It has been a full year since our world was changed by the coronavirus pandemic. The disruptions to our lives have been many, and the one perhaps most invasive to our day-to-day routines has been the need for social distancing. All of our social contact, both for business and personal interactions, was swiftly and severely changed. Few of us knew that the dinner we had in a restaurant with friends, or the business meeting we attended last March would be our last for quite a while. Many of us who can, have been working from home. And many, if not most of us, are spending quite a few hours on videoconferences.
We are each probably familiar with at least a half dozen different platforms now. Videoconferencing is so ubiquitous that the most referred-to platform has given the word “zooming” new meaning in our lexicon. Videoconferencing has a lot of perks. I have been able to virtually attend a wider variety of conferences, lectures, social gatherings and more, than I would have been able to attend in person. And, with the rather harsh winter this year, weather-related travel concerns were not an issue. And I don’t think it is a bad thing to occasionally see a colleague’s family member or the family dog or cat on screen. It can, however, be difficult to spend many hours in the two-dimensional world of videoconferencing. Many complain of fatigue.
Researchers at Stanford University examined why videoconferencing causes fatigue. Led by professor Jeremy Bailenson, their study  outlined several reasons for videoconference fatigue:
The intensity of excessive close eye contact — constantly looking at people’s faces rather than moving our gaze to other things in a room, or to taking notes can be stressful. The authors suggest reducing the size of the onscreen window or moving the screen further away to create more personal space between yourself and the video screen.
Watching yourself on screen — it is unnatural for us to see ourselves during a meeting and can be stressful if we are critical about our own image. A suggestion is to turn off the self-view option.
Lack of mobility — we typically sit in one spot in front of the video camera, which limits our movement more that if we were meeting in person, and interpreting gestures may be more difficult onscreen than in person. The researchers suggest trying to create more distance between yourself and the screen as well as occasionally turning the camera off to take a break from the intensity of the video contact.
Another study  by researchers at Old Dominion University and Ohio State University uncovered some interesting results that point to less obvious factors that influence videoconference fatigue. They found that time of day of a meeting was more important than the length or number of meetings when it comes to fatigue. Videoconferences held late in the day were more tiring than those held earlier, such as right after lunch. The study also found that using the mute button to relieve anxiety about making unintentional noises during a videoconference was more important than factors around the video screen. And when participants had a sense of connection with others in the group — a sense of belonging — they tired less. ■
Dorothy Lozowski, Editorial Director
1. Stanford researchers identify four causes of ‘Zoom fatigue’ and their simple fixes, news.stanford.edu/2021/02/23/four-causes-zoom-fatigue-solutions/, February 23, 2021
2. Old Dominion University Researchers Co-Author Study on Reducing Videoconference Fatigue, www.odu.edu/news/2021/3/zoom_fatigue#.YFUrAuYpBE4, March 12, 2021