New research provides evidence that videoconferences can be mentally exhausting, especially when participants don’t feel some sense of group belonging. The findings, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, indicates that so-called “Zoom fatigue” — which came into prominence in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — is a real occurrence.
“We conducted this study because we felt this fatigue that was happening by being on videoconferences,” explained study author Andrew A. Bennett, an assistant professor at Old Dominion University. “Our research team was on a videoconference in March 2020, right after we all started working from home and transitioned to teaching and learning online — and at the end, we just were like ‘this is real — and whoa, it’s a lot!’”
“So we decided to investigate further to understand what might cause videoconference fatigue and what people can do to feel less fatigued after videoconferences.”
In the study, which included 55 employees in various fields, participants received nine hourly surveys every day for five consecutive working days in 2020. The participants completed a total of 1,746 surveys in total. Only about 7% of the participants didn’t report any signs of videoconference fatigue.
“The main finding is that feeling tired after these videoconferences is a real thing. If you’ve experienced this, you aren’t alone and you aren’t imagining it. We now have some robust scientific data to back up this phenomenon: Over 92% of participants in this study recognized feeling fatigued and tired after a videoconference,” Bennett told PsyPost.
Not surprisingly, this was particularly true on days when the participants experienced multiple videoconference meetings. The researchers also found that videoconference fatigue was lower in the morning but increased throughout the afternoon and early evening.
Participants often attributed their videoconference fatigue to sustained attention. “I do feel more tired after videoconference meetings especially if my camera is on, because I feel that expectation to look at the camera all the time to pay attention,” one participant reported.
Fatigue was also attributed to the extra effort needed to make personal connections during videoconferences. As one participant explained: “video conferencing is quite impersonal. [E]veryone just wants to get in and get out, log in and log off. [T]here’s very little chatter before and after the meeting like there would be in real life.”
Bennett said the findings provide three practical steps that people can take to reduce videoconference fatigue.
“First, have meetings at the right time of the day. In this study, everyone worked 9-to-5 type jobs and, before they worked from home, they had been in an office setting. For these individuals, a videoconference in the middle of the day was fine, but later in the afternoon people were much more fatigued than normal after a videoconference,” Bennett explained.
“Second, use mute when you aren’t speaking. It seems so simple, but we think just reducing distractions for other people is helpful here.”
“Third, and this was the strongest finding, is that feeling part of the group really matters. When these employees had a high sense of belongingness with others on the meeting, they were much less fatigued afterwards,” Bennett continued.
The study was conducted near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the widespread use of videoconference was a relatively novel phenomenon.
“One of the next questions our research team has is how long this effect lasts. We conducted the study in April and May 2020, right after people just started working from home. An interesting follow-up study would be if people felt differently now (one year later), and if not, how did people adapt their videoconference behaviors to feel less fatigued afterwards,” Bennett said.
“I think many of us are still adapting to working differently, and we’re going to continue to have to adapt as the workplace changes. If you’re working remotely, try to find ways to stay connected with people and make new connections with others so you feel part of these groups. Take a break. Get up and walk around. Research has shown that even a 1-minute break can help reduce fatigue,” he added.
“And, of course, use the method of communication that works best for you and everyone else in the group. Videoconferences are wonderful — we get to see each other and pick up some nonverbal cues — but sometimes a phone call or email or text is easier.”
The study, “Videoconference Fatigue? Exploring Changes in Fatigue After Videoconference Meetings During COVID-19“, was authored by Andrew A. Bennett, Emily D. Campion, Kathleen R. Keeler, and Sheila K. Keener.