Women experience ‘Zoom fatigue’ to a greater extent than men. That is the result from the first large-scale study examining the effect of videoconferences. The researchers behind the study are calling on employers to take action to prevent Zoom fatigue.
“One result of the coronavirus pandemic is the huge increase in the use of video meetings. We therefore need to acquire more knowledge about how we are affected by these, and how we can adapt our work environment to best accommodate them”, says Géraldine Fauville, lecturer at the University of Gothenburg and former Wallenberg postdoctoral researcher at the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab.
Working together with researchers at the Virtual Human Interaction Lab and the Social Media Lab at Stanford University, Géraldine Fauville has conducted a questionnaire study of 10,000 participants from all around the world. The questionnaire has been tested in previous studies, and grades the feeling of fatigue or exhaustion that many people experience when using video meetings.
“The study shows that those who have more and longer meetings, and shorter breaks in between meetings, experience greater Zoom fatigue. It also shows that women generally experience greater Zoom fatigue than men. The proportion of women who state that video meetings make them very to extremely tired equates to almost 14 per cent (1 in 7 women), whilst the proportion of men reporting the same levels of fatigue is 5.5 per cent (1 in 20 men)”, says Géraldine Fauville.
The study also shows that women and men have the same number of video meetings, but that women tend to have longer meetings with shorter breaks in between. This does not, however, completely explain the difference in experiences of tiredness between women and men.
Four causes of Zoom fatigue
In a previous study, Jeremy Bailenson, Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab founder and professor in the Department of Communication, analysed aspects of video meetings that make people feel tired, and he identified the following causes:
The mirror effect. In many video meeting applications, the participants can always see a picture of themselves. This can be similar to always having a mirror in front of your face, and people tend to be more self-critical when they can see themselves.
The feeling of physical confinement. The camera lens limits our range of movements during the meeting, and having the freedom to move our bodies has a strong connection to creativity and learning.
The feeling of being stared at. In a video meeting, the screen is filled with faces, and they all appear to be looking straight at us – in contrast to in traditional meetings, where we know that we only become the subject of attention when we have something to say.
Increased cognitive exertion to express ourselves with, and to interpret others’, body language. When we meet in real life, we have an intuitive understanding of each other’s body language. In video meetings, we have to devote a lot more energy to, on the one hand, making it clear that we wish to speak or that we agree with somebody, etc., and on the other hand, interpreting other people’s body language via the screen.
“There are three main reasons that women are more affected by Zoom fatigue than men. They are more affected by the mirror effect, they feel more physically confined by the restricted freedom of movement, and they also feel more keenly that everybody is staring at them”, explains Géraldine Fauville.
Tips to make online meetings easier
There are a number of measures we can take to minimise Zoom fatigue. Géraldine Fauville’s advice is to close the window where we can see ourselves, and to sometimes even turn off the camera, to create more room for movement by increasing the distance between ourselves and the camera, and to reduce the size of the video meeting window so that the other participants’ faces become smaller and less intrusive.
“We hope that tech companies and employers will use the knowledge that is now being discovered in order to create the tools and work environments that can minimise the feelings of Zoom fatigue. Employers should take steps to ensure that video meetings do not go on for too long, and that there are breaks in between. They should also provide external monitors and keyboards, and adjustable desks to enable people to have greater mobility during the video meetings.”