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The remote worker’s guide to preventing Zoom fatigue

Cathy Reisenwitz

by Cathy Reisenwitz on May 25, 2021

Smart meeting breaks

In December 2019, Zoom had about 10 million users. A mere five months later, as workers hunkered down for a global pandemic, more than 300 million people had signed up. “Virtual meetings are now deeply woven into our social fabric,” Rich Haridy wrote for New Atlas. Even after life returns to “normal,” after the pandemic subsides, “Zoom meetings are set to become a permanent part of our lives.”

While the benefits of remote work and remote meetings are many, the downsides are also considerable. One of them is "Zoom Fatigue," the unique exhaustion that follows a day spent with your headphones and webcam on.

The reasons video calls drain your energy

Haridy interviewed Stanford University communications expert Jeremy Bailenson about his new study looking into some of the main causes of Zoom fatigue.

They include:

  • Unwavering eye contact makes talking on Zoom feel more like public speaking than contributing your thoughts in a meeting.

  • Seeing several faces very close to yours can feel like a violation of personal space.

  • It’s more tiring to take in both auditory information and non-verbal communication from video than to take in audio by itself.

  • Having what is essentially a mirror pointed at your own face in your peripheral vision for hours on end is anxiety-provoking.

  • Your body is completely still for hours, which can decrease your cognitive performance.

Tips to prevent Zoom fatigue

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to alleviate your Zoom fatigue. To make remote meetings less stressful, try making your Zoom window smaller and sitting further away from your screen to more closely approximate how close other people would be to you if you were in the same room. And if possible, hide your view of yourself so you don’t get self-conscious.

Obviously the best solution is to spend less time in Zoom calls. You can reduce unnecessary meetings through a short calendar audit and by adopting remote-friendly tools like Loom and project management software.

For the meetings you must attend, you can make them shorter and more productive with “pre-reads.” Daniel Ek, Founder and CEO of Spotify, swears by them. Before meetings he’ll send out a Google Doc containing the meeting’s goals and everyone’s roles and ask people to comment it up with questions and clarifications. “Pre-reads are a great way to share context so attendees can quickly get into the meat of the issue and not waste time getting everyone up to speed,” Ek said. “Attendees can focus on discussing the matter at hand versus getting on the same page.”

While focus is necessary for deep work, back-to-back calls can actually make you less productive. That’s because exhausting your brain’s focus circuits drains your energy. Research shows that focusing when you’re tired without taking breaks can erode your self-control, make you act more impulsively and become less helpful to your teammates. Ironically, the more time you spend in Zoom calls without breaks the worse your decisions, relationships, and collaboration becomes.

Taking regular breaks between calls is another must for alleviating Zoom fatigue. We recommend scheduling 15-minute breaks between meetings. IRL meetings offer the chance to pace, walk around the room, and stand while you’re presenting. On Zoom calls there’s social pressure to stay within your camera frame. Use your breaks to stand up, stretch, and move your body a bit. But movement both feels good and makes you a better thinker. One study found that people who walked on a treadmill had more “creative divergent thinking” than those who stayed seated.

Three ways Clockwise can help

While you can manually schedule breaks between meetings, you can also have Clockwise do it for you automatically. Tell us how much of a break you want and how often and we’ll add them in when possible. For example, if you’d like a 15-minute break after two hours of consecutive meetings, Autopilot will attempt to schedule around that preference. Learn more about smart meeting breaks.

Clockwise can also schedule and protect your lunch time based on your preferences. We recently made it possible to reschedule lunch holds, so now if you find a time that you prefer, you can move lunch holds to a more convenient time.

And Clockwise’s 1:1 dashboard will also show you how many one-on-ones you have right now, on what cadence. Then, you can remove any duplicative or unnecessary meetings. The ones you want to keep you can put on Autopilot with just one click. Putting these meetings on Autopilot will address double-booking automatically, so you don’t have to manually reschedule or skip your one-on-one. Check it out here.

Zoom meetings are likely to remain a part of our working lives. But Zoom fatigue doesn’t have to zap all our energy. There are ways to make Zoom calls less draining, such as sitting further from your screen, spending less time in meetings, reducing unnecessary meetings, and taking regular breaks between meetings.

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is Head of Content at Clockwise where she oversees the Clockwise Blog and The Minutes Newsletter. She has covered business software for six years and has been published in Newsweek, Forbes, the Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications.

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