Zoom fatigue entered our lexicon early in the lockdown. Dry eyes, neck pain, and dysmorphic disorder spiked as we overdosed on video conferences. In case you’re wondering, the latter symptom of video meeting exhaustion has to do with obsessive attention to perceived defects in our facial features. Cosmetic surgery boomed during the pandemic.
More than a year later, Zoom burnout persists as virtual meetings have become a daily fixture of remote and hybrid work environments.
The condition has even afflicted Zoom’s own CEO, Eric Yuan. Back in May, he told the Wall Street Journal that he was suffering from the drain of back-to-back online meetings. His solution was to schedule white space between Zoom calls and cut back on the number of daily meetings. Yuan’s healthier approach includes going to the office part-time and moving his company’s platforms towards hybrid engagement designed to treat virtual and in-person participants equally and provide some relief to video call fatigue.
Zoom recently rolled out new tools like a collaborative whiteboard that puts the focus more on the content and less on people’s faces. This could reduce the pressure to always be camera-ready.
Research done at the University of Arizona suggests that the webcam may be partially to blame for Zoom burnout. The study found that it is more tiring to have the camera on during virtual meetings. Among the reasons: self-presentation pressure associated with having the video on, looking businesslike with a professional background, and keeping children and other unwanted distractions out of the room.
As companies implement flex schedules that include WFH some of the time, they are responding to the high incidence of video call fatigue by implementing a variety of solutions. Here, I selected some of them and added my own:
1. Establish No Zoom days.
Designate a day to meet with cameras off or do a teleconference instead. Consider this a version of “casual Fridays.” If everyone is connected in the same way, there may be a higher comfort level overall. Removing the pressure to be camera-ready may put the focus more on the meeting agenda and desired outcomes. Employees who balk at video-required meeting invitations, may see this as a concession to them and be more inclined to jump on camera when necessary.
2. Designate video critical meetings.
There will be other meetings when seeing people’s faces on the screen is mission critical. Our ability to persuade and influence others goes beyond just words and relies on the strength of our charisma and personality. When the stakes are high, face-to-face communication can make the difference between success and failure.
Team members who make the effort to show up at their best are demoralized when others don’t use their cameras regularly. Making cameras mandatory also levels the playing field by eliminating the disparity of black rectangles mixed in with the images of energetic and engaged colleagues.
3. Upgrade your equipment.
Some people look and sound better than others on video calls in part because they have better webcams, lighting, and microphones. Most people who attend my workshops and team trainings are still connecting with their laptop’s built-in camera and mic. Few have yet invested in lighting and backgrounds. Even small upgrades in the setup you use for virtual meetings will improve your image and confidence.
4. Take care of your eyes.
Increased video chats not only come with worries about appearances but also concerns about eye health. Simply put, the best way to reduce digital eye strain is to stop looking at the screen periodically and remember to blink. Ophthalmologists have a 20/20/20 rule that goes like this: Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Twenty seconds gives your eyes time to relax, and the 20-foot distance requires you to focus far away. Keep eye drops at hand and lubricate your eyes often to prevent dryness that can cause blurry vision.
Also, screens emit unhealthy blue light which can affect your sleep cycle and aggravate eye strain. Blue light filtering eyeglasses can block a good amount of damaging rays. You can also enable your computer’s night light setting that reduces the amount of blue light coming from your screen. Or you can purchase a blue light blocking screen protector panel for your monitor, tablet, or smartphone.
5. Stand up and breathe.
Sitting at a desk is generally bad for your health and, when combined with long periods in front of a webcam, the potential damage is greater. Poor circulation, back and neck pain, shallow breathing, and belly fat are just some of the outcomes of sitting all day. You can adapt the 20/20/20 rule of eye health while working online to your posture and breathing. It may be something like this: Every 20 minutes stand and stretch while you breathe deeply for 20 seconds. Create your own routine. And if you can afford a height-adjustable sitting-standing desk, get one.
6. Step up your video meeting skills.
Many of you dabbled in video meetings pre-pandemic and got by with the skills you already had. But with Zoom, WebEx, Skype, and Go-to-Meetings all the time, the demands likely exceeded your ability to adjust and adapt. Besides, we all thought the shift to online would be temporary, and work-life would return to the way it was before the pandemic. Now that we know differently, it is time to uplevel our video conferencing skills.
Even if you cut back on the number of video calls during the workday, there are still many opportunities to show up at your best when you appear on the screen. The first impression you make and the executive presence you project are hallmarks of leadership. I created an acronym to describe the essential ingredients of success on video calls. ASSETs are the factors in your control to create an authentic impression that reflects your personality and expertise. These are: appearance, the staging and styling of your background and surroundings, the energy and emotion you project, and basic technology know-how.
One thing we know: video calls are not going to disappear. There may be fewer of them, but the constant is the potential impact on our careers, businesses, and reputations if we don’t learn the rules of engagement. My blog posts are filled with useful tips on how you can improve your life online, communicate better, feel more confident and less stressed.
I hope that these resources will help you reverse the drain and strain of video meetings and find the silver lining in the new normal of work.