Remote Working, Wellbeing

‘Zoom fatigue’: are you overcompensating when it comes to communication?

Lydia Watson

Call it the ‘new normal’, call it the biggest shake-up in white collar working lives for a long time: one possibly unexpected impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the temporary(?) closure of offices worldwide.

In April, almost 50% of people worked from home in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics. That’s half the working adult population released from close-quartered commutes, living for the weekend, and regular in-person interaction. But surely this was just a ‘corona thing’, and normal service is soon to resume?

Companies are staying out of office indefinitely

Twitter, Google, Slack, Facebook, Shopify – just some of the businesses not returning to the office until 2021, or ever at all. And it’s not just the tech giants of the world – 50 of the UK’s biggest employers are also deciding to leave things be for the time-being, not planning any eventual return.

For some, that might seem unthinkable. Fears about faltering lines of communication, disconnected teams, and low morale are very real – especially where isolation affects some more than others, and moments of genuine interaction are missing. So what do you do?

Video calls: are you scheduling too many?

Where stickers on laptop cameras and calls on the move where the norm, video calls have become a very present part of working life. There’s a logic there: seeing your teams’ faces, their reactions to things you say, and coming together as a group seems a fair proxy for in-person meetings.

But the fear of not communicating enough means some are going overboard. A study showed employees spent 120% longer on video calls on average during the pandemic. And not all of that time was productive: it took roughly 46 minutes to prep for meetings, and 18 to get stuck into work afterwards. That’s 56 hours wasted each since lockdown began.

An image of a girl working online

Why we get video call fatigue

If you’re swapping boardroom meetings for video calls, what’s the big deal? Well, studies suggest there’s a combination of factors to consider – many due to the nature of being on camera itself. One study found:

  • 44% find it hard to follow the conversation if multiple people are speaking
  • 40% are put off if cameras are switched off, but 36% don’t put theirs on
  • 54% complained of headaches, eye strain, and anxiety after doing more video calls

These results aren’t all that surprising. Video communication takes more concentration, as you can’t rely on non-verbal cues – like body language or facial expressions – especially when you’re dealing with poor internet connection. That is key when it comes to the flow of conversation, with research showing silences of just 1.2 seconds between utterances make you view the other participant as unfriendly or distracted. Not great for feeling connected.

So, how should you stay connected?

The phenomenon of ‘Zoom fatigue’ comes from a good place – the drive to stay connected. There are two things you can do to achieve that, without burnout:

1.  Tweak your video call habits

There’s simple changes you can make. Know when a video call could just be an email, slack message, or shared document. Go ‘camera off’ whenever possible. Avoid calls on the hour, or make them 5-10 minutes shorter – so people get a breather between them. And while we’re all out-of-office, don’t enforce social catch-up calls… sometimes people have just had enough.

2.  Ask your team what works

At Qlearsite, we think listening to your employees is everything. So do that! Ask them if they feel disconnected, and what could help. Make time for small talk on the calls you already have, so they don’t always feel quite as much like hard work. And consider assessing their well-being through our survey solutions – where better surveys and advanced language analysis give you answers it’s hard to get over a video call, good WiFi or not.

It’s time to start the conversation

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