If you’re like me, you’ve experienced heavy Zoom fatigue in the last 16 months. During this ongoing pandemic, it’s earned its slang term, right alongside “Quarantine” (the drink you make with whatever you can find in your fridge or freezer), “Blursday” (an unspecified day because of lockdown’s disorientating effect on time), “zoom bombing” (hijacking a Zoom video call). “WFH” (working from home) and “quaranteams” (online teams created during lockdown).
As we enter this new hybrid workplace, some groups are still 100% remote, some are hybrid, and some are back to the office full time; the screen fatigue still applies, whether you use Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime, or any other video calling application.
Curious to get an expert’s perspective, I asked the founder of our organization, The Speech Improvement Company, Dr. Dennis Becker, with over 56 years of experience in communication, why he sees these virtual interactions to be particularly difficult on the brain. Here is what he shared: “Zoom and the like are the latest technologies producing fatigue because we are being forced to use them. Whether it’s our typical work habits or our interactions with friends and family, it has become mandatory that we make ourselves available for work and social encounters on video if we want to connect. At first, it was acceptable and even enjoyable. Then it got tedious, and now it is producing fatigue with continued extensive use.”
Dennis continues, “Here’s a slightly different view based on my 60 years of study and technology for The Speech Improvement Company, the nation’s oldest communication training/coaching firm. As a technology, Zoom and the rest are great and can enhance learning and understanding. Although they weren’t forced on us, there were other shiny objects – technologies that drew our attention and influenced our behavior – introduced over the past 60 years. I recall what a game-changer it was for learning when audio taping became available and compact and portable. When videotape came on the scene, I was an early adopter. Yes, I carried around that huge camera and even larger battery pack. Who can forget carrying around those big boom boxes and bulky headsets? All of these technologies have been productive game-changers for training/coaching and learning. It took time, trial and error, and ultimate acceptance. The biggest game-changer now is that we are being forced to use Zoom and others. Hence, excitement and fun at first, now fatigue. This, too, shall pass.”
Dennis’s timely advice reminds us that it takes trial and error to use technology in the ways that best serve us, and when it’s forced on us, we feel particularly drained or resentful. I’m hoping the options for in-person interactions will open up to the world sooner rather than later for everyone’s mental and physical health. Between COVID breakthrough infections and the Delta variant, there is a potential pause in workplace re-openings, and businesses must adapt as we learn more. Travel advisories could be reinstated, lines are being drawn between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees, and executives might have to return to mandated COVID tests after business travel.
People are fatigued in general, not just from Zoom. After feeling like we were almost out of the woods, there will be a backlash and level of frustration if we go backward instead of forwards.
But all is not lost. Below are my most recent suggestions for dealing with screen fatigue, based on the latest research, but more importantly, what I see and experience every day as an Executive Communication Coach and excessive Zoom user.
- Avoid your desk at all costs. Any time you can, bring your laptop to your sofa, outdoor coffee shop, front porch, or even standing at your kitchen counter. Are you hunched over at this very moment? I knew it! This movement from desk to any new location helps adjust your posture and make your screen time feel fresh.
- Find times to be audio-only. If it’s a quick and non-urgent matter, consider audio-only. Using the good ol’ cell phone is a refreshing alternative, or at least turn off your video on Zoom when it’s a simple internal update. While face-to-face is ideal, it’s tiring to be “on” all the time, and there are times that audio-only will be just as valuable as a video call.
- End every meeting with 15 minutes to spare. Instead of booking back-to-back sessions on Zoom, be sure always to adjourn 15 minutes before the hour. This open time gives you a chance to stretch, refresh, eat, hydrate, chip away at the actual work that resulted from the meeting, and rest your eyes. And no one ever complained about a meeting ending 15 minutes early! So be the hero and suggest this to your organization today.
By considering the advice of Dr. Dennis Becker and myself, you can find ways to reduce screen fatigue and have some energy left to wash those reusable cotton face masks. Admittedly, it feels like we are going two steps forward, one step back, after 16 long months. I’m open to using video technology as long as it serves us (and since 2018, virtual 1:1 coaching and virtual group training have ALWAYS been effective and convenient for our clients, with clients close to us and worldwide). Still, I’m drawing the line at any more Virtual Happy Hours. There’s no reason to regress that far back. If I want to feel awkward and disappointed, I’ll go try on pants in a Banana Republic fitting room.
Laura Mathis & Dr. Dennis Becker