Zoom fatigue

“Google Fail!” by Jeremy Vandel is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

Each year Merriam-Webster’s dictionary adds a list of new words and phrases which have become popular. I predict that one of the 2020 additions will be “Zoom fatigue”. It’s become a familiar phrase as we try to continue to work, learn and connect during this time of social distancing. In one of the many articles by media outlets on Zoom Fatigue, the BBC quoted Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at the Insead graduate business school: “Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally.”
Anecdotally, people are reporting that participating in Zoom and other video-conferencing online meetings can be exhausting. The BBC cites Laura Dudley, an assistant clinical professor of applied psychology in the Bouvé College of Heath Sciences who talks of the challenges in making virtual “eye contact”. In order to do so, you must look at the camera on the computer, not into the virtual image of your colleague’s eyes. It’s one of the many adaptations our brains must make in order to participate in a virtual computer-aided conversation. We make these leaps of faith into the virtual world every time we click connect on a video conference call: we see the image of our colleague in their home, and make a decision to connect with that image as if they are located right next to us. It’s something that we do so often that it is absolutely second nature, but take a moment to think of all the work our brain must be doing to keep the illusion alive. It’s not surprising that we are tired.
There are also other considerations. Online video interactions create a kind of performance anxiety. Dr. Janine Hubbard, a St. John’s psychologist in a recent CBC article, “You keep looking at yourself and you feel like you’re performing on stage, and it makes you hyper-aware of all of your reactions.”  She relates how she finds herself exhausted after a day of Zoom meetings.
In my own online Google Hangout team meetings, we have been dealing with many different challenges. Colleagues forget to turn their mic on when they’re talking or conversely, forget to turn it off and introduce a burst of background sound when they start shuffling papers. Connectivity is a constant issue. Taking turns to talk can be a challenge. There’s no way of using body language to signal that you have something to say. Trying to look attentive is an uphill battle; turning our cameras off unless we’re talking has become the norm to help cope. I often find myself looking at my image, wondering how tired and haggard I must appear after self-isolating for close to three months.
As online learning becomes more pervasive, I predict that these issues will become more prevalent — both for instructors and learners. There are questions that we as designers must ask. How does the video connection help learners? Is asynchronous video just as effective as a synchronous connection? Are there other ways of connecting and communicating which may be more effective?
Clearly, more research needs to be done, not only into the effectiveness of video conferencing as a learning tool, but also into the physical and psychological stresses it puts on the participants. I posit that other means of connecting may become more common: text and chat apps like Slack, or the tried and true telephone. Maybe we don’t always have to force our brain to perform the mental gymnastics of virtual “face-to-face” conversations.
CBC (2020, May 9) Feeling extra tired after a day of video chatting? A St. John’s psychologist says you’re not alone. Retrieved from:
Jiang, Manyu. (2020, April 22). The reason Zoom calls drain your energy. Retrieved from:

9 thoughts on “Zoom fatigue

  1. Hi Jeff

    What a great blog post on zoom fatigue. It hits home, is completely accurate and encompasses the feelings and spoken words of many people I know and work with on a daily basis. Pre-pandemic zoom was not widely used in my working environment. Now it is our main form of communication to host meetings and discussions.

    Just last week, I received feedback about zoom from one of the managers. She explained, and rightfully so, that there is sometimes an eerie silence during the meeting when one person finishes talking and others are considering a response or waiting to see how someone else will respond. As Jiang (2020) asserted, the silence after someone has spoken creates anxiousness and the delayed response makes it feel less friendly. In my experience over the last nine weeks, people are navigating a new world of conference etiquette and whereas in the past they may have interrupted someone in a face to face meeting, today, everyone waits in silence for their turn.

    Is it the zoom call that creates anxiousness, or would you have the same silence in a telephone conference call with ten people on the call? Without the ability to see and read another persons’ body language we are at a loss to connect visually with others. Although most people (approximately 90%) in my organization have the technology to use the video and audio features in zoom meetings, I would suggest that more than 40% of the people participating in the calls choose to use audio only. In essence we are creating a telephone conference call rather than a virtual face to face call. So, what could prevent someone from participating in the audio and video portion of the call? Is it video chat stressors or could it be a lack of organizational readiness for change? As Weiner (2009) suggested, when organizational readiness for change is high members will openly modify behaviours/ change routines, demonstrate a concerted effort, limit resistance and cooperate toward achieving the new expectation. Change is hard for anyone and the pandemic has brought many changes to our job, to our lives, and to our families.

    Perhaps in time we can learn to connect virtually and be comfortable with zoom to minimize the amount of fatigue we experience with change.

    References

    Jiang, Manyu. (2020, April 22). The reason Zoom calls drain your energy. Retrieved from:
    https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200421-why-zoom-video-chats-are-so-exhausting

    Weiner, B. J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(1), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-4-67

    1. Caroline,
      Thank you for your reply. There is something uncomfortable about a prolonged silence in a Zoom meeting. Sometimes we rush to fill the void just for the sake of tamping down the silence and find ourselves blathering on. I’ve witnessed more than one colleague who feels compelled to be heard in a meeting, making comments which do them more harm than good. Sometimes I think of my days as a radio host and we had panels in the studio. The host becomes a moderator, guiding the conversation, addressing people by name, asking open-ended questions, following up on thoughts. I think that in a Zoom meeting the leader generally needs to take a more active role, drawing people in, rather than passively waiting for participation.
      You’re right. We’re all learning. And hopefully in time, we’ll figure it out.

  2. Jeff thanks for kicking off this topic and Caroline for your further reflection. It’s a very timely one and it’s gaining increasing recognition online among educators along with everyone else. For years Tony Bates has made the case for more teacher training in the use of educational media, a call all-too-often gone unanswered. So when teaching faculty who have been used to standing in front of classes and talking are given a video camera (and not really by choice) what will they do? Stand (or sit) in front of it and talk. I think the critical inquiry angle in your comments forces the discussion beyond the effectiveness of learning this way, to an exploration of the myriad ways embodied relations to place, setting, occasion and relationships come into play (as highlighted so well by Jiang0. The (sad, to me) picture of the girl in front of the computer screen vividly shows the reduction of the richness being in class with friends, hallway chit-chats, sneaking a text to a friend across the room, running outside on the playground, to sitting in a solitary chair looking at a small computer screen for hours on end. Educators with a longer tradition in online learning and/or distance education and flexible learning have developed a body of knowledge that goes far beyond the Zoom model that has popped up like a toxic mushroom in the middle of the pandemic. I hope things don’t turn out too badly for all those students who end up graduating “zooma cum laude.” Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

    1. Irwin,
      Thank you for your comment. I love the phrase “toxic mushroom”. It’s apt. Zoom and other video-conferencing technologies have popped up seemingly overnight to fill the void. It’s understandable. When there’s a crisis, we grab the tools at hand to try to overcome the challenge. Teachers are using skills and techniques that have worked in the classroom, but are arguably less effective online. I hope that as we progress through this crisis, educators and designers address these concerns and create a more engaging model for students.

  3. Hi Jeff,

    What a timely and interesting article you’ve chosen to blog about. I’ve been using Zoom for awhile, but mostly for hosting webinars and live stream sessions. They were often scheduled a few times a month. However, when COVID-19 happened and shifted to working from home, that’s where the ramp up of Zoom started. We were using it for organization wide and department meetings every day, and then there would be sporadic meetings that would pop up. I also had friends who jumped on the Zoom bandwagon and wanting to do socials. I felt myself retreating and not feeling up for it. I haven’t been able to articulate those exhausted feelings until I read the article and your blog. It’s been such a eureka moment!

    Caroline brought up really good points about using the camera for Zoom. Naturally, at my organization it began with everyone having to use their camera. If someone did not have theirs turned out, they would be called out. Being from a smaller organization, I think that was part of the “we’re being a team player” approach. There was a day where my internet connection was just terrible, and I had to switch to only using audio for the call. Even though the meeting was quite long, I didn’t feel as drained after the meeting. As Jiang’s article points out, having to be on video calls means having to work harder to process non-verbal cues, which I’ve now found to be a large contributing factor to feeling fatigued.

    It will be interesting to see what the next 6 months will look like. Zoom meetings at my organization have eased up, but we’re facing new challenges, like turning our annual conference into a virtual one. The need to reinvent ourselves, new found dependence on technology to perform, and the short timelines will surely keep me on my toes!

  4. Hi Jeff,

    I actually laughed out loud when I read the title for this post, so thank you!

    On a more serious note…
    Whether it is a dinner party, virtual card game, or meeting, everyone has incorporated these systems into their lives in some manner. Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts, the use of these softwares is exploding. Or imploding depending on how you read the news. Between the security breaches and crashing of sites, who can tell anymore.

    My parents asked me to show them “how this all works” so they can chat with friends. The funny part is, they are chatting with friends in other countries. This technology has been around for years, yet now that it is so well known and used by everyone, they want to use it too. It’s like Zoom is the new cool kid at school and everyone wants to be its friend.

    I love the prior comments about cameras. I have experienced the exact same thing! Over the course of COVID, I have noticed less and less people are turning their cameras on. Whether I’m doing office hours with students, holding virtual class sessions or having meetings with clients, I am seeing fewer and fewer people. My guess is everyone is sitting at home in sweat pants with their feet up and they just don’t want the others to see it. I think COVID should really be referred to as the sweat pant epidemic. LuluLemon has seen an increase in sales due to COVID, coincidence?

    Thanks so much for Jeff! Great piece.

    Leigha

  5. Hi Jeff,
    like most,  I can really relate to the timeliness of your post about zoom meetings. It is certainly an important tipping point in our experience of working virtually due to the pandemic. I think initially there were many who assumed that the ability to see each other would have a much more positive impact than I believe it actually has. As I too have experienced the relief of being able to turn off video and just talk. As you point out, participating in virtual meetings of more than two people becomes challenging to encourage a productive conversation with all participants. As you suggest, deliberate guidance by someone actively chairing a meeting may be even more important virtually than face-to-face.

    Interestingly for me I schedule a weekly water cooler chat with my peers so that we can catch up informally. No managers are invited! But, I found at the first meeting that I was actively encouraging participation from everyone in the group and that it was helpful to say “Hey, what was that that you were going to say?” when I could see someone trying to speak up. Or to move the conversation into another direction so that everyone could be involved. A similar skill that’s needed in all meetings but certainly amplified in virtual ones.

    I’m very curious to see what the research will show in the future with regard to this experience and subsequent changes in how we communicate.   

    Interesting times ahead.
    Sue

  6. Hi Jeff,
    I have really enjoyed your blog post! You are raising such an important point here! Many of my friends from Europe share that their kids are spending 4-5 hours per day on Zoom, replicating their in-person classes prior to COVID. Talk about Zoom fatigue for the little brains! I think that many educators often don’t consider all the elements of online learning when designing instructors, and your point on relying on alternative technologies to video is important. For example, students can feel more engaged through discussion forums, creative assignments, such as collective annotations, or even educational games. Thank you for bringing up this point and make me consider Zoom fatigue from a different perspective when designing my own classes for September!
    Marta

  7. Hi Jeff,

    I am indeed experiencing “Zoom fatigue”! So much so, that I am a little behind in reading blog posts! I just came across this post today, over a month after you posted it. Better late than never.

    You have raised some important points about why Zoom is draining and not the best option for everyone. There are indeed equity and diversity issues, different people’s learning needs, as well a home-settings that need to be taken into account– as an employer AND as an instructor. As you have noted, some of these concerns to keep in mind as an instructor, so has Maha Bali in a recent blog post: https://blog.mahabali.me/educational-technology-2/about-that-webcam-obsession-youre-having/

    I really do think that you will appreciate this “Ode to Zoom – Parody” video as well! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEbLloJV3rw

    Best,
    Leigh

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