How to beat the Zoom fatigue

With less meets, shorter meets, better structures, more decisive leaders

‘Zoom fatigue’ was a noted phenomenon as early as April 2020.  It shares some flaws with face to face meets and many solutions are the same - less meets, shorter meets, better structures, more decisive leaders.

Any virtual meets (such as Zoom, Teams, Google) have added three other problems:

  • Very hard to read body language or make proper eye contact. As one commentator puts it"In a normal face-to-face interaction, we can see people and make direct eye contact. But with video calls, it is much harder. Hand gestures, micro expressions, lower body language — all these things are much harder to read during a video call. Not to mention many cues only last fractions of a second— difficult to pick up in real life, but near impossible with lag and bad video quality."
  • Distraction of self: this comes in two forms. First, you are uber conscious of how you look, in normal meetings you might worry that you have spinach in your teeth but in virtual ones you are constantly aware that you really need to dye your roots and that your room isn’t looking like a palace.  Second, you can become a pantomime villain with overly obvious gestures.  I have taken to waving hello and goodbye, sticking my real thumbs up, leaning forward with my chin cupping my face, using my very loud declaiming voice… I tire myself and possibly my colleagues.
  • Eye strain and tiredness: before the first lockdown my optician said that me getting my first glasses was still optional. Not anymore – I’ve gone from 20:20 vision to having trouble reading a normal book in good light. Psychologists at Stanford point out that ‘zooming’ is very tiring- to be able to see everyone and the feeling of constantly ‘presenting’ adds to the anxiety, which is exhausting.

In the early days we countered this with playing with the functionality such as novelty settings (appearing as little heads in cinema rows, backgrounds, filtering your appearance) and tried for as much interactivity as possible to keep everyone awake and slightly more engaged. Presenters appeared to be in spaceships or at the beach.  Some even had their face wander the page to emphasise a line when they shared a deck. 

The novelty quickly wore off and then children and pets became a welcome distraction.  No meeting was complete without a child yelling, as they ran past, 'Die Draco Malfoy!’ or asking to show you their LEGO model.  Kids are clever, they have only to make a small noise while Mum or Dad are trying to appear professional and the Disney channel will go on. Meanwhile everyone’s osteopath bill went up as we spent all day in the one chair.

If you are interested in measuring your own Zoom fatigue, you can take the Stanford Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue Scale survey and participate in the research project. 

So one year in, here are four ways to beat Zoom Fatigue: 

  1. Just suck it up.   

    The change curve famously acknowledges that things get worse before they get better; just accept the good (e.g. no commuting or Pret) and the bad (back ache).
  2. Provide ever more extravagant adjuncts.

    For example at the Summer Cocktail party mail everyone a shaker and ingredients. There are now companies that will send your team ‘things that surprise and delight’ as props. For a business meeting or training use breakouts, whiteboards, polls, quizzes etc. Do shoutouts about people's achievements at the beginning of every call. Consider doing silly things on Zoom such as everyone learning a certain dance move to get the oxygen flowing.
  3. Be a more effective and efficient boss:

    • set absolute limits of time on the agenda and decide the next actions if necessary for the group, if overrunning with no resolution
    • if in doubt make the decision which is simplest - Occam's Razor principle ("the simplest explanation is usually the right one").
    • do virtual meets with just two of you more often or if just two of you do an old fashioned call!
    • consider not having a meeting, but just occasionally making a decision instead
    • make a note to check that everyone in the room has been heard from – extroverts like me can easily take up 70% of the airtime if you let them
  1. Get better at, and more confident with, the functionality.

    Reduce from full screen. Once you have checked that your head is placed correctly and does not have a pole sticking out of it, click the hide self button so you are not longer distracted by your fringe or grubby filing cabinet. Occasionally, turn the camera off and have regular audio only times when you stretch and walk around to get much needed oxygen to the brain, which will help your cognition and with anxiety.

What's next?

It is obvious that there will be more flexible working after this. One CEO told me she had previously been very against home working, feeling it would not be as productive and that people would find it hard to separate business and home, but discovered it was possible to run an agency from her living room and has become a convert.  This will mean virtual calls with some at the office and some at home. This will add to the meeting complexity with "hybrid meetings" - half virtual meetings, half face-to-face in the office. Here it will be important to make sure that the virtual members will have a real presence in the room. 

What is the best solution to zoom fatigue?  It is the same as tiredness with any meeting - have less or go to less, make them tighter and make simple decisions faster. We offer a range of courses and events to help you with all aspects of self- and team-development, such as coping with change and bringing your team back into the office.  

How to create a good working environment, 29 April 10am - 11:30am
Last updated 05 October 2021