Even though you have heard it before, it pays to repeat it: We humans were not meant to live life hunched over our devices. And we certainly were not meant to be conversing with a screen full of tiny faces in tiny cubes as a proxy for face-to-face human connection. But, in an age of growing digitisation and remote working that often sees us tied to our screens from sunrise to sunset, it’s time to adapt to this new reality. 

If you are working from home at the moment, and can say yes to any of the following questions, keep reading for the silver lining:

  1. Video calls are making me way more tired than face-to-face meetings ever did.
  2. I can go several hours (or the whole day) without moving from the spot I am in.
  3. I sometimes catch myself staring at my face on video calls instead of paying attention to the call itself.
  4. I find video calls just a bit awkward and I can’t quite figure out why.
  5. I like working from home, but I sometimes feel a bit isolated.

First, you’re not alone. Zoom fatigue is a real thing. Fatigue from working from home is also real. We need variation, physical movement, and regular breaks to keep us energised. If we’re only moving between the different rooms in our houses on any given day, it isn’t surprising that our sedentary behaviour is making us more, not less, exhausted. If this sounds like you, check here for our top tips on fighting fatigue. 

So, why is it that video calls can feel so much more tiring and awkward than in-person interactions?

The simple answer is that our brains have never experienced anything quite like it before. When else in life have you had to stare back at your own blinking face for hours? When else have you had to piece together complex non-verbal cues (eye contact, hand gestures, body language…) using only a lagging internet connection and a cropped two-dimensional image? More than this, face-to-face meetings usually require a physical shift to a separate meeting space whereas video-calling only requires switching tabs. We are not only sacrificing much-needed physical movement, but we are also shifting from task-to-task with no noticeable psychological preparation or transition. 

A few solutions have cropped up to some of these issues  – Microsoft Teams have now launched their “Together Mode” feature, for example – but the truth is, video-calling isn’t going away any time soon. Here are our suggestions to protect your own wellbeing, reduce awkwardness, and maximise connection while video-calling.

  • Establish a transition ritual each time you start and end a video call. This could be something as simple as taking three deep breaths before clicking into the call. For more ideas, check out our article on transition rituals here.
  • Play around with your display settings. You might prefer to toggle to “speaker view” rather than “gallery view” so that only the person speaking appears on your screen (and you don’t have to stare back at your own face). Or, remove “self-view” in your settings so that others can see you, but you don’t have to look at yourself.
  • Consider shifting some video calls to audio and turn them into walking meetings. Going for a walk around the block while you brainstorm will boost your fitness (and probably your creative juices).
  • Have a group chat about your team’s video call etiquette. Do you always need to have your video on? Can you integrate use of the chat-box feature to give a voice to the quieter people in the team? Can you reduce the number of meetings needed, or the number of people attending them?
  • Be proactive when it comes to building relationships with your colleagues, even as you work from home. Consider utilising the “breakout room” feature of Zoom for five minutes at the beginning of meetings to allow smaller groups or pairs to simply catch-up and connect, like you would face-to-face. For more advice on feeling connected while working remotely, read our article here. 

The silver lining is that there is plenty we can do to make our video calls better and, in some cases, video-calling may actually be better than face-to-face. A recently published review found that therapy delivered electronically (e.g. using video-calling) was more effective than face-to-face therapy at reducing depressive symptoms (for more on this, listen to this Radio NZ segment). Through reducing barriers, video-calling has the potential to help thousands of people who would otherwise not be able to access psychological help.

Here at Umbrella, we are happy to now offer our clinic sessions electronically by Zoom as we, like you, navigate our newly online world. 

Author Amanda Wallis