Staying Dialed In: How to Avoid Video Call Fatigue

For every worker who’s sat in an office conference room, pre-COVID, and grumbled “does this really need to be an in-person meeting,” the answer may finally be clear – and it’s a resounding YES, PLEASE. Video calls have become the norm over the last year, but many employees – already stressed by the other many facets of pandemic life – are hitting the Zoom wall. Read on for tips on how to avoid video call fatigue.

Why are video calls so exhausting?

You haven’t endured your usual commute, you’re sitting at home in comfy sweats with a favorite snack within reach – so why do video calls leave you feeling so drained? There are several factors at play, including:

  1. Eye contact uncertainty. When you meet face-to-face (FTF), it’s easy to look someone in the eyes. It’s not so simple on a video call, because, maddeningly, you can’t give and receive eye contact at the same time. Look into the camera and the person you’re speaking to will sense eye contact, but your own eyes are locked on your camera; look into the person’s eyes on your display screen, and they’ll see your eyes looking slightly downward on theirs.
  2. Selfie consciousness. It’s almost impossible not to glance repeatedly at the on-screen square that shows your own face. It’s simply human nature, but it compounds with the eye contact issue to make it so that your eyes are on a near-constant search for connection. It’s mentally taxing, and eventually leads to tired, strained eyes.
  3. Mute confusion. Even the most polite FTF conversations involve complex layers of interruption, with people adding their own thoughts onto the end (or sometimes middle) of someone else’s. On a video call, that natural flow is broken up by participants constantly muting and unmuting themselves to interject, often finding their opening only after the conversation has moved on. The whole (lack of) rhythm can be wildly frustrating, and mentally exhausting.
  4. Distraction overload. The FTF meeting comes with its own built-in bubble of focus: you simply can’t get away with doing other stuff when you’re in the room with your meeting partners. But from behind a computer screen you might feel more freedom, or even pressure, to multitask on other work like emails while half-listening to your call. Add non-work distractions like homebound children and spouses to the mix, and the resulting split focus can leave you feeling extra fatigued by the end of your meeting.

So how can you make it through a day full of video calls without hitting the wall? Here are a few tips:

  1. Put it in writing. “This could’ve been an email” was a popular refrain during pre-COVID meetings, and it still rings true. Not every work issue requires a real-time meeting – if you can circulate a group email to cover all or part of the need, your teammates will thank you.
  2. Moderate with authority. If you’re the meeting organizer, it’s up to you to keep the call moving and managed. Send an agenda beforehand so that people know what to expect and how best to prepare – and stick to it. And though it might feel weirdly authoritarian, go ahead and make use of the “mute all” button when needed (and you’ll know when it’s needed!).
  3. Protect your time. Schedule breaks in between meetings – even if that means actually blocking time on your calendar. Use that time to…
  4. Get moving! Whether it’s a series of short calls or one marathon meeting, sitting still for too long can lead to muscle stiffness, cramps, and total loss of mental focus. Use your blocked break time to stand up, stretch, walk around, go outside if you can, train your eyes on something far away, and talk to a real person if there’s one around. Your brain and your body will thank you.
  5. Try single-tasking. Multitasking may be praised as a skill of the successful, but doing several things at once (especially if you’re already tired) can split your focus so that you’re not actually doing any of them well. Close out of your email, set your phone aside, and put your full focus on your meeting.

Video calls have profoundly changed the way that business is conducted, and they’re going to be here for the long haul. But hopefully someday in the not-too-distant future we’ll find ourselves sitting around that conference table, never again to complain about the in-person meeting.