Yes, ‘Zoom fatigue’ is real and here’s what you can do to avoid it

The rapid change from face-to-face interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic saw a new communication backbone in the form of video conferencing emerge. Professor Julie Bernhardt spoke with ABC Radio’s This Working Life about the impact of this change in communication, specifically the rise of ‘Zoom fatigue’ – a term relatively unheard-of pre-pandemic but now commonly used to describe a feeling of exhaustion following video conferencing.

Professor Julie Bernhardt, Co-Head of the Stroke Research theme, with colleagues at the Florey Institute, undertook a survey of over 200 people aiming to investigate the experience of rapidly shifting to video conferencing as a new way of working during the pandemic. Their research examined the experience of video conferencing and self-reported Zoom fatigue.

The team’s research identified that respondents felt an increase in the frequency, length and size of meetings resulting from the shift to video conferencing were contributing to fatigue following a zoom call.

“We believe that video conferencing can lead our brains to work harder, resulting in feelings of exhaustion after prolonged periods of use. Neuroscience suggests this could be due to added difficulty in reading body-language over video or because our brains are adjusting to the added stress of being constantly watched on screen,” said Prof Bernhardt.

Additionally, women were found to be disproportionately represented in respondents with many reporting a reduction in work productivity, particularly if they had caring roles with children.

“While video conferencing has served us well in some ways, our research brings to light that virtual communication also delivers challenges and with these, women are adversely affected more than men. An explanation for this, based on what we learnt from respondents, could be juggling working responsibilities and roles as primary caregivers to children, especially in the face of school closures,” explained Professor Bernhardt.

She says further research into understanding patterns of use and behaviour when utilising video conferencing is needed and will help refine the tools and coping strategies needed to help minimise the long-term impact of Zoom fatigue.

Professor Bernhardt shares a number of tools and strategies to minimise zoom fatigue, including:

  • Limit video conferencing time to no more than 4 hours a day
  • Build in breaks between meetings and limit meetings to 45 or 50 minutes in length
  • Consider turning off self-view to allow your brain to focus on the others in your meeting
  • Avoid multi-tasking during meetings
  • Standing up to take meetings and position yourself away from the screen to allow others to read your body language more easily

For more on this research and the impact of video conferencing listen to Professor Bernhardt on the ABC’s This Working Life podcast here. She is joined by Professor Jeff Hancock, director of the Stanford Social Media Lab at the University of Stanford.

This research has been published in the journal WORK: DOI: 10.3233/WOR-210279. It was made possible by funding received from the Australian Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Professor Julie Bernhardt