Are you experiencing video call fatigue?

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen many of us engage in new ways of communicating including using applications such as Zoom for business and social meetings.

On a personal note, I have been engaged in a number of virtual meetings via Zoom and one thing that has stood out for me is the exhaustion felt before and during the meetings. I have debated to myself as to whether this exhaustion is as a result of conducting business via the screen as opposed to physical meetings.

To establish what exactly was going on, this week I decided to reschedule most of my local meetings to physical ones and as a control, I decided to keep meetings with international members online just so I use the international meetings as a measure.

After four physical meetings and three Zoom meetings, I have found out that the Zoom meetings leave me very exhausted compared to the physical meetings.

My conclusion therefore is that my mind has suffered from exhaustion after participating in online meetings due to a number of reasons as follows:

To begin with, I have discovered that I am overly and excessively self-aware during online meetings which in turn puts pressure on me to perform.

Further, I have found out that I overschedule meetings despite the fact that I have continued reporting for work physically though many partners and stakeholders locally and abroad are in lockdown.

Let me breakdown further the reasons why there is a feeling of tiredness from video calls.

The biggest challenge that can be highlighted is what I am referring to as suffering from a “Mental overload”.

This means that, because we see ourselves on the screen, and naturally want to present a good image to friends and colleagues, hence enhancing self-awareness to a greater level than usual, and resulting in making additional self-presentational efforts than in face-to-face interactions in the real world.

I also noticed that another key factor adding to my exhaustion was the extra effort needed to process non-verbal cues such as body language and voice projection during video calls.

Several scholars such as Psychologist Dr Linda Kaye from the UK’s Edge Hill University share my thoughts. She says, “Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally.”

I have also noticed that the gaze duration during the call has a bearing on my wellbeing. To back this, Researchers from the University College London argue that while people are happy to stare at people they feel comfortable with for longer periods, gazes of more than 3 seconds can feel uncomfortable in less relaxed situations.

I also agree with the German study published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies that finds a problem of “self-complexity”. This research establishes that, naturally human beings like variety, but with COVID-19 many aspects of our lives are coming together in one place – video calls.

One may ask though that what could be the remedy to reduce on video chat fatigue?

Well to start with, I have realised that with the pandemic still in full swing, the option of physical meetings won’t be doable for most people. But I have also learned that there are ways to reduce on video chat fatigue.

Firstly, it is important to make meetings short. Secondly, remember to reduce on-screen stimuli. This means that, one must try hiding themselves from view and work with just the audio if possible. And unless extremely necessary, try to work with a phone call or email if appropriate.

Before I am accused of being uncivilised and against modernisation, let me state that the video conferencing software is the defining technology of the lockdown. The benefit of face-to-face communication brought by these technologies have helped with lockdown isolation. Just the mere act of meeting with people in real time – in other words, things like Zoom or FaceTime – can be a really powerful way to connect. Yale Professor, Laurie Santos summarises this phenomenon as follows: “You see their facial expressions, hear the emotion in their voice, you’re really able to connect with them[making life in isolation easier].”

BRENDA BUKOWA is a LECTURER and RESEARCHER at the University of Zambia (UNZA) in the Department of Media and Communication Studies. She is also a Managing Partner at BB Media Consulting Services. She holds a PhD in Media and Communication studies from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa. For comments, call/WhatsApp +260975280558.

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