June 11, 2020

Feeling tired? A new cause of fatigue during COVID-19
Working remotely from home creates a paradox when it comes to work-life balance. While the increased flexibility has benefits, working from home also allows our professional obligations to steal time from our personal lives, resulting in increased stress1. In addition, small rituals such as meeting for a morning coffee or chatting with a colleague on our way to the office play an important role in our well-being. As the pandemic presses on, we continue to work and socialize using online platforms such as Zoom, Web-Ex and Teams (and others) and these frequent online meetings have resulted in an emerging phenomenon dubbed “zoom fatigue.”
When videoconferencing, we exert more effort to maintain engagement. Eye-contact is prolonged and our brains subconsciously search for absent cues that we are accustomed to processing, such as hand gestures, subtle changes in posture, respiratory rate, etc. Looking at our own face and noticing our own expressions and reactions during meetings can cause stress, as well. Combine this with issues of internet connectivity (Are you frozen? Can you hear me? Can you unmute?), being sedentary and the distractions at home, and it is easy to see why we finish our workday feeling exhausted, unproductive or even frustrated.
Here are some suggestions to help mitigate the impact of zoom fatigue on your well-being:

  • Avoid multitasking. Different types of work require different parts of your brain and constant switching from one task to another results in decreased productivity and negatively affects memory2. When on a video call, turn off other applications and disable pop-up notifications and sounds.
  • Build in breaks. During meetings, take time to look away from the screen and rest your eyes. Make meetings 25 or 50 minutes, so that you have a gap when meetings need to be back-to-back. Schedule intervals of physical activity in your calendar.
  • Reduce on-screen stimuli. Some video platforms allow participants to choose entertaining backgrounds. This extra information creates data for our mind to process. Encourage participants to use bland backgrounds, in a quiet space that doesn’t create distraction. Opt for “speaker view” over “gallery view.”
  • Consider alternative options. Is a video call necessary? Consider options such as phone calls, shared document platforms or email. “Walking meetings” (quite literally walking and talking) can help combat fatigue and stimulate creativity.

Remember, trust and transparency are best built and maintained face-to-face. We must be mindful to remain empathetic and nurture our work relationships in our virtual environment. If you have four minutes today, watch this short video The Importance of Empathy.

The Well-being Task Force
Faculty of Medicine
References and Resources:

  1. Three Hours Longer, the Pandemic Workday Has Obliterated Work-Life Balance
  2. Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching