Reducing Zoom Fatigue

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Writing in Technology, Mind, and Behavior, Jeremy Bailenson identifies some plausible theoretical arguments as to why participants in Zoom video calls and meetings report being tired by the experience. He identifies four reasons for such fatigue: excessive close-up eye gaze, cognitive load, increased self-evaluation from staring at oneself on video, and limited physical mobility. Check out the article for the psychological background on his arguments. Here I want to suggest some things that we can do immediately to reduce the conditions that seem to be connected to fatigue.

Reducing the amount of close-up eye contact that is typically reserved for more intimate friends can be accomplished in several ways. One approach would be to use a camera that is not attached to your computer and placing the camera further away from you. This will put your face in a wider frame and create a sense of distance. You can experiment with creating a set in which you appear but do not dominate the screen image viewed by others.

Of course, moving away from your camera only handles the issue for your online colleagues, leaving you with an overly close view of them. To handle that you can use an external screen separate from your computer and keyboard and locating it several feet away from you. If you cover or ignore your main computer screen, you will eliminate the overly close view of your colleagues until they pick up on your camera technique and create distance on their end.

To reduce an overly close view of a class of students, you can allow students to turn off their cameras and post only their names or just a photo that will allow you to determine who is present and who is raising a question or making a comment. This has the additional benefit of reducing the possibility of unintended invasions of student privacy.

Addressing the cognitive load issue requires steps to reduce the burden of sending extra cues via the video system as well as those to handle the task of receiving the cues used by others. Changing the camera view can help with this as well. If the camera is pulled back to reduce the size of your face and allow the view to include your hands, it will be possible to use common hand gestures as cues. This kind of strategy will require a bit of tailoring to the style of the individual. Hand gestures will work well for those of us who speak with our hands anyway, but others may want to provide for other approaches.

Overcoming the impact of staring at oneself on video can be tackled by reducing the size of your image in the video as already suggested. However, as you reduce the size of your image in the video you will inevitable bring more attention to your surroundings so they will need to be curated to reflect whatever impact you hope to have. Needless to say, turning off your video camera and posting a photo or graphic can also address this issue.

The limitations on your mobility can be overcome in several ways. Pulling back the camera to reduce your size in the frame provides more space for you to move around while remaining in the video window. This may even allow you to move from a sitting to a standing position while remaining in the shot. If you add an adjustable standing desk, you can change your position during a long meeting.

These are some strategies you can try immediately with small adjustments in your video conferencing arrangements. Bailenson wrote his article to suggest areas of research for his fellow psychologists, but while the research community works to gather additional evidence as to what might work more generally, the rest of us can experiment to see what might work for us personally.

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