May 22, 2023
8 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.
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.
Still, many people find themselves tired, irritable, and downright exhausted after a few virtual meetings. The culprit? Zoom fatigue.
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:
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.
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.
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 breakroom 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 five 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.
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 Private Yoodli, 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.
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.