The Covid-19 pandemic has boosted teleworking, and, a fortiori, remote meetings via software such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Skype, much more used than before.
Unfortunately, if it makes it possible to meet remotely, videoconferencing does not only have advantages. In particular, it would lead to a certain fatigue, which students now know only too well. In common parlance, the English term of “Zoom fatigue” even appeared.
Eager to study the phenomenon and provide concrete solutions to teleworkers, communication professor Jeremy Bailenson, founder of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (USA) published a study on this subject, in the review Technology, Mind, and Behavior from the American Psychological Association.
The communication researcher then identified four consequences of daily participation in videoconferences, which contribute to this phenomenon of “Zoom-related fatigue”, or “Zoom fatigue”. Far from wanting to denigrate these new remote meeting tools, the researcher wishes above all reveal the disadvantages, and suggest solutions to limit the harm on physical and mental health.
Video conferencing is great for remote communication, but just think about the medium – just because you can use video doesn’t mean you have to, Jeremy Bailenson pointed out.
In a classic, face-to-face meeting, our eyes are on the main speaker, the one who orchestrates the meeting. We can also take notes or even allow ourselves to look away for a moment. But during a remote meeting via Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Team, if everyone leaves their video on, we all look at each other, almost constantly. The amount of eye contact is greatly increased. As for the size of the faces on the screens, it is far from natural.
“Generally, for most setups, whether it’s a one-on-one conversation when you’re with colleagues or even strangers on video, you see their face at a size that simulates a space personal experience that you normally encounter when you’re intimate with someone,” said Jeremy Bailenson.
To caricature, when someone’s face is very close to ours in real life, our brain interprets it as an intense situation leading either to conflict or to reproduction. Also, using Zoom or any other video conferencing platform for several hours will tire our brains.
The researcher recommends, until videoconferencing interfaces offer less tiring use, to reduce window size in order to reduce the face of the interlocutor, and to use a keyboard external to the computer to increase the distance between oneself and the screen.
Most video conferencing software displays a small screen of what the computer’s camera sees, in other words, of ourselves. Gold, there is nothing less natural than seeing each other constantlyeven via a small window at the bottom of the screen.
“In the real world, if someone was constantly following you with a mirror – so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, making comments, seeing yourself in a mirror, that would be crazy. . We would never consider that,” said the researcher, who points out that studies have shown that seeing your own reflection made you more critical of yourself.
Turn off your video, at least when you are not talking, if your interlocutors agree, or talk about it with them. Especially since it improves the quality of the conversation since it frees up bandwidth and reduces bugs.
If your interlocutor wishes to see you, first check that you are in the frame, then click on “ hide video so that you can no longer be seen without disabling the camera.
Who has never seen someone on the phone pacing, walking around, or on the contrary sitting down comfortably? This mobility is possible with a telephone conversation, even of the utmost importance, while it is more restricted during a videoconference. Even if you use your smartphone, the field of the camera is limited, which limits the possibilities. On the computer, it asks to be somewhat static. Not to mention the need to have a good connection, which often involves staying at home, within range of your internet box or Wifi. Too bad, especially when we know that moving helps you function better cognitivelyassures Jeremy Bailenson.
The communication researcher suggests think more about the room in which you are in a videoconference, the location of the camera, the useful tools to put some distance between yourself and the screen or to increase mobility. It can be an external portable keyboard and mouse, an office chair, an external webcam… And of course the setting up of non-verbal pauses where you cut your video.
Jeremy Bailenson notes that during face-to-face social interaction, non-verbal communication occurs quite naturally, and each individual makes and interprets gestures and non-verbal cues effortlessly, unconsciously. On the other hand, when participating in a video chat, this non-verbal communication goes less welland then we have to make conscious efforts to send and receive signals.
When you’re video chatting with someone, “you have to make sure your head is in the center of the video. If you want to show someone that you agree with them, you have to exaggerated head nod or thumbs up. This adds cognitive load,” he points out. Also no more spontaneous non-verbal communication with a colleague, out of the corner of the eye. To communicate “off” with a participant in the videoconference, we have no other choice than to open a private chat or to communicate by email or SMS, which is much longer and allows spontaneity.
If it’s a long remote meeting, give yourself a break, using audio only. “It’s not just about turning off your camera so you don’t have to be non-verbally active, but also about turning your body away from the screen,” Jeremy Bailenson detailed, “so that for a few minutes, you don’t get smothered by gestures that are perceptually realistic but devoid of social meaning.”
With his team of Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab but also other communication researchers from Stanford Social Media Lab, have developed a “Zoom fatigue” scale. This scale, which follows requests from companies and institutions, aims to measure the fatigue experienced by teleworkers, pupils or students due to video meetings. Currently being evaluated, this scale, called “ Zoom Exhaustion & Fatigue Scale”, or ZEF Scaleincludes 15 questions, and has already been tested with more than 500 people. Among the questions asked are the following:
The results of this scale and the studies carried out using this tool will to help improve software and related practices to videoconferences, for the well-being of all those who use them.
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