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The Harmful Effects of Zoom Burnout: Is it avoidable?

With the need to be connected we now live our lives on camera, mobile and computer screens. We’re not gonna lie, it was fun at the beginning, but after months of social distancing, mobility restrictions, and working remotely, the novelty has worn off. Our extensive screen time has exhausted us to the point that we feel more tired, our eyes hurt and our focus starts to blur. In fact, over the last few months, mentions of virtual fatigue, Zoom Fatigue, and Zoom Burnout have popped up on social media and peaked in google searches, hitting their height in mid-2020. With that said, as much as zoom burnout is creeping in faster than we'd like to hope, we simply can't completely avoid the occasional synchronous zoom call. For this reason, it's our aim to provide you with some practical tips to help alleviate the effects of burnout resulting from excessive screen time.

What is Zoom Fatigue & How Can we Alleviate its Effects?

In this article, we will deep dive into everything related to Zoom Burnout and Zoom Fatigue, and most importantly, how we can mitigate their effects.

Why is Zoom so exhausting?

In an interview with BBC, around how zoom calls drain your energy, Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Insead Business School, explains that there's a social pressure to always look good on camera. This need to be at the top of our game is nerve-wracking, increases our stress levels, and causes physical and emotional exhaustion. Now, that's not to say, everyone is focused on looking good while on their call, but, the extra time most people take to primp and prep is adding to the exhaustion.

If at the end of the day you feel more tired out than you used to be before the pandemic, you’re not alone. Work from home might not have changed our schedule as far as working hours go, but since we’re not at the office we feel the need to have frequent catch-ups and virtual meetings. The constant gazing at the screen makes us uncomfortable, tired, and causes virtual meeting fatigue, or how it’s commonly called now: Zoom Fatigue and Zoom Burnout.

How to Alleviate Zoom Fatigue

The dramatic increase of video calls and virtual meetings is starting to show its side effects as millions of employees worldwide have begun to dread and get stressed out about them.

In case you haven't felt them yet, which I'm sure you have if you're now working from home, some of the symptoms of Zoom Fatigue include:

  • Sore eyes
  • Lack of focus
  • Blurred vision
  • Overall exhaustion
  • Headaches and migraines...and... the list goes on and on unfortunately.

To prevent and alleviate Zoom fatigue, here's our list of tips and tricks you can adapt to your day-to-day to find mental and physical stability, ensuring you're at the top of your game while working from home.

Microbreaks can save your day

Surely you used to take coffee or snack breaks every once in a while at the office. In fact, BBC Worklife points out that having microbreaks every once in a while is beneficial for increasing healthy productivity (something we all could improve on). Ideally, experts recommend stepping away from your computer screen every hour and moving your body. These microbreaks give your brain and eyes a much-needed rest, allowing you to disconnect from work, and recharge your batteries.

Blue light blocking glasses for the win!

Now that we spend the better parts of our days in front of computer or mobile screens, our eyes tend to feel more dry and tired. Overexposure to blue light can negatively affect our sight, overall energy and cause insomnia.

Blue light blocking glasses can ease digital eye strain and increase the clarity of your vision. A recent study on lenses to block blue light, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (USA) shows that using blue-light blocking glasses can lead to good night sleep, better decision-making, and increase overall productivity. Now, that doesn't mean that you're immune to eye strain; you should still give your eyes a much-needed break every once in a while.

Switch to Yac, Asynchronous Complish check-ins, or Apps like Slack

Thankfully, we live in the 21st century and there are many ways to keep in touch through different channels without the need to stare into each other’s eyes. To avoid being sat down for long periods of time you can switch to phone-calls, or if your teams are more distributed, voice messaging with tools like Yac do the trick. When your communication is via voice, you have the option to Yac while you walk, even if it's up and down the corridor to stretch your legs a little. Other apps like Complish, remove the need for a daily zoom call, by allowing your team to asynchronously check-in, allowing everyone to stay in the loop. Slack or similar chat-based apps are great facilitators of synchronous and asynchronous communication, both of which are useful in a hybrid working environment.

Take a hike (literally)

Employees generally take a one-hour lunch break. An hour might be too much for just lunch, which is why we recommend to step outside and go for a walk. Use around 20 or 30 minutes to loop your flat, walk to your nearest cafe, stroll through a park or do whatever you feel motivated to do, but get active! Breathing fresh air will help you relax and disconnect from home and work and recharge your batteries so you can face the afternoon session.

Calendar blocking

When we're constantly in meetings, we are left with little time to actually do our jobs. Calendar blocking is defining time-blocks for your different daily and weekly tasks and/or activities. It helps professionals better visualize and plan the day to be more focused and productive. Beyond productivity, it's also an effective communication tool, giving managers will more visibility over what their team is doing and taking note of when their employees are piling too much on their plate.

How Virtual Fatigue is Depleting Us

The Oxford Dictionary describes fatigue as “a feeling of being extremely tired, usually because of hard work or exercise”, but also adds “a feeling of not wanting to do a particular activity any longer because you have done too much of it.”

There is no denying that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed quite a lot within our personal and professional lives. We have turned to the digital world, and have leaned on video calls, to continue building and maintaining relationships. Zoom fatigue isn't pretty and neither is burnout, but it's a reality we're facing and one to which we need to pay more attention.

How Zoom Fatigue leads to Zoom Burnout

Workplace burnout is the feeling of being exhausted but unable to sleep at night; waking up with zero motivation to start the day and the feeling of not being able to move forward. Burnout can manifest in various different ways, such as high blood pressure, insomnia, fatigue, and even heart diseases.

We have created the expectation that we have to be at the top of our game when working from home. It has reached a point where employees find themselves under a lot of stress, and not just because of the many meetings they have to attend daily.

Zoom Burnout is the result of the social and professional pressure that has been created through remote work and online meetings, added to the stress and uncertainty of the current worldwide pandemic. The sum of these factors can highly impact an individual's mental health and stress levels.

There's a bigger issue than Zoom burnout and it's going further than just work

Social interaction, pre-covid pandemic, was our moment to disconnect from work and our 'real-life' obligations; our time-out away from the digital world to socialize with friends and family, in the real world.

Nowadays, social interaction is cut to the bare minimum get-togethers, and happy hours now happen online. After intense hours of work and virtual meetings, the last thing we want to do is to remain seated at a screen to catch-up with our friends. It has reached a point that showing up to these get-togethers feels more like an obligation rather than something to take our minds off of our busy day. The pressure to attend social get-togethers ends up causing a similar amount of stress as any work-related gathering, thus feeding even more into the burnout.

So...what do we do about Zoom burnout?

If you feel more tired than usual at the end of the day, don't take it for granted or treat it as something that will go away. Now more than ever, we need to listen to our bodies and use them as our guide together with the practical tips we've shared to help improve our physical and mental health in the remote working world.

In the end, it comes to understanding how your body and mind work and knowing when to stop and take a break, and actually taking that break. Despite the social and mobility restrictions, try to keep a daily schedule and make time for a little bit of everything, work, family and friends, and leisure. Even though we spend more time at home than ever before, that doesn't mean that we have to spend the entire day in front of a screen. Who knows? Maybe you find out that you're actually a really good painter if you gave it a try; stepping away from the screen can do you wonders!

Work is important but prioritizing your health, and especially mental health, always comes first.