Summary: Video conference fatigue is now commonly recognized as a major issue for those working from home. Here’s some of the science behind this phenomenon, as well as helpful tips for combating it.
Who would have thought that working from home and connecting with co-workers and clients virtually could be more exhausting than in-person collaboration? Very few. But that doesn’t diminish the impact video conference fatigue is having on populations worldwide. In case you’re wondering, yes, it’s a real condition and yes, there are ways to combat it. And the answers start with why we’re so tired of video meetings to begin with.
To get to the heart of our video conference dilemma, you have to first understand what’s going on in our brains as we dial in and suit up for connection.
To start, video meetings are more intense than in-person ones because it’s a natural instinct to feel “on” for the camera; that means smiling, being gregarious and exaggerating non-verbal cues. (Ever wave at the end of a video call? Me too.) Couple that with the fact that we’re looking at ourselves in a grid as we speak (and listen), making us more aware of things we don’t usually give a passing thought—like hairs out of place, newfound wrinkles or dark undereye circles. It’s a recipe for exhaustion.
We also focus more intently on video than in-person because there’s only a screen to look at. In person, we whisper to colleagues, write notes and use peripheral vision to take little mental breaks. On a video call, the only way to show we’re paying attention is to look at the camera, leaving little time for mental time-outs.
Adding to the hyper-focus is the brain’s natural ability to process everything within eyesight, including the backgrounds of all 10 people in the meeting. Whether you realize it or not, you’re making mental notes like what books you see on a bookshelf, what plant you can see in the corner, and why there’s a samurai sword hanging behind your favorite co-worker. No wonder meetings leave you feeling drained.
Driven to distraction
Now that we know video meetings are far more tiring than in-person meetups, let’s talk about all the other things pulling our focus away from work collaboration. The obvious one is other family members. From significant others to children, sometimes working from home is just not conducive to productivity. Besides family interruptions, you’re also thinking about what’s next—like dinner prep, homeschooling or that load of laundry in the other room. Factor in home deliveries, pets that need your attention and child or elder care, and the list of things competing for your attention is simply endless. It’s only natural that you’ll have trouble focusing on a video call.
Even without the family factor, multitasking on work projects is also an issue. It’s tempting to catch up on email, chat with coworkers about projects or try and finish other tasks while listening to a meeting, but it’s simply not effective.
Think of your brain as a battery; you only have so much power to spend, and if you double up on tasks, it will deplete twice as fast.
Tips to reduce video conference fatigue
If you’re serious about getting more productive and focused while using UC tools for video calls, consider these top eight tips:
- Don’t multitask while meeting. That takes a variety of forms, including closing all other tabs on your computer screens and putting your phone away (and on mute!) whenever you’re in a meeting.
- Have the host share their screen with content relevant to the conversation to help focus on the intent of the call. Other video conferencing tools such as whiteboarding, polling (throw in some fun polls to spice things up!) and hand raising can help keep audiences engaged.
- Reduce on-screen stimuli by turning off your self-view. As a company, you may even ask your team to commit to clearing out their background views to reduce subconscious visual distractions. This can be accomplished with a virtual background, serene poster or blanket backdrop, or adjusting the camera view to only focus on the meeting participant.
- Eliminate unnecessary audio noise and ask everyone to mute when they are not speaking.
- Limit the number of video meetings and rely on emails, chat/IM communications and old-fashioned phone calls whenever possible.
- Reduce the length of video calls to be more efficient. For example, make half-hour calls 20 minutes, and hour calls 50 minutes. Take the extra time to get up, move around and stretch.
- Schedule short breaks to avoid back-to-back video calls. If possible, designate a whole or half day as meeting-free and save video calls for certain days or times.
- Get moving. Alternate between sitting and standing or even go for a walk while you talk if the context of your call allows for it.
Keep things in perspective
At the end of the day, try to be gentle with yourself. Check out my colleague’s post for some great tips on remote wellness and how to make the most of working from home. And remember to take work stress in stride and allow yourself the downtime you need to stay happy and healthy.
Key takeaway: As the remote workforce becomes more prevalent than in-office teams, challenges like video conference fatigue are newfound hurdles organizations should take seriously.
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