Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many homebound office workers are increasingly logging onto Zoom or other video chat platforms to stay in touch with colleagues, friends and family members.
But a researcher at Stanford University warns those video calls are likely to tire you out.
Communications professor Jeremy Bailenson is the founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. The recent boom in videoconferencing prompted him to study the psychological consequences of spending hours a day on Zoom and similar programs, according to a university news release.
Bailenson examined Zoom in its individual technical aspects, and he identified four consequences of prolonged video chats that contribute to what is commonly known as “Zoom fatigue.” And he provided suggestions for how users can decrease that fatigue, the release says.
“Videoconferencing is a good thing for remote communication, but just think about the medium — just because you can use video doesn’t mean you have to,” Bailsenson said in the news release. (Bailenson admitted he appreciates and uses tools like Zoom regularly.)
Bailenson’s study identifies four primary reasons for Zoom fatigue.
Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact
Faces of participants in a video call often seem unnatural, and eye contact tends to be much more sustained than in real-life meetings. In real life, participants tend to look at a speaker and elsewhere — at notes, for instance. But on Zoom calls, everyone is looking at everyone else all the time.
Bailenson recommends taking Zoom out of full-screen mode and reducing the size of the Zoom window to minimize face size.
Seeing yourself during video chats is fatiguing
Most video platforms have a space showing what you look like on camera. But Bailenson says that’s unnatural, almost as if someone were following you around in real life with a mirror and reflecting your face to you, the release says.
Bailenson wants videoconferencing platforms to change the default setting of showing the faces of all participants. In the meantime, he recommends users to employ the “hide self-view” button by right-clicking their own photo once they’ve ensured their face is framed properly.
Video chats dramatically reduce usual mobility
People are able to walk around during in-person meetings and audio phone calls. But with Zoom and other video chats, participants generally have to stay in one spot with limits on their movement.
Bailenson’s solution is to make people think more about the room they’re using, where the camera is positioned, and details about whether an external keyboard can help participants create distance or flexibility. An external camera farther away, he says, will allow meeting participants to pace or doodle in virtual meetings as much as they do in person.
Nonverbal communication takes more effort
Bailenson says in face-to-face meetings, nonverbal communication is very natural, and everyone makes and interprets gestures and nonverbal cues subconsciously. But in video chats, it takes more work to see and receive such signals.
Bailenson recommends occasionally going “audio only” during long meetings — turning off the camera to be less nonverbally active, and turning away from the screen to give yourself a break.
Video chat platforms like Zoom have been able to help more Americans work remotely to stem the spread of COVID-19. But workers need to ensure they can do it without suffering fatigue from long-term use.
In a statement to USA TODAY, Zoom advises users to take scheduled breaks from their computer and opt for shorter meetings to provide a buffer.
“While for some the transition has been seamless, for others it has been challenging,” reads the statement. “We’re all learning this new way of communicating and adjusting to the blurred lines between work and personal interactions.”