Work-Life Balance

Remote work stressing you out? It might be “Zoom Fatigue”

Written by Eric Titner

It’s hard to accurately capture just how volatile and disruptive the global pandemic has been to the entire work world. But thankfully the wave of new technological innovation that’s been sweeping across industries for years, alongside an increasingly tech-savvy and efficient workforce, has allowed many companies to continue operating remotely, achieve their target business goals, and consistently hit their key performance metrics— often at pre-pandemic levels of efficiency.

Of course, the pandemic helped accelerate the remote working trend, but the truth is that it’s been gaining acceptance for a while—and it’s likely here to stay even as Covid eases its grip. That said, while working remotely offers employees new levels of flexibility and businesses reap the benefits of getting things done while keeping infrastructure costs low, many folks are struggling with new challenges—including unprecedented levels of burnout, stress, and fatigue.

The truth is, not every employee has adjusted to working remotely equally. Simply put, not all work-from-home situations are created equal. Some folks have many more hurdles and distractions to contend with in order to remain productive. Kids, ambient noise, and laggy wi-fi speed, among others, are big factors in how successful the adjustment has been. Many of us prefer having a clearer division between our professional and personal lives, and working from home has blurred that distinction to say the least. Also, some of us are more social creatures than others and crave the camaraderie and in-person interaction with our colleagues. Its absence is striking, despite the prevalence of available video conferencing tools like Zoom.

In fact, there’s even a term to describe the adverse effects of spending too much time video conferencing: Zoom Fatigue. Why is Zoom causing so many of us to feel a bit more stressed and fatigued than usual? According to a recent study by Stanford University, “while the software has been an essential tool for productivity, learning, and social interaction, something about being on videoconference all day seems particularly exhausting.” They point out four critical yet largely overlooked reasons regarding the subtle pervasiveness of Zoom Fatigue:

  • Excessive amounts of close-up eye gaze: We can normally break eye contact while in person by looking away, but that doesn’t happen at the same frequency while on Zoom. This becomes a source of physiological and psychological exhaustion—especially when there are multiple faces at equal proximity on screen.
  • Excessive cognitive load: The increased amount of conscious and subconscious management of social cues and verbal/nonverbal gestures—both our own that we send out to the world and those we receive from others—can be a real source of drain.  
  • Increased self-evaluation from staring at video of oneself: The relentless “staring-into-a-mirror” nature of Zoom can be a tedious but acceptable reality in infrequent short bursts. But as the amount of time we spend on it increases, the fatigue we feel while being constantly and actively engaged in self-evaluation for prolonged periods takes its toll.
  • Constraints on physical mobility: The small perceptual bubble of space that Zoom covertly forces us to remain in inhibits our natural tendency and preference to gesticulate and move while speaking and restricts our comfort. Over time, this effect only aggregates and wears us out.

Do you feel like you may be experiencing added stress and fatigue from working remotely and spending too much time using video conferencing software like Zoom? If so, it’s more than ok—in fact, it’s completely normal. The truth is, the new normal of remote work is a largely untested entity and none of us know for sure what the long-term effects of this work arrangement may be. If you’re finding yourself in this situation, then consider adopting the following rules for healthy and productive remote working and avoiding burnout. 

Set realistic targets

.As the pandemic struck, many of us went from our normal work routines to remote working in the blink of an eye, and adjusting to this change hasn’t been easy for everyone. The truth is, each of us has a different set of life circumstances, arrangements, and distractions that affect how easy or challenging it can be to work effectively from home. To help prevent fatigue and all-out burnout, be sure to work with your employer to set realistic performance targets that take your unique situation into account.

Stay connected—beyond Zoom

A significant challenge when working remotely is maintaining an appropriate level of connection with colleagues. Simply put, the absence of a shared physical workspace can lead to feelings of “out of sight, out of mind,” which could directly or indirectly affect your emotional and mental health and work performance. Work with your coworkers to stay connected with each other, and not just on Zoom (for the reasons stated above)—phone calls, emails, and text exchanges are still great modes of communication, and if feasible and mutually agreed upon, consider safe in-person interactions. This will help you stay engaged, feel supported, keep productive, and achieve target performance milestones.

Avoid the avoidable distractions

The truth is, employees are a lot like fingerprints—no two of us are exactly the same, and this includes our lives, commitments, and responsibilities. While working remotely we each have to contend with a mix of potential distractions that threaten to chip away at our work productivity—some of which are routine, predictable, and inescapable, while others are more avoidable if we choose to put in the effort to do so. As a rule, take a careful look at the things that tend to diminish your productivity on any given day and make an effort to avoid the avoidable distractions, which should help you maximize your productivity with minimal effort—and reduce your work stress in the process.

Retool as needed

The difference between a good plan and a great one is the ability to update and revise it as needed. For many of us, working remotely is a relatively new concept and will likely require some trial and error to get things right. As businesses and employees devise strategies and implement plans for working remotely, both sides should pay careful attention to the results and adjust things as needed. When it comes to remote working, don’t waste the opportunity to learn from your experiences, including your successes and failures, to help plan a successful path forward.

As we slowly emerge from the pandemic and look ahead to a post-Covid world, all of us—employers and employees alike—are going to have to learn to adjust to the new normals of the work world. In a time of extreme uncertainty, one thing that’s clear is that remote work isn’t going away anytime soon. As we navigate through this new terrain, it’s helpful for businesses and employees to try and establish some ground rules to confront new sources if stress and fatigue and make this transition successful.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.