Why video conferencing is tiring for many of us

 

For most of us, staying connected with friends, family and work colleagues while social distancing means using one or more of the many video apps that have become integral to our daily lives.  Indeed, they have already become ingrained in our speech. ‘I’ll zoom you later’, ‘Shall we meet on Teams?’, ‘Who’s in Houseparty?’, ‘I’ll WhatsApp you’, these are all phrases that we wouldn’t have been applying so commonly to our life over six weeks ago. But why do so many of us find this interaction so tiring? Why, in a time of social distancing where life has ground to a halt, are we experiencing social exhaustion? 

There are a number of challenges we have to face with video conferencing which is causing so-called ‘zoom fatigue’ for many of us. 

 

Video chat is harder than face to face communication 

Mentally, we have to focus much more on video than if we are chatting to someone face to face. Facial expressions (even when they freeze on a screen) are harder to process as well as the tone and pitch of voice over video.  Body language is said to constitute half of what we are trying to communicate.  Limited to usually just head and shoulders, trying to pay attention as well as listen is much more tiring and meaning can often be harder to grasp. 

 

Latency – that awkward silence 

Silence, after someone’s mouth has just moved and before you hear their next words adds another challenge.  Gianpiero Petriglieri, Research Professor at Insead, states that  ‘Silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation. However, when it happens in a video call, you become anxious about the technology.’ 

This silence makes people uncomfortable and feel the need to fill this gap in conversation. One 2014 study showed that delays on phone or conferencing systems shaped our views of people negatively, even delays of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused. 
(https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200421-why-zoom-video-chats-are-so-exhausting) 

 

Seeing yourself perform  

Seeing yourself during video calls adds an additional level of stimuli that you wouldn’t have in a face to face meeting. Seeing ourselves online can make us feel more self-conscious and aware of how we present ourselves.  This, and the feeling that we need perform, can be both draining and more stressful than face to face meetings.  

Whilst these are all known challenges for video conferencing, current circumstances in lockdown adds further stressors as Petriglieri confirms.  

 

We have no choice 

For most of us we have no choice as video conferencing replaces many of our regular meetings. However, the constant video calls are a further reminder of the people we have lost temporarily. Every time we see someone online, it reminds us that we should be seeing them in the flesh. 
 
Relationships, whether romantic, familial or work-based are stilted and we have no physical contact. There is no hug or handshake, instead our calls become a series of slightly awkward waves and delayed ‘hello’s’.  
 
An article by Nick Morgan in Forbes on human sociality confirms this. He states that we are ‘social beings; we share mirror neurons that allow us to match each other’s emotions unconsciously and immediately’. This neurological response is integral to us and without face-to-face contact, how do we comprehend this? (https://www.forbes.com/sites/nickmorgan/2015/09/01/we-humans-are-social-beings-and-why-that-matters-for-speakers-and-leaders/#519655126abd)  
 
Although this may seem like a daunting new phenomenon, we have to remember that it is temporary. We will regain these people who we have for the time being, lost this physical contact with.  

 

There is no separation  

We are meeting work colleagues, friends and family all in the same space, staring at the same screen. The self-complexity theory posits that individuals have multiple aspects; context-dependent social roles, relationships, activities and goals – and we find the variety healthy. When these aspects are reduced, we become more vulnerable to negative feelings. 
 
Even when we are chatting with friends, we may be joining in because we feel we ought to rather than want to. That virtual office ‘happy hour’ is not so happy when it feels like an obligation and therefore means we are not actually getting a break.  This leads to social exhaustion even though we are in social isolation. 

 

Click here for Six mindful ways to help combat ‘zoom fatique’