Have you ever ended a video call and felt like it wiped you out?

They’re not alone – when people around the world left their offices last March and replaced in-person meetings with video conferencing from guest rooms and kitchens, they noticed that video conferencing was making them tired.

The phenomenon was known as zoom fatigue after the popular video conferencing software.

As the Covid pandemic enters its second year, with many people still working and attending school remotely, researchers from Stanford and other schools are beginning to look closely at how video conferencing affects people on a psychological level.

There are four ways video conferencing can contribute to feelings of fatigue, wrote Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, in an article published Wednesday:

  • Video conferencing forces users to make extended eye contact
  • Nonverbal signals like nods require more effort
  • The little box users see themselves in is unnatural
  • Users are forced to sit in one place.

“Moving from an average of a handful of videoconferencing a week to nine or ten a day is a really new thing in media history,” said Bailenson.

The possible explanations are not specific to Zoom and also apply to other video conferencing software. However, the researchers used the brand name Zoom because it was recognizable and became a verb during the pandemic.

In Bailenson’s opinion, the small box that allows users to see themselves is the biggest contributor to zoom exhaustion during a video conference. Much research has looked at what happens when people see themselves in the mirror and suggests that constant self-assessment leads to negative emotions.

Also, video conferencing software often shows faces so large your brain thinks they’re right in front of you, in your personal space. This can trigger deep-seated instincts.

“We know from a physiological point of view that if someone is really close to you and looking at you, from an evolutionary point of view, you will mate or fight,” said Bailenson.

How to fix the problem

The next step for these researchers is to collect data to validate or reject some of these theories. Finally, they want to provide evidence-based recommendations on best practices such as: B. whether certain meetings should be a zoom or a phone call.

Researchers like Bailenson have developed a 15-question scale to assess zoom fatigue and are currently collecting data from study participants on the Internet.

Meanwhile, in an interview, Bailenson said that there are some simple fixes he’s been working on so people can now try at home to improve their video conferencing experience:

  • Hide selfview. When zooming in, you can right click on the video and click on “I’m hiding”. Other video conferencing software offers similar options.
  • Reduce the zoom window to make other people a little smaller. Make it a third of the screen instead of maximizing it, suggests Bailenson. Or you can move your chair a little further away from the webcam.
  • Before an important meeting, take half an hour to tinker with your setup. Check the lighting, find out where to place an external camera, and make sure your chair is comfortable and at the right height. Perhaps try placing your laptop on top of a pile of books to increase its height.
  • Turn off your camera and take a five-minute audio break to move during a long meeting.
  • Set cultural norms with your co-workers that it’s okay to turn the camera off sometimes.