Why Virtual Meetings Are So Exhausting

If you’ve experienced what Stanford University researchers call Zoom fatigue, rest assured, it’s not just in your imagination. The fact is, some virtual meetings cause exhaustion and contribute to burnout. However, they won’t be phased out anytime soon. So, it’s up to you to understand why this happens and how to mitigate it in order to stay healthy and productive.

Why Virtual Meetings Are So Exhausting

Keep reading to learn about the primary causes of virtual meetings fatigue and equip yourself with the strategies needed to conserve mental energy and avoid exhaustion.

Your brain has to take in excess stimuli

We’re surrounded by more stimuli in our lives than ever before. With video meetings, the amount of stimuli increases. A recent poll reveals that nearly one-quarter of respondents think excessive eye contact in virtual meetings is too intense. Another 70 percent stare at their own faces for most of the meeting. This close-up scrutiny is unnatural and can lead to elevated stress or social anxieties, the survey continues.

The cognitive load in video communication is also higher than it would be for an in-person conversation. Why? Your brain has to work harder to interpret co-workers’ facial expressions, body gestures and other nonverbal cues. These are easier to make sense of when you’re interacting face-to-face.

Combine this cognitive load with the excessive eye contact, and it’s no wonder you feel tired from all that stimulation.

Tips & tricks

If possible, allow yourself periodic audio-only breaks for a few minutes at a time. This will give your brain a short respite from the intense eye contact and visual stimuli, while still allowing you to hear and participate in the discussion.

If it makes you feel more comfortable, inform your team leader before the meeting that you’ll need to turn off the camera occasionally. You may even be able to bring this strategy to your company as a whole. Maybe even encourage others to take audio-only breaks as well.

There’s a pressure to be always on

The mass shift to remote or hybrid work has underscored just how exhausting it is to feel like you need to be available and presentable at a moment’s notice. This always on mindset makes it difficult to relax and get into a flow state with your work.

What’s worse, it means you’re working more than you were before. In 2020, the average workday increased by 48 minutes. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the number of virtual meetings rose by 13 percent. Since you have constant access to the digital office, there’s often pressure to be reachable at all times.

Not to mention, some leaders ping their teams for unscheduled video chats. They expect them to follow certain protocol for virtual meetings such as professional clothes and polished backgrounds. These expectations further reinforce the “always on” mindset, which is exhausting.

Tips & tricks

In some cases, you don’t have the spare energy or time to organize your desk, find the perfect accent wall, or tilt the camera angle. To keep it professional without having to do so much extra work, use a curated background. This makes your workspace look professional in a virtual meeting without any undue pressure or effort on your part to hide the realities of working from home.

If you have some flexibility and control in your schedule, unplug from the “always on” mindset with meeting-free time blocks. Communicate to your team that you’ll be unavailable within those boundaries for meetings and calls.

Balancing effective work and video calls is hard

Work-life separation is more blurred than ever before. What’s more, balancing the two can be nearly impossible when you’re working with kids running around.

When it comes to taking video calls, it’s hard to keep household interruptions out of virtual meetings entirely. Sometimes you can’t tune out the external noises from the people or animals you live with. Not only is this a distraction, but it’s often overwhelming and stressful too.

A study from researchers at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga found that most virtual meeting participants are unable to focus due to hyper-awareness of the background noises in their own environments or their co-workers’. While you want to be mindful of virtual meeting etiquette and minimize as many distractions as possible—some are unavoidable.

Trying to maintain this balancing act can take a mental toll. It’s exhausting to split your attention between the video conference and the clamor of life around you.

Tips & tricks

If possible, designate a quiet room or corner of your living space where you can close a door or curtain and focus only on the meeting. Placing a “do not disturb” sign on the door can help keep adult roommates from walking in and disturbing the call.

If you live in a small space with minimal privacy, wear headphones to block out external noise and keep your microphone muted unless you need to talk. This ensures that your team members won’t hear noises in the background and takes the pressure off you to manage interruptions in your environment.

Protect your energy and keep communicating

Fatigue is a legitimate concern in the hybrid workplace. However, it doesn’t have to add to your burnout.

With these simple strategies, you can help alleviate exhaustion. Set your boundaries and protect your energy so you can avoid burnout and stay productive. And, more often than not, bring back the voice calls 🙂

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