Why are video calls so exhausting? We explore the technical and psychological aspects of video calls and the subsequent tiredness.
What is ‘Zoom Fatigue’?
Video calls are a blessing and a curse. It has allowed for the (almost) smooth running of many companies in spite of a global pandemic. It has aided communication between colleagues and distanced families. However, video calls are not without their stresses. Frozen screens, sound cutting out and time lags can be extremely frustrating. In addition to the evident frustrations, it is reported that they may be more physically exhausting. This term has been called ‘Zoom Fatigue’.
Video Calls vs Real Life Interaction
Video calls isolate us from many important non-verbal cues. Body language no longer exists and we have to work extra hard to discern facial expressions and tone of voice. This additional focus is very energy intensive and could explain this feeling of fatigue.
Negatively Impacted Communication
Time lags have a negative impact on communication for obvious reasons. However, these delays could actually affect how we perceive the other caller. In a study done in Germany, it was found that delays of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the other caller as less focused or less friendly. These perceptual biases could impact communication and interpersonal relationships.
People have reported a feeling of being on display during video conferencing. The artificial nature of the interaction makes us more performative than we would be in a normal meeting. It is less natural and thus harder to relax. Add to that the general job insecurity many workers are currently experiencing and you have a recipe for high anxiety. Additionally, some theorists postulate that video calls remind us of loss. Though sometimes comforting in their connection, they act as a reminder that we cannot physically be with the people we are calling and all the absences that we are experiencing in our daily lives.
Boundaries of Intimacy
There’s an element of intimacy involved with conducting a video call from home. At work, the relationship hierarchy is clear. With everybody confined to their houses, we are suddenly given a window into people’s home lives, regardless of their seniority level. These blurred lines make the work dynamics arguably more difficult. They stop us being able to separate work and home into distinct aspects of our lives.