Are you suffering from Googly Eye Syndrome?
Or as it has more commonly become known as ‘Zoom fatigue’? (other such platforms are available).
This phenomenon has become such a concern, as we move forwards into more time spent working from home, that studies have already been undertaken to work out why it affects us as it does and what companies can do to try and alleviate its affects.
Professor Jeremy Bailenson, the founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, outlined several reasons video calls can be so much more exhausting than in-person conversations. He found that all of the following contributed toward this condition:
- the excessive eye contact involved in video calls
- the unnatural situation of seeing ourselves on-screen
- having to stay in the same fixed spot
- harder mental work for us because we have to put in more effort to make and interpret nonverbal communications.
“If you want to show someone that you are agreeing with them, you have to do an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up,” “That adds cognitive load as you’re using mental calories in order to communicate.”
So, what can companies do to try and alleviate the burnout whilst still maintaining a workable ‘working from home’ environment?
According to Dr. Aaron Balick, a renowned US psychotherapist, a key assumption was made that Zoom calls are the equivalent of face-to-face meetings and going into WFH companies failed to consider the additional mental burden placed on workers and the downtime needed to process what was said between calls. He said:
“They require different intellectual muscles,”
Zoom calls needed to be treated as a “functionally different thing.”
It is fair to say that as working from home has never been as prolific as it is today it is totally understandable that businesses would not have considered the negative effects of ‘video’ meetings – nor most probably would its founder Eric Yuan, who initially got the idea for Zoom while trying to find a way to connect with his long-distance girlfriend and later on almost never took work trips insisting on taking zoom calls so he could spend more time with his children.
Last week Citigroup’s new chief executive, Jane Fraser, announced the plan for “Zoom-free Fridays” in a memo sent to all employees. Recognizing that workers have spent inordinate amounts of the past 12 months staring at video calls, Citi is encouraging its employees to take a step back from Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms for one day a week saying:
“The blurring of lines between home and work and the relentlessness of the pandemic workday have taken a toll on our well-being,” “After listening to colleagues around the world, it became apparent we need to combat the ‘Zoom fatigue’ that many of us feel,”
Dr Balik, said, when asked his thoughts on this initiative:
"Citi’s “Zoom-free Fridays have the right spirit behind them but if you’re doing back-to-back Zooms Monday through Thursday and then have a day off Friday, that’s still not quite good enough.” Employees need more opportunities to block out uninterrupted time to work without the distractions of calls and meetings. Without the structure and routine of office life, many people have also fallen into the trap of working longer hours because they have no external cue telling them when to switch off.”
Although Citigroup’s ‘Zoom free Friday’ was headline news week it is in-fact something that many companies in the UK have been doing for some time as well as:
- zoom free lunch breaks,
- the choice to not have video on just voice
- guidance that there must be at least a 10 minute, preferably longer, break in between meetings
Other companies have:
- given their employees a step tracker and are encouraging ‘actually mobile’ phone calls instead of never-ending zoom meetings whilst
- some have introduced a daily 45 minute ‘Boost Break’ which are sacred blocks in the calendar for everyone to respect each other’s time and allow them to get on with work without interruption.
- Adam and Eve DDB Advertising Agency in London have even introduced a ‘delay send’ (to the next day) email policy for work messages after 6pm.
And it’s not just the day to day that needs addressing as it has been noticed that employees were not taking leave or even booking it. Having something to look forward to and taking timing out to recharge is vital for future good mental and physical health so management has to encourage its teams to take time off to relax and rejuvenate.
This is a transition point in the way we all work and as long as we recognise that for any support to be meaningful, it has to be relevant to an employee’s unique challenges and fit their lives - there can be no prescriptive, one-size fits all approach.
Working from home has been for many employees a necessary and longed for option for many years in order that they can attempt a better work/home life balance.
As long as employers listen to what employees are saying and give them the tools and the options to work in a way that best suits their individual situation working from home could be a significant revelation for the business world.
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