A large proportion of work meetings now take place online, but some employees report feeling wiped out by these virtual experiences. Recent research suggests that this phenomenon may be far more marked than you might imagine.
Researchers in Austria set out to determine the effects of so-called “Zoom fatigue” on the physical and mental health of those who report feeling it. They measured the brain and heart activity of 35 university students, using electrodes attached to their heads and chests, while they attended a 50-minute lecture.
Not all the volunteers attended the lecture in the same way, however: 18 did so in person, while 17 dialled in remotely.
This protocol revealed that the effects of Zoom fatigue are not limited simply to a drop in energy. The students who took part in the video conference showed much greater signs of sadness, drowsiness and negativity than the others. They also seemed less attentive and less engaged.
“The participants felt significantly more tired, drowsy, and fed up as a consequence of participation in the video-conferencing session compared with face-to-face sessions; moreover, they also felt less lively, happy, and active,” the researchers wrote.
While this study has its limitations, such as the small sample size, it does add to the body of scientific literature on the impact of the more or less intensive use of video-conferencing tools. Psychologists and specialists agree that this technology disrupts concentration and the natural flow of exchanges, as it leaves little room for spontaneity.
Added to this is the stress induced by seeing all those images of people on screen. The increase in the number of participants considerably reduces the size of these faces, which could create a certain discomfort or even a desire to escape.
That’s why the authors advise companies to consider different strategies for making remote meetings more pleasant. “We recommend a break after 30 minutes, because after 50 minutes of video conferencing, significant changes in physiological and subjective fatigue could be observed.
“Moreover, utilising features like ‘speaker view’” – a large view of the person currently speaking – “to mitigate the intensity of perceived continuous eye contact could be helpful”, said study co–senior author René Riedl.
Riedl and colleagues conclude that companies should not downplay Zoom fatigue, and recommend that they see virtual meetings as a possible complement to face-to-face interaction, not as a substitute for it.