‘Zoom fatigue’ is real, scientists say

Psychologists and cognitive scientists agree that videoconferencing disrupts concentration and the natural flow of communication. — AFP Relaxnews

A large proportion of business meetings now take place online, largely due to the rise in remote working. But some employees report feeling wiped out by these virtual meetings. Recent research suggests that this phenomenon may be far more marked than you might imagine.

Researchers in Austria set out to determine the effects of so-called "Zoom fatigue" on the physical and mental health of those who report feeling it. They measured the brain and heart activity of 35 university students, using electrodes attached to their heads and chests, while they attended a 50-minute lecture. But not all the volunteers attended the lecture in the same way: 18 did so in person and 17 dialed in remotely.

This protocol revealed that the effects of "Zoom fatigue" are not limited simply to a drop in energy. The students who took part in the videoconference version showed much greater signs of sadness, drowsiness and negativity than the others. They also seemed less attentive and less engaged.

"The participants felt significantly more tired, drowsy, and fed up as a consequence of participation in the videoconferencing session, if compared to participation in the face-to-face session; moreover, they also felt less lively, happy, and active," the researchers write in their paper.

While this study has its limitations, such as the small sample size, it does add to the body of scientific literature on the impact of the more or less intensive use of videoconferencing tools. Psychologists and specialists in communication and cognitive sciences agree that this technology disrupts concentration and the natural flow of exchanges, as it leaves little room for spontaneity.

Added to this is the stress induced by seeing all those images of people on screen. The increase in the number of participants in the conference call considerably reduces the size of these faces, which can create a certain discomfort or even a desire to escape.

That's why the authors of this latest study advise companies to consider different strategies for making remote meetings more pleasant. "Based on our research results, we recommend a break after 30 minutes, because we found that after 50 minutes of videoconferencing, significant changes in physiological and subjective fatigue could be observed.

Moreover, utilizing features like ‘speaker view’ (Ed. a large view of the person currently speaking) to mitigate the intensity of perceived continuous eye contact could be helpful," says study co-senior author, René Riedl, of the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria in Steyr and Johannes Kepler University Linz in Austria, quoted in the scientific publication, IEEE Spectrum.

René Riedl and colleagues urge companies not to downplay "Zoom fatigue," and to see videoconferencing meetings as a possible complement to face-to-face interaction, not a substitute for it. – AFP Relaxnews

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