Zoom Fatigue

by Ron Potter

My first regret with Zoom is that I didn’t invest in the company in the early days.  I’ve been a user since the early days but had no idea what was coming.  Covid increased users rapidly and the last I looked they had around a half-million users.  One more investment opportunity missed!

For this blog, I will use the word Zoom as a generic term for all of the video conference applications from Microsoft, Cisco (Webex), Google, and others.

Exhausting

Even though Zoom has become essential, the environment has become exhausting at the same time.  Why?

I’m a highly extroverted person and you would think I would enjoy the Zoom environment.  And in fact, I do prefer it to one-on-one phone calls.   And I even do OK and experience quite a bit of value in small team meetings.

But for those who are in several meetings per day and often with large numbers of participants, it’s exhausting.  I have always experienced mental fatigue deeper and harder to recover from than physical fatigue.  Zoom meetings are all focused on mental fatigue.

Evolution

We have evolved (and survived) because of our ability to understand very small expressions and understand meaning from them.  One of my pleasures is reading spy novels.  Almost all of them talk about microexpressions as a means for understanding truth, lies, confidence, fear, and other emotions.  Human communications is a combination of words, movement, timing, gestures, and others.  Scientists even have a name for all of this coordination.  They call it synchrony.

Synchrony is essential for complete communication and humans work hard to achieve it.  I believe that synchrony is essential to build trust!  It’s interesting to me that Zoom and all of its competitors are working hard to improve teamwork through this media.  I believe it was Microsoft that talked about the “art of teamwork”.  And yet, they are all looking at things that can be measured like: “Who are you meeting with?”, “How often are you meeting?”, “What time of day do you meet?”.  None of these things have anything to do with building the trust essential in good teams.

Fight-or-flight

Scientists at Stanford University found that the size of images can trigger our innate “Fight-or-Flight” state of mind.  When another person’s image looks larger and closer than others on the conference call, they can seem threatening.  Looking at a screen of nine faces where there is no coordination of closeness to screen is very different than having nine people around a conference table.  When every image is a different proportional size, the human mind is trying to figure our fight-or-flight threat.  It’s exhausting.

Feel Good Conversations

Studies also show that face-to-face conversations release neurotransmitters like dopamine.  Dopamine is linked to our feelings of pleasure.  I look forward to meeting with people one-on-one.  It feels good!

Another quote from Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction lab is “Zoom smothers you with cues, and they aren’t synchronous.  It takes a physiological toll.”

What to do

So what do we do about all of this?  So far, I’ve seen no good answer.

Virtual Apps

I’m working with a group putting together an app we call GPS4Leaders (GPS4Leaders.com).  It was originally meant to be a stand-alone app that leaders and teams could have instant access to through their phones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers.  We have built the app based on years of consulting work with clients.

Since the rapid shift to virtual meetings, we are moving away from the stand-alone app to a Zoom-based app.  We’re currently working with one of the Virtual Meeting Software companies to incorporate the “trusting team” concepts into the virtual environment.  We’ll see how it goes.

Pick up the phone

If it’s impossible to meet someone directly, pick up the phone and talk together.  You can even revert to the Zoom environment but do it one-on-one, not in a group.  Talk with the other person directly.  Get to know who they are, not just what they do.  What makes them a unique individual?  What is their background?  What experiences have they had?  What are their ambitions?  Anything you can do to get to know them as human beings the better.  We are human beings, not human doings!

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2 comments

Dan Heffernan May 14, 2021 - 12:03 pm

Thanks for explaining why these meetings are so exhausting! I participated in a somewhat tense board meeting last evening on Zoom and after reading your post got to thinking about how much more collaborative and cooperative it would have been had we been in the same room in person. Synchrony. Explains a lot.

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Ron Potter June 7, 2021 - 10:23 am

Dan, I’m glad that post shed some light. While CEOs are talking about how much Zoom (and other Virtual apps) are increasing productivity, it still doesn’t mention the personal connection to make great teams.

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