Stanford University researcher, Jeremy Bailenson, has been taking a new look at “Zoom Fatigue.” Bailenson –  founding director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford – stresses that the phenomenon is not unique to Zoom specifically, but that the widespread use of the software has led to “zoom” being used as a synonym for videoconferencing – much as “googling” is a general term for using a search engine.

He has found four key factors that make videoconferencing so tiring, and he has some recommendations:

  • Unlike an in-person meeting where participants will shift from looking at a speaker to other activities, on Zoom everyone is always staring at everyone else. These long stretches of close-up eye contact are stressful. The size of faces on your monitor is another factor. Research conducted in the 1960s by Edward Hall, a cultural anthropologist, suggested interpersonal distance influences emotion and behavior. Bailenson states that a person’s intimate space spans a radius of about 60 cm (~2 feet). Depending on your monitor size and Zoom settings, large faces of fellow participants can seem to be presented in close proximity.

“In general, for most setups, if it’s a one-on-one conversation when you’re with coworkers or even strangers on video, you’re seeing their face at a size which simulates a personal space that you normally experience when you’re with somebody intimately,” says Bailenson.

Reducing the size of your videoconferencing window – and moving away from your computer monitor – should help give the sensation of increasing the personal space between yourself and other participant’s faces;

  • Seeing yourself during video chats is stressful. We don’t have a mini-camera following us around in real life that constantly shows us what we look like as we speak, etc. Most people become more critical of themselves when forced to stare at their reflection for hours a day. Once you’re positioned correctly in the monitor, use the “hide self-view” button, to solve this problem;
  • People tend to move about the room, stand while presenting information, or pace around while thinking in real life. Being tied to a monitor can remove all of these actions. Using an external camera, separate from a computer, can generate personal distance that allows you to move about a room. Having some meetings be audio-only would also allow for movement; and,
  • In video chats, our normal nonverbal communication is not as natural and we have to work harder to make and interpret gestures and nonverbal cues subconsciously. Bailenson again suggests taking audio-only breaks throughout the day, to help reduce this fatigue.