Zoom gloom

Zoom gloom

During the spring, when COVID-19 made us lock ourselves indoors and switch to online mode, we soon became familiar with a new feeling: zoom gloom or zoom fatigue.

It’s the feeling of complete exhaustion after just a few video conferences, be it on Teams, Zoom or Meet. After a whole day of staring at the screen and making chit-chat in virtual coffee breaks, you might just want to lie down and sleep for the rest of the evening.

And that’s ok, because zoom fatigue or zoom gloom is an actual thing.

Summer helped us recover and almost forget how working feels in these strange times. Now that vacation mode is over and we’re fully back at work, the same signs have started to appear.

“I can’t take another zoom-meeting”

“I’m so tired of staring at the screen”

“I want to be at the office and see my colleagues”

It’s not just that it’s draining for our brain, it also just doesn’t feel the same as seeing someone face-to-face. And after a while (especially after the lock-down in the spring) that’s all you really want to do.

And don’t get me started on what video conferencing is doing to our ability to collaborate and be creative in a team. That’s a whole different rant/blog post.

Why is it so draining?

So why is zooming making us exhausted? First, it forces us to focus more in order to get all the necessary information. We can’t rely on quickly asking colleagues or supervisors to repeat things after the meeting, like we could if the meeting was face-to-face.

Second, video meetings also require intense and sustained attention to what is being said, because we are not able to read non-verbal cues. This is really draining for the brain, since we have evolved to be able to derive meaning from a range of cues in addition to the actual words being spoken.

Third, we are more likely to be distracted when we are engaged in a video meeting than if the meeting was face-to-face. Our co-worker’s cat might jump into the picture and catch our attention. We might get notifications from new e-mails that we immediately want to read. Or someone in our apartment might make a noise that distracts us. All this leads to the brain transferring big chunks of attention between these different distractors and ultimately becoming exhausted.

No wonder we are tired after a day of focusing on not missing a word, interpreting only what is actually being said, and moving attention between different distractors!

What can we do about it?

There are a few things we could do to give our brain a break:

  • Stop multitasking during video conferences. Turn off notifications, focus on the task at hand. Easier said than done but once we realize how much this behavior affects our energy, I think most of us would agree that this is the way to go.
  • Take breaks between sessions. Don’t schedule sessions back-to-back.
  • Change some of the video conferences to phone meetings instead (provided that it is ok for all involved parties).
  • Do not require videos on. Or ask if it would be ok that only the person who is presenting keeps his/her video on.
  • Follow zoom etiquette (and require others to so as well): no pets or kids in the picture, plain backgrounds, and for the love of all that is holy, mute the mic when you’re not talking.
  • If possible, schedule face-to-face meeting in a safe environment, for example go outside and have a meeting while walking.

It seems like video meetings are here to stay and there is a lot of positive sides to this change. But we need to get better at doing it for the sake of our brain and our wellbeing.


2 thoughts on “Zoom gloom

  1. How to help your brain survive virtual work – PhD Pathfinder

    […] written about Zoom Gloom in a previous post (see here) but since issues with remote work are only getting worse, I believe it’s good to revisit […]

  2. How to help your brain survive virtual work - PhD Pathfinder

    […] written about Zoom Gloom in a previous post (see here) but since issues with remote work are only getting worse, I believe it’s good to revisit […]

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