Researchers at Silicon Valley’s Stanford University have confirmed what millions of remote workers already knew: “zoom fatigue” causes more stress than real-life meetings due to the “non-verbal overload” of endless video calls.
A study by Jeremy Bailenson, professor of communication and founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Laboratory, found that underlying causes of Zoom fatigue include “excessive amounts of close-up gaze” and “increased self-evaluation when watching a video of oneself”.
“Zoom users see reflections of themselves with a frequency and duration that have not been seen before in the history of the media, and probably in the history of people,” wrote Bailenson.
Some of these problems could be solved with “trivial changes” to the Zoom user interface, he suggested, such as automatically hiding the “selfie” window that reflects the user to himself after the first few seconds of a call.
Bailenson also recommends that Zoom users themselves be able to make simple changes to reduce tension, such as reducing the size of the video window so that other faces don’t feel as close.
More video conferencing should simply be done as phone calls, he added.
Bailenson’s new article, published this week in the magazine Technology, Mind and Behavior, is listed by Stanford as the “first peer-reviewed article to systematically deconstruct Zoom’s fatigue from a psychological perspective.”
It is accompanied by a separate study, not yet peer-reviewed, that uses a “Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue” scale to measure impact. After thousands of people completed a questionnaire, Bailenson said there was a “strong theoretical reason to predict” that women are more affected than men by watching videos of themselves all day.
Millions of knowledge workers around the world have now spent most of the year in vacant rooms and home offices, as the pandemic and waves of closures forced office closures.
As a result, video conferencing apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet have exploded. Zoom’s stock price has nearly quadrupled in the last year, giving it a market value of more than $ 100 billion.
Bailenson says he thinks Zoom is “awesome” and “works great,” but it has become a “punching bag” for frustrated office workers. “We can’t control much of our lives, but we can scream about Zoom,” he said in an interview with the FT.
He acknowledged that Zoom’s fatigue issues pale in comparison to the daily trauma faced by medical staff in overburdened hospitals. Even in developed countries, millions of people lack access to reliable broadband connections, and many cannot afford the hardware necessary to make video calls.
Still, Stanford’s research underscores the mental burden of being forced to sit in front of a camera and look at screens full of faces, including our own.
“At Zoom, the behavior normally reserved for close relationships, such as long periods of direct gaze and faces seen up close, has suddenly become the way we interact with casual acquaintances, co-workers and even strangers,” wrote Bailenson .
Bailenson said he had tried talking to Zoom about his findings, but was “still waiting for that meeting to be scheduled.”