COVID-19 Pandemic: Workers feeling 'Zoom Fatigue' as videoconferencing increases

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Many workers are feeling what's being called "zoom fatigue" as they continue to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent survey by Chicago-based Challenger, Gray and Christmas found 73% of companies plan to keep their teams working from home, even after the pandemic is over.

But those video meetings that have now taken over how people work and socialize are causing additional burnout to already anxious workers, according a release by the outplacement and career firm.

"As we do our work remotely and keep our distance from our closest friends and family, meetings are occurring throughout the workday and into the night, but the phenomenon known as 'Zoom fatigue' is a reality," said Andrew Challenger, Senior Vice President of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

The term refers to the videoconferencing app Zoom, which has been around since 2011. It's similar to other platforms like FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams. People are now using all those platforms for family get-togethers and virtual happy hours with friends.

Video conferencing was introduced by AT&T at the New York World's Fair in 1964, but it wasn't until the 2010s that video calls became popular.

With a market value of nearly $58 billion, Zoom reported first-quarter revenue of $328.2 million, up 169% from 2019. It's total revenue is expected to be about $1.8 billion for the full fiscal year 2021.

"Psychologists agree that these virtual meeting places can be taxing on the brain." said Challenger. "People around the country are telling us they're experiencing this extra anxiety, this fatigue around being camera ready staring straight forward at their screen, sitting at the same spot for five or six plus hours every day."

The nonverbal cues the brain picks up during face-to-face interactions are missing, said Challenger. Equally, he said looking at oneself during these meetings can be distracting.

"This way of communicating is not going anywhere anytime soon, especially as long as the virus keeps workers and students at home and social distancing continues. Employers need to be mindful that their teams may be experiencing some burnout from the totality of the pandemic as well as the videoconferencing, and should make accommodations to take some of the strain off workers," said Challenger.

It does, however, have some benefits.

"Most people are more productive if they get dressed and groomed to take a visual meeting. People also enjoy seeing and not just hearing their colleagues. They no longer have to worry as much about their wardrobe or commuting to attend, and they can immediately return to other tasks once a meeting ends," said Challenger.

Challenger offers the following ideas to combat videoconferencing fatigue:

  • Try not to schedule too many meetings in a row. If you have multiple meetings planned for a day, take a break between meetings - the longer, the better. Take a walk, eat a snack or meal, meditate, or get up and do stretches. Be sure to add your virtual meetings to your calendar so it is clear if you are heading toward overload.


  • Consider switching some of the meetings to the "old-fashioned" way. Will a phone conversation accomplish what is necessary to complete a task or connect with a colleague, client, or customer (or friend or loved one)?

  • Although we may feel we cannot look away during a meeting, we all do so during in-person gatherings. It is okay to take notes while someone is speaking - in fact, this often helps people keep their focus and retain more information. If you doodle during an uneventful meeting, who will know? But do not multitask, such as replying to emails or composing a memo, during a meeting. This can be even more exhausting.

  • Experiment with different screen-view options. Make yourself smaller, or bigger, to see if it helps with attention. The Zoom app has a function that hides your video, which may help you stay engaged with the material instead of worrying about your own appearance.

  • These meetings are also tough on workers' physical health, as they facilitate more sitting and staring at a screen. This can lead to body aches and eye strain. Change positions, switch to a different seating option, or stand during a meeting. Have a different space to conduct business than where you take personal meetings.

  • Make meetings enjoyable. A pet on our laps, our favorite comfortable pants, or bare feet do not have to be seen. Have a favorite, meeting-appropriate beverage nearby. Keep your mic on mute until you need to speak so you do not have to worry about interruptions due to unexpected background noises.
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