During our daily team touch base a few weeks ago, our founder kicked things off a little differently. He mentioned that the previous night had been a challenging one for his son and he’d been awake into the wee hours as a result. “If I’m a little out of it today, that’s why,” he explained. He also opened up the agenda for our daily Slack call, suggesting that in addition to the work tasks we were tackling, we were welcome to share on a human level as well. After all, these are strange times.
As it turns out, a lot of us are feeling exhausted, wiped out, guilty or anxious. And for the most part, it isn’t because of any one thing—it’s more like a general malaise you can’t quite pinpoint. Britt, our Chief Growth Officer, always had a packed social calendar pre-COVID and she was usually the first in her group to arrange activities. Now, she’s finding it a struggle to log on for virtual happy hours. And Rachel, our copywriter, used to perform in a weekly comedy show in the before-times. The rest of the troupe has transitioned to online performances, but she couldn’t bring herself to join a single one. A lot of us are just feeling different as we navigate the new normal—and when we all heard the term “Zoom Fatigue,” it clicked. This new buzzword is making the rounds in the media—and it helped to explain some of the drain we’ve all been feeling.
What is Zoom Fatigue?
A little over a month ago, many of us were thrust into a brave new world where our everyday activities abruptly went digital. Non-essential workplaces were shut down, schools shuttered, parks taped off and our favorite coffee shops and restaurants closed until further notice. So, we turned to technology as a solution. Zoom meetings for work, Zoom meetings for grade four math, Zoom meetings for happy hour. Digital dinners, house parties on HouseParty and family FaceTimes. Sure, there have been safety and security questions about strangers in unlocked rooms and Zoombombing, but technology, nonetheless, is a lifeline during social isolation. But as we’ve had more time to adjust, we’ve also come to realize a few of the drawbacks.
It’s been all over the internet as of late: the term used to describe the exhaustion that often comes after a day filled with video conferencing calls. And while the name “Zoom Fatigue” calls out one platform in particular, the phenomenon is not unique to Zoom. It happens to us when we use any video calling tool because this kind of communication requires more focus than face-to-face interactions. According to experts interviewed by the BBC, video calls tax our systems more because we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expression and tone of voice. The natural rhythm of conversation is disrupted by lag time, which can make you perceive your chat partner as less friendly. And not to mention the fact that a video call puts your own face front a center—turning a connection into a situation where you are hyper-conscious of your appearance and feel pressure to perform.
All of these little things add up to make a video call a bit more work and a bit more draining than your usual in-person interactions. So if you’re wondering why you can’t face that Zoom happy hour with your colleagues, Zoom Fatigue might be the answer.
Zoom Fatigue for children
For most kids, learning and socializing have transitioned online as well, but thankfully, they don’t have the same demands as adults when it comes to video calling. Our founder Sean bounces between Slack and Zoom calls pretty much all day, but his daughter only has three or four video calls a week between school and catching up with friends and family—perhaps not enough to truly induce Zoom Fatigue.
But, one place the video conferencing toll on children is most evident is in the virtual classroom. Chelsea*, an elementary teacher conducting class remotely during the COVID pandemic, has noticed that kids’ enthusiasm for virtual classes is waning. At first, they were all excited to see each other again and the format was novel. They would talk over each and goof off with the camera, having fun while getting used to the new format. In the beginning, most kids were turning in their assignments, but now, more of them are missing due dates. Chelsea can tell that some aren’t grasping the new online content—and she suspects that everyone recognizes that school is just different now.
Michal, our iOS developer, says his daughter hasn’t been that enthusiastic about online lessons. She says they’re kind of fun, but it’s distracting when people eat during lessons or drop into the calls late. And, students often forget to turn off their mics, leading to funny situations when you can hear younger siblings in the background during class.
And these stories aren’t unique. Parents of school-aged kids in British Columbia are noticing the toll of online learning, and The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a four-year-old boy who opted out of his school’s online storytime because his friends interrupt him and don’t go on mute when he wants to talk. Luckily, most kids aren’t booked in back-to-back video meetings like a lot of adults right now, so the Zoom Fatigue isn’t all-consuming. But it’s safe to say that this kind of interaction is a much different experience for kids, so it’s important to be mindful with video conferencing.
How to avoid Zoom Fatigue in your family
Now that we have a name for what we’ve been feeling, perhaps it will be a bit easier to recognize it when it’s happening. And, there are some ways you can make Zoom calls easier, like covering your own image and practicing good etiquette by muting yourself when others are talking. But if you or your kids feel the need to opt out of a few video calls, it’s okay to cut yourself some slack—guilt-free.
Options like asynchronous video in Kinzoo can be a good alternative because they remove some of the pressures that come with live video calling. You can connect with family and friends at your own pace—without feeling like you’re part of a live performance, or worrying about scheduling concerns and interruptions.
While technology can certainly be a lifeline during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s still necessary to strike a balance that works for your family. Sarah Parcak, a mom and TED Talks alum made headlines recently for tweeting about her decision to remove her son from his virtual grade one classroom. She shared her decision with her 35,000 followers, explaining that her family needed to protect their wellbeing—and this is what that looked like for them. She goes on to say that, instead of attending structured classes, her son plays outside, gets history lessons, uses reading apps, plays playmobile with his dad and enjoys family movies. In her now-viral Twitter rant, she says, “I give you permission to Let It All Go.” How each family interacts with technology right now is a personal decision—everyone needs to do what is right for them. But Sarah’s advice is probably timely for all of us.
We’ve changed Chelsea’s name to protect her privacy.