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Zoom fatigue (virtual meeting fatigue)

Zoom fatigue, also known as virtual meeting fatigue, is the feeling of exhaustion that often occurs after attending a series of virtual video meetings. In this context, the label "Zoom" is used generically; the phenomenon can be applied to any video conferencing platform that permits gallery views.  

Scientists do not always agree on the exact mechanisms that cause Zoom fatigue, but most agree it has something to do with the way video meetings deplete the brain’s store of glucose. Glucose, which is the fuel that brain cells use for cognition, is thought to be replenished during sleep.  

Some scientists believe that the mental and physical fatigue many people experience is the result of continuous partial attention (CPA), a cognitive concept  that's closely associated with something else that virtual meeting attendees often engage in -- multitasking. The natural desire to pay close attention to each attendee’s video screen, the constant need to filter out extemporaneous information (both online and local) and the natural tendency for viewers to focus on their own appearance, can result in information overload and cognitive fatigue.

The concept of Zoom fatigue became newsworthy after people began to work and attend school remotely during the global pandemic. When countries instituted work-from-home policies and video conferencing became the norm, many people were surprised to learn that attending virtual meetings can be both mentally and physically tiring.  

How to reduce Zoom fatigue

Virtual meetings conducted on software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and GoToMeeting require attendees to process an unusually large amount of visual and auditory data from multiple sources over a sustained time period. Attendees using virtual meeting software have to gather and process information from multiple video feeds -- as well as information about their own physical surroundings. To help attendees avoid or reduce the effects of Zoom fatigue, virtual meeting organizers can take the following steps:

Keep meetings short  -- Try scheduling online group meetings for 50 minutes instead of an hour -- or use the pomodoro technique and break long meetings into 25-minute focused sessions, followed by a 5-minute break.

Avoid scheduling consecutive video meetings -- Studies show it is not unusual for people to experience cognitive overload after just thirty minutes of continuous partial attention.

Encourage the use of Active Speaker view --- Consider asking participants to change their video layout to Active Speaker view. This will reduce the amount of information each attendee needs to process.

Standardize the meeting background -- When it’s important to use Gallery view so everyone can see each other, consider asking participants to use a solid color background filter to reduce onscreen stimuli. 

Discourage multi-tasking during virtual meetings --  Both CPA and multi-tasking can cause the brain to deplete its store of glucose and inspire a desire for sleep.  The difference is that CPA is an unconscious thought process that happens automatically -- while multi-tasking is a choice that requires conscious effort. 

Use virtual meeting software judiciously – Even during a pandemic, not every meeting needs to be conducted through virtual meeting software. Sometimes it’s more efficient (and less tiring) to share information with a phone call, email or chat thread.

This was last updated in October 2020

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