Online video chats are booming yet carry both pluses and minuses. Here we discuss ways to avoid the pitfalls of this essential medium.
For better and worse, online video conferencing has become a daily reality for many of us. During the pandemic Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and Microsoft Teams, virtual meetings have grown from 10 million in December to over 200 million in March. Yowsa! The pro is that we get to stay in touch with friends and colleagues…the con is that we get to stay in touch with friends and colleagues. While connecting online can dull the pain of isolation it can also drain us of our much needed energy. Here are some ways to find the balance and not fall headlong into the vortex of video fatigue.
Imagine going through ‘sheltering in place’ orders and not being able to connect visually with friends and colleagues. Talk about ramping up feelings of loneliness. Video chatting has allowed us to connect in ways that would have been impossible just a decade ago. These platforms enable us to maintain long-distance relationships and connect with colleagues and teams remotely. They also can go a long way in promoting a “we are in this together” ethic during the pandemic.
Across the board, many video conference users are beginning to complain about exhaustion after continual daily online meetings. Psychologists are calling this “video call fatigue.” Video calls force us to focus differently and more intensely on conversations in order to absorb information. As opposed to in-person meetings, where one can quickly and discretely clarify information with a colleague sitting next to them, doing so is clunky and tough during an online group meeting. How we process information over video is also different. In real life we tend not to stare at a person while they’re speaking to us in order to not cause us or them discomfort. We regularly look away briefly and use our peripheral vision to stay in the game. On a video call however, the only way to show that we are attending is to gaze at the camera or screen. This constant gazing makes us feel awkward and drained.
Add to this the fact that we’re also trying to process visual cues from a number of people online at the same time plus their pets, children and spouses while managing the same conditions in our own space, and we have a recipe for one nasty headache. So what can one do?
Here are five ways to manage video meetings so that you can find balance and connection:
- Schedule in breaks – back to back meetings, sitting in one place, is tough on both you and your eyes. If you’re facing back to back sessions, encourage others to keep meetings 5 to 10 minutes shorter than the scheduled time frame. This way you’ll have a chance to get up, walk around, have a bio break, stretch and recharge before the next meeting.
- Resist the urge to multitask – while it can be easy and tempting to lose your focus on the meeting and start doing other things, research shows that multitasking impedes your performance. So stop looking at your phone or surfing those other open tabs if you want to be able to stay on top of what is being said.
- Reduce onscreen visual noise – If you’re on a call with a number of people, your brain is working hard to process all of the visual information coming it’s way. In effect, you’re in multiple rooms at once, noticing not just their faces but their plants, backgrounds, pets, furniture and whatever else is going on in their rooms. Research shows that you are also likely spending a good deal of time looking at yourself. Quick hacks to prevent visual overload include hiding yourself from view, getting all participants to agree to have everyone who is not talking turn off their video (‘speaker view’ on Zoom) and to chose plain backgrounds.
- Go old school – where possible, use phone or email to communicate with others. Chances are, they’ll be appreciative of the break from the stress of on camera meetings.
- Manage virtual social events – while these are a lifeline for many, including myself, having too many only adds to the daily strain of these meetings. In the beginning we were doing 2-3 per night, catching up with friends and family. It was draining. We’re now down to a less stressful, more manageable schedule of video chats.
While connecting virtually is like manna from heaven in some ways, as we’ve seen, it can also suck the energy right out of us. I hope that the above tips help you in finding a balance between the pitfalls and benefits of this burgeoning communication tool. Here’s to a more sustainable, less taxing level of personal and professional virtual connecting!
What are some of the ways that you use to manage the strain of virtual connecting?