People want greater flexibility and a mixed work model that gives them the freedom to work when and where it is most comfortable for them, according to SG Analytics. However, the transition to a hybrid model has its challenges for companies and workers.
Working at home has its own perils. According to the first annual Work Trend Index, remote work is affecting our well-being, leading to a digital overload.
Back-to-back meetings without breaks are the main problem. These lead to a “Zoom fatigue”, the given name for the tiredness feeling after a lot of video calls.
Is “Zoom fatigue” real?
Yes. Zoom fatigue is very real. In February 2021, Standford researchers warned about the issue. A peer-reviewed article published in the journal Technology, Mind, and Behavior deconstructed Zoom fatigue from a psychological perspective.
Zoom fatigue stands out for the videoconferencing platform Zoom. However, it can refer to any similar platform such as Meet, Teams, or Skype.
Standford researchers explained why is so tiring talking with people through a camera:
- Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact are highly intense: The size of faces on screens leads to unnatural eye contact. Also, even when someone is not talking, you made eye contact. In natural conversations, people switch to the speaker.
- Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing: When you see an image of yourself, you’re more critical of yourself. Standford researcher Jeremy Bailenson pointed out: “In the real world if somebody was following you around with a mirror constantly – so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback, getting feedback – you were seeing yourself in a mirror, that would just be crazy. No one would ever consider that”
- Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility: As most cameras have a set field of view, a person has to stay in the same position for a long time. In-person and audio phone conversations, you can walk around. According to studies, people perform better when they’re moving.
- The cognitive load is much higher in video chats: Is your head framed? Is the other person understanding that you agree with him? Is that gesture for you or another person? A thing so natural such as face-to-face conversation becomes something that involves a lot of thought.
Zoom fatigue has an easy fix: a bit of break-out time.
All these problems that lead to a digital overload have an easy solution: a short break. A researcher team proved this point in Microsoft.
Our research shows breaks are important, not just to make us less exhausted by the end of the day, but to actually improve our ability to focus and engage while in those meetings
Michael Bohan, senior director of Microsoft’s Human Factors Engineering
The research took 14 volunteers for participating in two different sessions of meetings. In one day, participants attended four half-hour meetings back-to-back. On the second day, the meetings were interspersed with 10-minute breaks. During the break, participants used the Headspace app for meditating.
They found that breaks helped to prevent stress from building up and to engage and focus better on the tasks. Meanwhile, a lack of breaks leads to stress.
Do you really need that video call?
Microsoft’s study also proposes to ask when a video call is really necessary. The researcher team pointed out that dynamic, creative, and emotional topics may require a meeting. However, check-ins and informational subjects could be driven in a collaboration document. Even some tasks could be handled via chat.
Sending an agenda, starting and stopping on time, and recap in the final five minutes can help to accomplish goals in less time.
Even when going from a task to another one can make people think that they are more productive, research shows the opposite. So, don’t push yourself so hard and take a break each time you need it.
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