Researchers at Stanford University in Silicon Valley have confirmed what millions of telecommuters already knew: “Zoom fatigue” causes more stress than encountering in real life due to “non-verbal congestion” of endless video calls.
A study by Jeremy Bailenson, professor of communications and founder of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, found that the underlying causes of Zoom fatigue include “excessive amount of close-up” and “increased self-evaluation from staring at video of oneself”.
“Zoom users see reflections of themselves with a frequency and duration that has not been seen before in media history ̵
Some of these problems could be solved with “trivial changes” in the Zoom user interface, he suggested, for example, to automatically hide the “selfie” window that reflects the user back to himself after the first seconds of a conversation.
Bailenson also recommends that Zoom users themselves make simple changes to reduce the load, such as shrinking the size of the video window so that other faces do not feel so close.
Several video conferencing should simply be conducted as phone calls, he added.
Bailenson’s new paper, published this week in the journal Technology, mind and behavior, is billed by Stanford as the “first peer-reviewed article to systematically deconstruct zoom fatigue from a psychological perspective”.
It is accompanied by a separate study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, and which uses a “Zoom fatigue and exhaustion” scale to measure the effect. After thousands of people filled out a questionnaire, Bailenson said there was a “strong theoretical reason to predict” that women are more affected than men by watching video of themselves all day.
Millions of knowledge workers around the world have now spent the best part of the year in vacant bedrooms and home offices, as the pandemic and waves of lockdowns forced office closures.
Video conferencing apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet have grown as a result. The Zoom stock price has almost quadrupled in the last year, giving it a market value of more than $ 100 billion.
Bailenson says he thinks Zoom is “fantastic” and “works great”, but has become a “punching bag” for frustrated office workers. “We can not control many of our lives, but we can call for Zoom,” he said in an interview with FT.
He acknowledged that the problems with Zoom fatigue are fading in relation to the daily trauma that medical staff face in congested hospitals. Even in developed countries, millions of people lack access to reliable broadband connections, and many cannot afford the hardware required to make video calls.
Yet Stanford research underscores the mental burden of being forced to sit in front of a camera and stare at screens filled with faces – including our own.
“At Zoom, behavior that is usually reserved for close relationships – such as long stretches of direct glances and faces seen up close – has suddenly become the way we interact with casual acquaintances, colleagues and even strangers,” Bailenson wrote.
Bailenson said he had tried to talk to Zoom about his findings, but “was still waiting for the meeting to be scheduled”.