National Post

DON’T BE AFRAID TO JUST PHONE IT IN

WHY YOU’RE TIRED OF VIDEO CONFERENCI­NG — AND HOW TO FIX IT

- Paulina firozi allyson chiu and

Jeremy Bailenson was exhausted. It was a Friday in late March and he had just finished his first full week working from home during the pandemic — nine-hour days spent glued to a laptop in a spare bedroom of his house.

Then, a reporter asked him to jump on another video call for an interview. He thought to himself: Why does this need to happen on video?

It’s been nearly a year since he first experience­d that video call-induced exhaustion — an early glimpse of what millions of others may have faced since beginning to work remotely. Now, he’s published a paper outlining why video chats may exact such a mental toll, and suggesting how you can reduce fatigue.

“There was a transforma­tion in that we went from rarely video conferenci­ng to video conferenci­ng very frequently and without really knowing the parameters of what the costs and the benefits are and how to really think about that,” Bailenson, a professor and founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interactio­n Lab, said in an interview.

The peer-reviewed article, published late last month in the American Psychologi­cal Associatio­n’s Technology Mind and Behaviour journal, draws on existing academic theory and research and argues there are four possible reasons for socalled “Zoom fatigue.” The paper, Bailenson writes, should not be perceived as “indicting” Zoom or other video conferenci­ng platforms.

“I am a huge fan of what Zoom has done,” he said. “I just think asking yourself, ‘Do I really need to be on video for this?’ is a nice way to approach a moderation strategy towards your media day.”

The paper was widely shared on social media, and reactions poured in responding to Bailenson’s analysis. Some suggested his paper essentiall­y called for a return to phone calls.

For one, the paper argues, there’s the excessive amount of direct eye gaze as people look at other faces close-up. It’s unnatural, and not what people would typically do in an in-person meeting. During a video call, everyone is often staring at the speaker and the listeners, whereas in-person, some people may glance at their notes or lean over to a colleague for a side conversati­on.

“Now listeners in a Zoom call are being stared at the same way speakers get stared at in the real world,” he said, pointing to public speaking as “one of the highest sources of anxiety that there is.”

There’s also the constant self evaluation. Seeing our own faces and gestures several hours a day on video is stressful and taxing, Bailenson said. Imagine if someone followed you around with a mirror during the work day “and made sure that everything you’re doing, you’re staring at your own face in real-time.”

“You wouldn’t be able to live your life that way, right?” he said. “That sounds insane.”

Video chats also cut down on people’s ability to be mobile. Instead of walking and talking like you might be able to do during a phone call, video chats mostly force participan­ts to stay in a fixed position.

“The problem with video — because culturally it’s kind of offensive if you’re not sitting in that frame and looking in the field of view of the camera — people sit still,” Bailenson said.

On top of all that, participat­ing in video calls may increase cognitive load, meaning more mental effort is needed.

All of those non-verbal gestures of communicat­ion — which are automatic during in-person interactio­ns — now take extra mental effort for some people. Accessibil­ity experts say the toll may be even higher for individual­s with disabiliti­es.

Sheri Byrne-haber, an accessibil­ity advocate, says her own disabiliti­es have exacerbate­d her “Zoom fatigue.”

Byrne-haber uses a wheelchair and also has moderate hearing loss, among other disabiliti­es. Because she has to focus more intently on people’s faces during video calls to read lips, it increases her cognitive load, she said.

When there is automatic captioning on the video, the punctuatio­n can be erratic, the words can be transcribe­d incorrectl­y and the caption is not always attributed to the speaker.

“Even when the captioning is good and you can keep up, all of these factors add up to higher levels of cognitive load which leaves less working memory to focus on the topic at hand,” she told The Washington Post in an email, adding: “I’m literally so drained at the end of the day where I have 13 30-minute meetings that I sometimes go to bed at 7.”

In a statement, Zoom acknowledg­ed the transition into regular video conferenci­ng has been seamless for some, and a challenge for others.

“We’re all learning this new way of communicat­ing and adjusting to the blurred lines between work and personal interactio­ns,” the company said.

Bailenson’s paper offers some ideas for how to address the potential causes of fatigue.

Two easy potential fixes are hiding self-view and minimizing the video call screen, Bailenson said. On Zoom, for instance, you can right click your video display and select the “Hide Myself ” option, which removes self-view.

Meeting hosts should also give people breaks to look away from their screens during video calls, Song said. Whenever she is running a group call, she said she asks attendees to take 30 seconds or a minute to look around the room they’re in and count the number of corners they see. The activity, Song said, can provide reprieve from the intensity of staring at the speaker.

Similarly, Bailenson said it’s important to remember that you can move around “just like you would in a real meeting.”

While these tips may help alleviate the effects of “Zoom fatigue,” Bailenson urged people to remember video calls aren’t the only effective way to communicat­e.

“We have to take a step back and realize that just because you can be in a video conference doesn’t mean that you have to,” Bailenson said. “There were many decades in this world in which the phone worked just fine, didn’t it?”

 ?? PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES / ISTOCKPHOT­O ?? Video meetings have their advantages but they also tend to be more concentrat­ed and intense than real-life interactio­ns. Being mindful of the
draining nature of video exchange can help you take steps to diminish the impact of hours spent staring into one another’s eyes.
PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES / ISTOCKPHOT­O Video meetings have their advantages but they also tend to be more concentrat­ed and intense than real-life interactio­ns. Being mindful of the draining nature of video exchange can help you take steps to diminish the impact of hours spent staring into one another’s eyes.
 ??  ?? There are ways of reducing the effects of Zoom, starting with
picking up a phone when the opportunit­y presents itself.
There are ways of reducing the effects of Zoom, starting with picking up a phone when the opportunit­y presents itself.

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