If you feel drained after a group video chat, you’re not alone. As most of our face-to-face conversations these days have been reduced to Zoom calls, more and more people are finding themselves inexplicably exhausted from all the virtual communication. Why is that?
According to the BBC, part of it has to do with the non-verbal cues that are easily lost in video chats—like body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions that don’t translate clearly over video. Since we’re working extra-hard to decode these cues, even subconsciously, it’s more difficult to settle into a comfortable dynamic.
“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,” Gianpiero Petriglieri, an INSEAD associate professor who studies sustainable learning and workplace development, told the BBC.
Delays, echoes, screen freezes, and other technological issues can magnify that dissonance. But even a perfect connection can’t alleviate the feeling that we’re being watched much more closely than in a regular meeting, especially considering that we can see our own faces in the corner of the screen.
“When you're on a video conference, you know everybody's looking at you; you are on stage, so there comes the social pressure and feeling like you need to perform,” Marissa Shuffler, a Clemson University associate professor of industrial-organizational psychology, told the BBC. “Being performative is nerve-wracking and more stressful.”
Another contributor is the one-dimensional nature of the setting itself. What’s usually a balanced mixture of brightly lit offices, cozy couches in friends’ living rooms, favorite restaurants, and other venues has temporarily collapsed into a single screen. As Petriglieri explained, it’s a little like going on a date, having a meeting with your manager, and spending time with your parents all in the same bar. And since we’re accustomed to using video conference platforms like Zoom for work, even social video chats can end up seeming like meetings.
However, our collective Zoom exhaustion isn’t solely a result of the video-chatting process itself; it’s also likely related to how we’re feeling about life during the coronavirus pandemic in general—if you’re a little restless or more anxious than usual, for example, video calls might be serving as a tacit reminder that your life has been disrupted.
So what can we do to feel better? When it comes to video-chatting fatigue, Petriglieri and Shuffler both recommend only using Zoom for work when it’s necessary. Instead, employees should collaborate in other ways, like using shared files. When managers do decide that a video call is needed, they should make it clear that it’s OK for employees to keep their cameras disabled during the call, and they should also spend a few minutes catching up before getting to the meeting agenda.
“It’s a way to reconnect us with the world, and to maintain trust and reduce fatigue and concern,” Shuffler told BBC.
Petriglieri suggested moving your screen off to the side, rather than looking at it head-on, which could help create a little distance. And whenever possible, try not to schedule Zoom calls back-to-back; leave at least enough time for a little exercise, some stretches, or a trip to the kitchen for a drink.