It has been about 4 months or so since the Covid 19 crisis started mandating that we all stay home or close to it, wear masks and wash our hands a lot. Consequently, many of us are now working from home and using Zoom meetings in the place of in person meetings.

I do not know about you, but I have a good case of “Zoom fatigue.” I am more mentally drained at the end of a day on Zoom than when I used to go to my office. Why? Zoom requires that I “…focus more intently on conversations in order to absorb information. (“How To Combat Zoom Fatigue” by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy, Harvard Business Review (HR) April 29, 2020 at 2.) In an in-person meeting, I can look down at my phone or engage in some other momentary distraction. But on a Zoom meeting, I must continuously look into the camera and stay focused. (Id.)  We are on stage, so to speak. (BBC.com, “The Reason Zoom calls drain your energy” by Manyu Jiang (April 22,2020) (BBC) at 2.) We also have a much harder time reading the non-verbal cues such as body language, facial expressions, tone and pitch of the speaker. And, as we know, non-verbal cues make up over 70% of our communication. Thus, we are forced to use a lot more energy on Zoom to read those cues than if the meeting was in person.

And then there is the less optimal surroundings in which we conduct a Zoom meeting. Not all of us are lucky to have a separate office at one end of the house where we can shut the door and have quiet. I, for one, have been stationed at the dining room table in the middle of everything- 2 barking dogs, the doorbell ringing, the gardener using the leaf blower and a myriad of other noises and interruptions. And if that is not enough, do I need to worry about my wi-fi connection cutting out, or the microphone on my computer not working and so on? (BBC at 2-3 and “Zoom fatigue is real-here’s Why video call are so  draining.” by Llbby Sander and Oliver Bauman, Ideas.Ted.com, May 19, 2020) (Ideas) (pages 2-3.)

In close connection is the distraction (i.e., on screen stimuli!) of the background we each use. When we are on Zoom and looking at others, we tend to look at the background- whether it be virtual or a real room in the person’s office or home. We will look at their furniture, pictures on the walls, books on the shelf (trying to read the titles!) and so forth. This will undoubtedly put a strain on your brain, causing mental fatigue. (HBR at 3-4). The best way to combat this is to use a plain background- perhaps a blue one which has a calming effect.

Further, there is the one or two second delay on Zoom that does not occur. The silence caused by this lag makes the listener believe that the speaker is less friendly or focused. (BBC at 2) It certainly makes the listeners uncomfortable as most people can not tolerate silence. They feel compelled to say something, anything to fill the space! Alternatively, there may be some distortion or lapse in the sound or video feed (if the connection is not strong enough!) which can be equally distracting.

One other issue with Zoom is that since we are using it for most things, the separation between work and social is no longer there. We will attend a work meeting on Zoom and then have a social chat on Zoom with our friend stressors and negative feelings. (BBC at 3-4.)

Based on what the scientists are stating, it seems that we will continue using Zoom for several more months. Going back to face to face and the old “normal” seems out of the question for the near future. So, what should we do to combat “Zoom fatigue”?

The first suggestion is not to multitask.  While we all think that we are capable of doing several things at once and thus more efficient we are less efficient: multitasking cuts into our performance. (HBR at 3.) In fact, it may cut as much as 40 percent off of your productive time. So, the next time you are on a video chat, close out all your other screens, put down your phone and stay entirely focused on the video call. (Id.)

The second suggestion and perhaps more important is take frequent breaks: perhaps 10-15 minutes out of every hour. You need to let your eyes (and your mental energies) rest for a moment by looking away from the screen.  If the meeting is a long one that cannot be shortened, turn off your video camera so that you can take a break from being “on stage”. (BBC at 3-4.). When you do take a break, try some stretching or a bit of exercise to relax the mind and create a “buffer” between the Zoom call and the rest of your life. (BBC at 5.)

In close connection is the obvious: limit the number of Zoom meetings you do each day. Don’t feel as if you MUST attend every Zoom meeting that is scheduled. Learn to put your mental health first by saying “no, I can’t make it” when you need to do so. (Ideas at 4.)

Third, when it comes to social chats, do not feel obligated to join in. Make such social get togethers optional; people can join or not join without feeling any pressure to be sociable. (BBC at 4.)

Finally, think about using older technology: the telephone or email to communicate with others. There is nothing a phone call as a nice alternative to a Zoom chat. (BBC at 4-5.)

While this blog discusses Zoom fatigue in general, it most definitely applies to mediations, which can be very LONG meetings lasting for hours. Thus, as a mediator, the issues addressed are ones I must consider when mediating via Zoom!

…. Just something to think about.

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