Zoom Fatigue and How to Address It
— Nancy Riffer, Communications Committee
Whether in Meeting for Worship, worship sharing, Yearly Meeting, discussion groups, or workshops, we are called upon to use Zoom. Many of us experience Zoom as fatiguing.
Stanford University scientists have been studying “Zoom fatigue” and recently shared their findings in this article. Reflecting on their findings, I offer some of my own observations and suggestions for habits which are healthy and that minimize the fatigue and ill temper or moodiness we experience.
The amount of eye contact is intense
Watching many faces on the screen at the same time uses a lot of cognitive energy. We are getting more information in a visual form than we are used to. Furthermore, the size of faces on the screen can cause us to feel that people are too close for comfort. We are on high alert when that happens.
To reduce the strain from the amount of eye contact, we can reduce the size of the zoom boxes by not using full screen mode and by reducing the size of the zoom screen by dragging the edge of the zoom screen to a smaller size. If we can sit farther from the screen, it increases the social distance and reduces our need to respond as if someone were in our personal space.
Seeing ourselves on screen all the time is stressful
We are more aware of how we look on Zoom than in a face-to-face situation. We spend extra energy worrying about how we look. And if we have presentation anxiety it can be amplified.
We can turn off the video function that allows us to see ourselves. When we do that others can still see us but we do not have to look at ourselves. On your laptop or PC, right-click your video to display the menu, then choose Hide Myself (this feature isn’t available on all devices). We can also turn off the video function but this has the disadvantage of making us invisible to others as well as to ourselves. Not being able to see the person who is hidden reduces the amount of information for other participants and is particularly disconcerting when participating in a small group.
Zoom calls reduce our usual mobility
In-person and audio calls allow us to move around. The cameras on our devices have very limited field of view so we must remain in a small area to be seen.
We can set up our cameras so that we can stand up during meetings. We can use an external camera that allows for a wider field of view so we can move more freely. And a group can reach an agreement that participants may move about as needed. We can turn off our cameras if we need to move and especially to move the placement of our computer in the room.
Zoom calls require a much higher cognitive load than in-person interactions
Gestures and non-verbal cues work differently on Zoom. We spend energy sending and receiving those signals. We cannot “read a room” or get the sense of the Meeting without seeking explicit information. Assent requires vigorous nodding or thumbs up. We cannot scan a group the way we would in person. People who move on screen when others are still attract our attention when the movement may not have any meaning. If someone takes off their jacket or closes a door in one box on a screen where other participants are sitting quietly, that movement draws our eye and uses cognitive energy to be processed.
We can reduce cognitive load when a group agrees on signals to indicate certain communications, such as: thumbs up for agreement, raising hands to take a turn, twinkle fingers for appreciation. Some groups use the digital signals built into Zoom; these give the leader information about who wants to speak or how many agree but it does not give that information to the group. To reduce cognitive load we can also turn off our video and then turn our backs to the screen so we cease to have video input and only listen to the conversation for a while. And we can make sure our others do not have to strain to see us or read our expressions because our screens are too dark. Sitting so that a light source, such as a window or lamp, is in front of us, not behind us helps to make sure our face is visible to everyone. If others are too dark we can ask them to find light that brightens their faces.
Over the past months, Friends have been learning ways to use Zoom productively. As we approach the one year anniversary of meeting over Zoom, maybe these suggestions will help us find additional adaptations we can make which will make our time together easier.