Here’s how you can avoid (and recover from) ‘video call fatigue’

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To prevent reaching the point of video call fatigue, it is necessary to understand how video calls tire people out. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The adjustment to a work-from-home environment is just one of the changes we’ve had to deal with amid the pandemic. Although not everyone is well-versed in navigating the digital world of remote work, we are nonetheless compelled to adapt. Now that we’re months deep into this global health crisis, the huge lifestyle change is taking its toll on us.

Technology may provide us a platform to convene beyond the limits of in-person interaction, but it also gives way for new issues to arise. As part of the adjustment to remote work, companies extensively use video calls to get in touch and hold meetings. However, more people than ever are experiencing “video call fatigue,” the extreme exhaustion from continuous participation in video conferences through Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, and other platforms.

This growing trend highlights a pressing issue in the new normal. Ultimately, it is unhealthy to feel constantly drained by virtual interactions. This health concern must be addressed as we continue communicating through virtual meetings for the time being. To prevent reaching the point of video call fatigue, it is necessary to understand how video calls tire people out.

Challenges of virtual communication

Video-calling may be an effective solution to bridge the distance, but it is incredibly taxing for plenty of reasons. According to psychologist Jezzebelle Baldo, this fatigue comes from our brain’s attempt to meet our levels of expectation similar to that of face-to-face meetings. “With video conferencing, a lot of information is needed to be processed by our brain as there are a lot of factors to consider,” she says.

A virtual environment involves elements that can malfunction at a moment’s notice. Muted microphones, lagging internet connection, and background noise that may or may not be under our control are all occurrences that are hardly present with physical meetings. These challenges make it harder for all parties involved. Baldo explains that the fatigue almost doubles because all these must be taken into account when preparing for meetings. It is overwhelming to address these issues while listening to the speaker and checking one’s appearance onscreen all at the same time.

The brain feels less burdened with in-person meetings because it doesn’t have to work as hard to process non-verbal communication. It can easily retain information with less focus, as opposed to online meetings where non-verbal cues require extra effort. Video and/or audio transmission delays in virtual communication, no matter how insignificant they may appear, are hard on the brain as well. “In a way, our brain needs to send signals to heighten our senses [which] doubles the work of our information processing function,” says Baldo.

The self-awareness that anyone can be looking at you also gives off a pressure to present the self in a certain way. The performance pressure from this contributes to video call fatigue. Endlessly staring into a screen with no visual break is also at play. Meetings usually involve looking at different objects of attention, but with video calls, everyone is just looking at a screen. This makes it more likely to seek temporary distractions such as reaching for smartphones or switching tabs away from the meeting.

Reducing mental fatigue

It is possible to decrease exhaustion from video calls by avoiding unhealthy habits like overscheduling. According to Baldo, having back-to-back meetings can be mentally draining, so it is important to take adequate breaks in-between video conferences. Limiting the number of meetings in a day will allow individuals to have a breather from each virtual interaction.

Multitasking is also a no-no. Although it’s easy to check emails and go on social media during an online meeting, it’s still taxing on the brain as it tries to keep up with the divided attention. For those who have private spaces in the household, it helps to set up a home office to condition the brain to focus when working in that particular environment. A small space specifically allocated for work is also effective.

To avoid dragging meetings, setting a time limit and sticking to it is crucial. Respect people’s time by starting and ending video calls according to schedule. At the end of the day, Baldo also recommends having a short break from digital devices and online communication altogether after work. “Give yourself some pampering after a long day of work like you used to,” she says.

For the sake of everyone, managers should evaluate whether some meetings are really necessary. For instance, short announcements that don’t warrant an immediate response could be done over email instead. Although video calls allow people to stay connected during a pandemic, it’s not the only available avenue for communication, nor is it the most efficient.

At this point, many people already dread the idea of another video call. This mental fatigue from work can seep into other areas of our lives, so it must be dealt with at once. During this pandemic, it is essential to focus on mental wellness. By making it a point to avoid overwhelming the brain with a variety of stressors, it is possible to navigate the concept of remote work without feeling worn out every day.