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5 brain-based solutions to beat Zoom-fatigue

Why are video calls so exhausting?
Blog 174 Dr Kristy Goodwin 1

From team huddles and client meetings to book club gatherings and team virtual drinks, we’ve probably done them all on Zoom or a similar video platform during the pandemic.

Data on employee time usage reveal that when employees work remotely or in a hybrid fashion, they’re engaged in more formal and informal meetings. In fact, Microsoft data confirms that we’ve seen a 148% increase in virtual meetings since the pandemic began (and rising).

To recreate an in-office experience for remote and hybrid staff, employers tend to add more virtual touchpoints, which leads to digital overload, and 75% of HR leaders agree that this is putting their employees at risk for burnout. Gartner consultancy reported that since the pandemic began, there have been more check-ins (78%) between managers and workers, and 84% more virtual meetings with teams.

In addition to that, the average time for meetings is 10 minutes longer, increasing from 35–45 minutes. This has left many professionals experiencing the symptoms of ‘Zoom fatigue’ – feeling tired, anxious, with headaches, and generally exhausted by constant video calls. Why? We’re not using video calls in a way that are aligned to our neurobiology.

Why are video calls so exhausting?

  • Unnatural social interactions – close-up eye contact for long periods of time is intense as people are in your intimate space and video lags can cause social awkwardness. Video calls are the equivalent to speaking to someone 60 cm (2 ft) away from you, which is something we typically reserve for lovemaking, comforting, football or wrestling. So, our brain can misconstrue this intensity as a threat and feel stressed.
  • Impression management – being on a video call is the first time in history where you see what you look like in a social context. You start to notice your mannerisms, idiosyncrasies and this can be taxing on your self-image.
  • Reduced mobility – you can’t move around as much as you’d normally do during in-person meetings or over the phone when on a video call. Movement helps us to make ‘neurotransmitters’ that help us to focus and is something we naturally do to buffer us against stress.
  • Higher cognitive load to make up for lost context – the truncated view of a video window means that we don’t see the full range of non-verbal cues like gestures, micro-expressions or body language, so our brains are working harder to compensate for this loss in information.

Five brain-based solutions to beat ‘Zoom-fatigue’:

1. Activate speaker view – remember that looking at yourself in social situations is unfamiliar and draining. Hide self-view or pop a sticky note over your video (not your camera).

2. Reduce your window size – video calls closely resemble having a conversation with someone just 60 cm away from you, which is considered your ‘intimate distance’. Shrink the size of the video, especially if you’re using an external or large monitor.

3. Buffer breaks – stress levels will elevate if you go from one virtual meeting to the next (which can be exacerbated if meetings are running over time). Take ‘good’ breaks between calls of at least 5–10 minutes. Try to move before and after your calls to help you focus (your brain creates dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine when engaged in physical movement).

4. Wear headphones – hearing intelligible speech can reduce your cognitive performance by 10%. Wearing noise-cancelling headphones will block out some of the superfluous background noise, which can be distracting and drain your cognitive resources.

5. Monotask during meetings – don’t multitask as it’ll leave you feeling stressed, and it’ll increase your error rate. Our brains release cortisol when we multitask and burn through glucose, the brain’s energy supply. Try handwriting notes during a meeting to resist the urge to multitask.

Given that hybrid work is here to stay, video calls will be an integral tool for distributed teams. We must learn to use these tools and technologies in ways that are congruent with our neurobiology, rather than against our brains and bodies.

And you can download Dr Kristy's video call checklist here.

Who is Dr Kristy Goodwin?
Having personally experienced how our always-on digital culture is compromising people’s wellbeing and is counter to optimal and sustainable performance, award-winning researcher and speaker Dr Kristy Goodwin is on a mission to promote employee wellbeing and bolster workplace productivity in an always-on digital world.

As one of Australia’s digital wellbeing and productivity experts, she shares practical brain-based hacks to tame tech habits and the latest evidence-based strategies to decode the neurobiology of peak performance in the technological era. Senior business leaders and HR executives from the country’s top organisations engage Dr Kristy to help them promote employee digital wellbeing and performance. Her roster of clients includes Apple, Westpac, Deutsche Bank, Bank of Queensland, DLA Piper, Macquarie Bank, Westfield, Randstad, the Reserve Bank of Australia, NSW Health, Cuscal, State Street, National Broadband Network.

You can find out more about Dr Kristy here.

– The Coach Place Global

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