April 19, 2021

Video Chat Fatigue

Perhaps one of the most interesting results to have come about over this crazy last year is the issue of day-long video conference sessions. With countless millions stuck at home, working remotely, more and more people are spending whole days going from video conference to video conference. 

But individuals aren’t using video conference platforms for just work; with stay-at-home orders in effect around the world, video conferencing has become the go-to solution for birthday parties, medical advice, basic and advanced schooling, and nearly everything in-between.

According to data from App Annie, video conferencing apps were downloaded 62 million times during the week of 14-21 in March 2020, an increase of 45% from the week before and a 90% climb over pre-pandemic times. One leading video conferencing app reported peak usage of more than 300 million daily participants in April 2020.

These numbers clearly show that for many people, video conferencing has become an integral part of their lives. However, with this increased usage also comes significant, unexpected side effects that put a spotlight on a worrying new trend. 

A new study from leading Stanford researchers has come to the conclusion that there’s a good chance that prolonged video conferencing during the day is exhausting. They’ve identified four main consequences resulting from intense video conferencing throughout the day, that together contribute to a feeling commonly known as “video conferencing fatigue”.

  1. Too much close-up eye contact is extremely intense, and tiring.

Even if you aren’t speaking during a video conference, there’s a good chance that people are looking at you -- or at least that’s the feeling. During normal meetings, all eyes are focused on the speaker, so they bear the brunt of the eye-contact. In video conferences, everyone is always looking at everyone else. This creates a highly scrutinized feeling that can lead to feelings of exhaustion. 

In addition, faces on video conferences seem extremely large. In real life, you’d only see a face that large in extremely intimate situations. Our brains interpret this is an intense situation -- either mating or conflict -- creating additional levels of stress.

Recommended solution: Try minimizing the screen so that faces don't appear so large. In addition, use external keyboards to ensure that there’s enough personal space between you and your colleagues’ faces on the screen. 

  1. Constantly checking yourself out while video conferencing is stressful. 

In most video conferencing platforms, you are displayed along with everyone else taking part in the conversation. Constantly seeing -- and judging -- yourself, in real-time is extremely tiring. In real-life you would only see glimpses of yourself in mirrors and windows throughout the day. With so many people video conferencing their days away, the never-ending mirror image of yourself is simply unnatural and stressful. 

Recommended solution: Many video conferencing platforms offer a hide-self option that lets them terminate the streaming of their image to themselves.

  1. You don’t move around so much when you’re video conferencing. 

During normal face-to-face meetings, or when they’re on a phone conference, people can move around as they speak. As most computer cameras are stuck in a fixed position, one must remain more or less in the same position in order to be visible throughout the conversation. Research suggests that our cognitive performance improves when we walk around and move about. This means that when you don’t move around during a meeting, it takes more cognitive effort to function at high levels. This, obviously, translates into increased feelings of exhaustion at the end of a long day of video conferencing. 

Recommended solution: Try turning off your video every couple of hours to move around the room a bit. Also, think about ways you can modify your office’s setup to create more room to move around during the video conference.

  1. It takes much more brain power to communicate via video conference. 

In real-life conversations, a great deal of the messages are delivered via nonverbal communication. Body language, facial expressions and nonverbal cues often do the heavy lifting. Video conferences leave less possibilities for effective nonverbal communication. This means that we have to put a lot more effort into sending and receiving messages while video conferencing.

Ensuring that your face is famed properly, handling audio/video technicalities and using exaggerated gestures to ensure that the point gets across all take their toll on your cognitive capacity.

Recommended solution: From time to time, pretend that you’re on a phone call and just turn the video off.

With or without the pandemic, it looks like many people will be spending significant amounts of time video conferencing. The unfortunate fact is that recent research shows that extended video chat sessions can drain an individual’s energy and sap their cognitive abilities. The good news is that there are plenty of preventative steps that you can take to ensure that you’re video conferencing at top levels throughout the day. 

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