Last week, Stanford Professor Jeremy Bailenson published a peer-reviewed paper examining the impact of spending hours a day on video conferencing platforms.
He outlined four specific causes of psychological fatigue and how we can mitigate them in our day-to-day virtual work. Here is the condensed version that may be useful for you and/or your team.
1. Excessive eye contact is intense. Think of the same way you behave when entering an elevator or riding a subway. In tight spaces, we avert our gaze to maintain comfort as it’s unnatural to be so close to strangers. This same impact occurs when staring at others all day on screen, especially when faces are enlarged. Simply put, it just feels weird.
Tip: Bailenson suggests taking the platform (ex. Zoom/MS Teams etc.) out of full screen view so that faces are smaller relative to your screen size.
2. Watching yourself constantly is exhausting. There are studies that indicate seeing a reflection of oneself causes us to be more self-critical. Doing so all day long can result in negative emotional outcomes. As a podcast host, I conduct all my interviews via Zoom and most of my guests (myself included) are far more at ease when not staring at ourselves.
Tip: select the “hide self view” option by right-clicking your own photo.
3. Video conferencing reduces normal mobility. In-person or phone conversations allow us to move around as humans usually do. Not so with video chats. “There’s a growing research now that says when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively,” Bailenson said. We need to find more ways to move during the day.
Tip: while you can adjust your camera to allow for more movement in your environment, this is difficult for most. An easier solution? Give yourself and your teams permission to turn off their cameras for 5min when needed, and stretch/move their bodies.
4. Cognitive load is much higher on screen. In video chats, we have to work harder to send and receive signals that occur far more naturally when we are in person. On Zoom, we have to ensure our face is centred on the screen, background is tidy, and look directly at the camera.
Tip: especially for longer meetings, give yourself permission to take audio-only breaks. This means not just turning off the video, but also turning your body away from the screen.
We can all do our part to take better care of ourselves and our teams right now. Try one of the above tips this week and find what works for you. For those interested in the deeper dive, you can access the study here. Sincere thanks to Jeremy Bailenson for the research, and Vignesh Ramachandran for the helpful summary.