With the introduction of mandatory work from home orders over the last year, work-life is completely overhauled for many of us. Thanks to modern technology, working from home has been possible and most of our daily responsibilities can be carried out virtually. This is true for team meetings that can be done through online video calls and messaging platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom.
Whilst the transition to remote working has undoubtedly been made easier by these tools, it would be unfair to assume that it is a perfect fix and doesn’t come with its own challenges.
The phrase ‘Zoom Fatigue’ has become popular in the media and on personal social media over the last year. Microsoft conducted a survey in January and found that 54% felt overworked and 39% said that they felt exhausted. But why has an increase of video calls left us all so tired? And how can it be combatted?
Influx of bad news
The first reason that Zoom fatigue has become so prevalent doesn’t have anything to do with the platform or the act of video calls themselves. Simply put, the world is rough right now. It’s often hard to find good news to talk about and most conversations end up becoming about the virus and if/when life might get ‘normal’ again.
So even though it is great that the introduction of these tools has enabled life to continue as best as possible, it’s important to keep perspective that nothing is normal right now and this will already be making people tired and often low in mood.
Plus, a lot of people have been affected personally by the virus, either becoming ill themselves at some point or having a loved one become ill, and for many, even losing a loved one.
All of that before you even consider the challenges added by increased use of virtual meetings, can and is taking a toll on people.
But what are the added challenges that people have been reporting, and how can companies help ensure that they don’t become detrimental to employee health?
Extensive Eye Contact
Eye contact in person is often uncomfortable enough, but we’ve come to an unconscious agreement in society that there is no need to maintain eye contact throughout a whole conversation. In fact, many of us find it intense and uncomfortable.
To combat this, we look around at the scenery, move our heads around and find spots to look at that make it seem we are making eye contact when we aren’t.
Communicating exclusively through a screen can make easing the intensity of eye contact more difficult because we’re only seeing a compact image of the person. So not looking at the laptop screen and at them, can make you seem disengaged and rude.
A simple way to combat this would be to evaluate the professionalism of your meetings, and if a meeting can be made less structured without lessening the productivity, then encourage these types of meetings. Casual meetings will allow people to feel less guilty about not always looking directly at their co-workers. Making the interaction feel less taxing and more like a normal conversation with their work peers.
An increase in focus on our insecurities
Let’s face it, most of us have insecurities about the way we look. We also tend to overanalyse our every move. Being able to see ourselves on screen throughout meetings, give us the ability to do so excessively.
For many, this has changed the way we do our morning routines to make ourselves comfortable with how we look on camera. Of course, this is dependent on the person, but some will be taking longer in the morning to make sure that the up-close shot of their face won’t set off insecurities.
This preparation can add extra time onto a person’s morning routine to get themselves camera-ready and means that their brain goes into overload mode all day trying to get the ‘perfect look’ in a meeting. Plus adding in the fact that we remember the times we look ‘bad’ or say something ‘stupid’ more than we do when we are on top of things.
All this time being extra vigilant of how we act and how we present ourselves makes simple interactions that shouldn’t be difficult, more tiring. There is a way to fix this that is straightforward – allow people to have their cameras off. Of course, it’s nice to be able to see your co-workers during meetings and can allow managers to make sure employees are engaging in their work effectively.
However, making being on camera optional rather than mandatory means that people will feel more comfortable and less distracted by a hair out of place or whether someone is judging their appearance.
Being stationary isn’t great for the creation of new ideas
A large part of our time at work, no matter our job, is spent problem-solving or coming up with new ideas to move the company forward. This can be hard if you are sat in one spot, so we often move around, and use physical gestures to help get the ideas flowing.
Having to ensure that you are always in the frame of the camera, means that your movement is restricted. Sitting in the same spot all day isn’t exactly conducive to being creative. It can also result in an increase in aches and pains, that will be distracting and may become a bigger problem in the long run.
To help combat this, companies could make it so that they allow a lot of the planning stages be done over voice call only so that people can move around and make use of the space they have. Also, as brighter months come in Summer, encourage people to work in their gardens occasionally to make sure that they are getting a good dose of Vitamin D.
The importance of body language
Whilst verbal communication is the main form of communication during a conversation, the use of physical cues can make it easier to convey your point and the tone of the conversation. These cues are particularly important if there are more serious points, that may need different body language.
Again, because of the lack of space available, it can be hard to use body language to its full advantage which means every word counts.
On the flip side to that, any use of body language may be exaggerated which can change the tone of how it might be perceived, making it easier to spend a whole meeting thinking that you’ve done or said something to annoy the person you’re talking to. Or worrying that the points you wanted to convey fell flat.
Particularly if it’s a larger meeting where there are several people’s reactions to consider. Try to encourage people to sit a little bit away from the camera, so that more of their body can be seen, and the use of hand gestures will be effective without having to be exaggerated.
The lack of accessibility features
A large issue that people are finding with this new way of communicating, is that it is inaccessible for those with a range of people with disabilities. People are having to find ways to make sure they can fully participate in work activities.
Due to a fast and unexpected increase in the use of video calls, in a wide variety of settings, there were and still are a lot of bugs that need to be fixed. Unfortunately, two of those are the use of subtitles and sign language interpreters in meetings. If needed, these have to be sourced by the company.
Whilst this isn’t the fault of the company, it can leave employees with the need for these adaptations feeling exhausted and frustrated if not available. Where possible, companies should be doing reviews of their workforce’s needs and adapting accordingly. For example, a blind person may find it easier for communications to be sent in an email or on a document where they can make use of any accessibility technology that they may need.
A new way of socialising
Another reason for zoom fatigue becoming a problem within the last year is that we’re not only using it for work purposes. The pandemic causing us to all have to socially distance and for the most part stay in our homes, means that video calling websites like Zoom are the only way for us to maintain contact with our loved ones.
Whilst this technology being available is great and has been vital in keeping us connected, and combatting loneliness, sometimes being in meetings all day and then signing on to talk to family or do a quiz, can be exhausting.
It’s hard to find a balance without people losing out on their social lives or their work being impacted. However, many are saying no to social events so that they can keep up in work. So, shouldn’t there be some leeway from employers too?
Many managers and HR staff are choosing to introduce one meeting-free day a week, and there has been an increase in early finish Fridays too. These are two great ways for people to get some time away from meetings and the added pressure that comes with them being virtual.
Different levels of computer literacy
In the 21st century, it’s often too easy to assume that people are computer literate and that working virtually will come naturally to all of their employees. But with people coming from different generations, and having access to different levels of technology, this increase in their use puts some people at a disadvantage. Fighting with technology can be frustrating and cause people to get to a point where they aren’t taking in any of the information because they’re too busy focusing on working out the technical elements.
Training in the things your employees can and will use to make their job easier will mean that they can make the most of these programmes. Also being flexible on how things are done and not pushing the use of these programmes on people, will make the day-to-day tasks less stressful.
A blurred work-life balance
With everyone working from home, the blur between work and home life is hard to differentiate. Meaning that many people feel like they are getting stuck in work mode for longer. It also makes it easier than ever for people to just add on one more meeting or do an extra hour of work or just checking those emails at 10 pm at night.
Try and encourage your employees as much as possible to not work out of hours and keep regular check-ups going to make sure people are looking after their wellbeing. This will take a lot of stress off people and allow them to take care of themselves.
Finally, people working from home means that they are around more distractions than ever. Kids at home, people knocking on the door, and noises that they cannot control. This can make concentrating on the task in hand hard and even cause embarrassment if you become a subject of many distractions. It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone has access to a quiet room that they can go into for meetings. Allow people to be involved with the planning of meeting times so that they can ensure that distractions are kept to a minimum.
Completely changing the ways we all work was always going to have its challenges, but hopefully, now that we are getting more used to it, we can start looking at ways that make it easier for everyone involved. It must be noted though that these issues are not the fault of the providers of these tools, and this article is not meant to aim blame at anyone. Merely to provide an overview of the challenges having a virtual work life can bring. Whilst remaining optimistic that they will be worked out as we move further through the pandemic, and many companies integrate home working into their regular work set up.