlight the importance of combating this type of physical and mental exhaustion.
Zoom fatigue isn’t as common as you might think. Based on the latest research, about 1 in 4 people experience Zoom fatigue, as reported in 2022 by the Pew Research Center.
It was a bit more common a few years prior, in 2020. About 37% of people who regularly used video conferencing tools reported that they’re exhausted from how much time they spend on virtual meetings and calls.
However, other sources argue that more than half of employees who work from home experience this type of virtual fatigue.
Since the concept of Zoom fatigue is still relatively new, there’s a bit of debate over why it happens. Still, researchers have identified a handful of reasons worth exploring. Here are the five most common causes of Zoom fatigue.
When you’re working in person at an office, you hardly ever see yourself. Unless you’re touching up your makeup in the bathroom, you’re not usually studying your appearance. However, on Zoom calls, you’re looking at yourself for upwards of five hours a day. This is totally unnatural, according to human interaction experts.
In fact, seeing yourself constantly actually makes you more critical of yourself. This is both taxing and stressful for your psyche.
Usually, in-person meetings make it easier to read people’s emotions and understand their tone more clearly. When you’re online though, you have to translate body language like facial expressions through an added layer: a computer screen.
Nonverbal communication, such as hand gestures, plays a vital role in the understanding and interpretation of social interactions. However, on video calls, certain non-verbal cues may be limited or distorted, making it more challenging to interpret the full context of the conversation.
On top of that, sometimes people cut in and out, which can make it harder to hear and understand what they’re saying (yet another layer of stress). That being said, virtual meetings require more effort, even though you might not realize it, your subconscious certainly does.
Cognitive overload is also an issue. In virtual meetings, the temptation to multitask and divide attention between the screen, chat messages, and other applications can lead to cognitive overload. This divided focus can be mentally exhausting and reduce our ability to fully engage in the conversation.
When people are working in an environment like an office, you’re moving more often than you would at home. For example, you might walk downstairs to the break room for a cup of coffee, or walk from meeting room to meeting room, depending on your schedule. You might even go out to lunch with coworkers.
But when you have hours of virtual meetings, the reality is, you’re sitting there for hours, meeting after meeting. There’s no need (or time) to get up from your desk if your meetings are back-to-back. Plus, people usually take their meetings in the same spot (like a home office or at the kitchen table).
Research shows that your brain works better when you’re moving, so sitting for so long can negatively affect your cognitive ability.
Because virtual meetings often spill over into your personal life, that can add an extra level of stress to your day. For example, all the normal day-to-day things that happen at home — the Amazon delivery person banging on the door, your dog barking, or your sister-in-law cooking in the kitchen — can feel and be disruptive to a Zoom meeting.
Being constantly anxious about these things, despite the fact that they’re out of your control, can be exhausting, frankly. There’s even a name for it: Zoom anxiety.
Plus, if you work from home, there’s essentially no work-life balance. Living and working in the same space can also be tiring.
When you’re having a meeting in person, you’re usually not making eye contact the entire time. You might take a look at the clock on the wall or look down at your agenda, making sure you’re on schedule for the day. However, when you’re on a Zoom call, you’re making constant, sustained eye contact with the people in the meeting.
This isn’t natural for us. Research also points out the fact that not only are you making constant, direct eye contact, but you’re also face-to-face with all your coworkers.
For example, when you’re at work in the office, you’re pretty much never face-to-face with a coworker. Usually, you’re sitting next to someone or standing in front of them — certainly not inches away from their face. But when you’re on a Zoom or Google Meet call, you often only see their face, which gives the impression that you are face-to-face.
According to human interaction experts, this type of confrontation leads our brain to believe we’re in a serious situation. In other words, your brain is constantly “on” and doesn’t get a break.
If you think you might have Zoom fatigue, there are a few signs you should look out for. Zoom fatigue symptoms can vary person-to-person, but some of the most common signs include:
Although researchers are still very much in the early stages of studying Zoom fatigue, communication experts have leaned on the newly proposed Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue Scale — also called the ZEF Scale — to translate Zoom fatigue into a measurable concept.
The ZEF Scale was created by researchers and students mostly based at Stanford University to address the need for more understanding around Zoom fatigue. This scale has about 15 questions designed to gauge Zoom fatigue, including items like:
Organizations like government entities, schools, and workplaces have used the ZEF scale to create best practices around video conferencing.
Luckily, there are some good ways you can combat Zoom fatigue and improve your wellbeing during and after work. Here are the seven best ways to fight off Zoom fatigue and avoid burnout altogether.
Most people only use Zoom when they’re on call at work and that’s part of the problem. Here’s why.
When you solely use video conferencing apps for work, this can make you dread having to take a Zoom call, regardless of the purpose. Before the call even starts, you’re feeling anxious and tired. To combat this, try doing some activities you like over Zoom as well.
After all, video conferencing apps were created for more than just workforce tools. If you’re looking for a more enjoyable activity to do on Zoom, you could try doing things like:
Although you’ll certainly be faced with mandatory Zoom meetings, taking a break here and there can make a world of difference. Chances are, you don’t have to attend every single meeting on your calendar. Some meetings are even recorded so you can review them later.
Schedule regular breaks between meetings or video calls. Use this time to step away from the screen, stretch, hydrate, or engage in a quick mindfulness exercise. These breaks allow your mind and body to recharge and prevent prolonged exposure to the virtual environment.
Similarly, you can experiment with your schedule to see what works best for you. For example, some people do best when they have back-to-back meetings, so they can get them over with and have the rest of the day to focus and recharge. For others, spreading out your meetings throughout the day (or better yet, throughout the week) can help you from feeling overwhelmed by virtual calls.
There’s nothing wrong with setting boundaries. If you’re using a tool like Google Calendar, you can schedule a block of “focus time” from noon to 2 p.m. so that people can’t schedule meetings with you during that time.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule that you have to have your video camera on 24/7. As long as your employer doesn’t have a mandatory camera-on rule, consider turning off your camera every once in a while.
Plus, if you have your camera off, you can combat the lack of activity by knocking out some household chores or jumping on the treadmill. This can even increase your energy during the day and make you feel less tired.
Another way to combat Zoom fatigue is to practice outside of meetings to get more comfortable. Becoming more comfortable in virtual meetings can take some of the stress off your shoulders.
You can practice with an AI speech coach like Yoodli. Yoodli analyzes your speech for improvements by examining essential speech statistics, such as word choice, pacing, and even your body language.
The best part is — unlike most other speech coach apps — Yoodli is totally free. Take advantage of not only the speech analysis but also the resulting coaching comments. These can completely transform the way you speak in Zoom meetings.
You can also use Yoodli to combat Zoom fatigue by using Yoodli during meetings, which gives you real-time tips and nudges to make sure you stay on topic with your talking points during your call. Only you will be able to see these nudges, no matter how many people are in the meeting.
Create a comfortable and well-lit environment for your video calls. Make sure there’s adequate lighting to lessen any potential eye strain and consider adding some plants or personal touches to your surroundings to create a pleasant atmosphere. For example, some easy-to-care-for houseplants to add to your home office include succulents like cacti and jade or aloe vera, and pothos varieties.
A comfortable and inviting environment can help alleviate the mental fatigue associated with virtual meetings.
One of the best ways to reduce or lessen eye strain is through the 20-20-20 method. Every 20 minutes, look away from the screen and focus on an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This exercise helps relax your eyes and reduces the strain caused by prolonged screen time.
Zoom fatigue can be particularly challenging for students who spend significant time attending virtual classes and studying online. Here are some additional strategies specifically tailored to help students combat Zoom fatigue.
Establishing a more structured schedule that includes dedicated time for breaks, physical activity, and offline activities can make a world of difference. Having a well-planned routine allows for better time management and ensures that you have a balance between screen time and other activities.
Not all online interactions require video. When possible, consider switching to audio-only mode during classes or meetings where visual engagement isn’t essential. This change allows you to focus on the content being discussed without the added mental strain of constant visual stimulation.
Don’t limit your learning solely to video lectures and online materials. Explore alternative resources such as textbooks, podcasts, or audiobooks to vary your learning experience. Incorporating different mediums can help reduce screen fatigue and engage different parts of your brain.
Rather than being passive recipients of information, actively participate in virtual classes. Take notes, ask questions, and contribute to discussions. Actively engaging in the learning process helps maintain focus and prevents mental exhaustion.
During breaks between classes or study sessions, practice mindfulness techniques to relax and recharge. Close your eyes, take deep breaths, and focus on the present moment. Mindfulness exercises can help alleviate stress and provide a mental break from the virtual environment.
Stay connected with classmates outside of class time. Organize virtual study groups or social gatherings where you can engage in non-academic conversations. Connecting with peers allows for social interaction and reduces the feeling of isolation often associated with online learning.
Don’t forget to prioritize self-care practices. Get lots of quality sleep, eat nutritious foods, and engage in regular physical activity like going on walks. Taking care of your physical and mental well-being is crucial in combating Zoom fatigue and promoting overall academic success.
By implementing these strategies, students can mitigate the effects of Zoom fatigue and create a healthier and more balanced virtual learning experience.
Zoom fatigue can be particularly challenging for students who spend significant time attending virtual classes. By incorporating structured schedules, opting for audio-only mode, utilizing alternative learning materials, actively engaging in classes, practicing mindful breaks, connecting with peers, and prioritizing self-care, students can combat Zoom fatigue and make the most of their online learning journey.
Remember, finding a balance between screen time and offline activities is key to maintaining your energy and well-being as a student in the digital age.
Zoom fatigue is just that — exhausting. But it doesn’t have to derail your life. By implementing some of these strategies to fight off burnout from video conferencing, you can reclaim your life and get back to enjoying the things you like to do.
Although video conferencing doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, that doesn’t mean you have to resort to a life full of mentally and physically draining virtual meetings.
Getting better at speaking is getting easier. Record or upload a speech and let our AI Speech Coach analyze your speaking and give you feedback.