Avoiding video conferencing fatigue while working remotely

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, more professionals are working remotely from their homes to practice social distancing. Accordingly, there has been an increased use of video conferencing technology, both for work and socialising. While video conferencing allows users to interact face-to-face virtually, many have reported feelings of exhaustion following video calls that were not experienced when meeting in person.

Working remotely is not a new practice for some professionals. According to the Office for National Statistics, nearly 14% of professionals in the UK worked from home in 2017. This number has increased significantly in the wake of COVID-19, which could prompt more flexibility from employers for remote work in the future.

With these changes, professionals are increasingly expected to conduct work through video conferencing and other distance-focused technology. In order to avoid burnout, business leaders and employees can take steps to maintain relationships remotely.

How video conferencing compares to in-person interactions

When working with remote employees, video conferencing tends to be the go-to technology for holding meetings and maintaining connections. Research on communicating via online platforms has shown that virtual face-to-face meetings are more effective in establishing emotional closeness than other forms of electronic communication, such as email.

“Any kind of face-to-face virtual communication can simulate feelings of closeness the same way that you would have with in-person, face-to-face interactions,” explained Dr Blaine Landis, assistant professor at the UCL School of Management, whose research focuses on organisational behaviour.

However, there are ways in which video calls may fail to replace in-person conversations. For example, timing delays as a result of technical glitches and other factors can interrupt the natural flow of conversation.

These small gaps in conversation can interrupt what is known as synchrony, as indicated in an article on the science behind video calls’ effect on communication. When a person is talking, they rely on precisely timed responses from others to ensure they are being understood. This synchrony can be lost when there is a delay in response, causing the speaker’s brain to work harder to restore it.   

Working and communicating remotely full time also eliminate opportunities for spontaneous conversations, such as stopping by someone’s desk.

“If I want to speak to [a colleague], I have to send an email.” Landis said. “I have to ask, ‘Are you free?’ and set up a time to talk. Spontaneous conversations, such as bumping into a colleague around the office, are now missing.”

Because video conferencing is the closest alternative to in-person conversations, professionals are using this technology more when working remotely, in addition to connecting with friends and family outside of work. The increased use of video calls has resulted in individuals reporting feelings of video conference fatigue (PDF, 40 KB).

Video conferencing fatigue can be defined as overuse of the technology, resulting in feelings of tiredness, anxiety and worry.

How to avoid video conferencing fatigue

Because many professionals can expect to continue working remotely, taking care to avoid video conferencing fatigue is critical. The first step is to limit the use of video conferencing technology when possible. Scheduling meetings so they are staggered with non-screen activities can help maintain productivity and avoid burnout.  

When video calls are necessary, the following tips can help individuals optimise their experience.

Best practices for video conferencing 

Optimising your video conference setup can help facilitate conversations that are closer to an in-person experience – these tips can help you avoid feelings of video conference fatigue (PDF, 40 KB):

Adjust your web camera

Your web camera should be positioned so there is a horizontal line from your face to the speaker on the screen.

Put yourself in frame

Make sure your head and the top of your shoulders are in view, and use front-facing lighting so nonverbal cues are more obvious.

Mimic eye contact

Looking directly into the camera when speaking can help create the illusion of direct eye contact for the viewer.

Minimise distractions

Put your microphone on mute when you are not speaking to avoid interruptions, and limit side activities to stay engaged.

Limit use of video conferencing

When possible, schedule meetings so they are staggered with non-screen activities in between.

How leadership can help employees cope with video conferencing fatigue

While individual employees can take some agency in minimising video conferencing fatigue, Landis says it is important for team and organisation leaders to listen to employees and make changes to accommodate their needs when considering how technology is used at a company level.

“One of the biggest relationships that you see in a leadership domain is the correlation between the leader providing individualised consideration to others and satisfaction with that leader,” Landis said. “As a leader, if you want people to be happy with the changes you’re making around the workplace, it pays to listen to your employees and be considerate of their individual needs. Not everyone may adapt to technology changes in the same way.”

Tips for leadership to guide usage of video conferencing

When setting expectations and identifying best practices for video conferencing, Landis emphasised the importance of listening to employees and using their feedback to guide decisions.

Listen to your team. Talk to your employees, hear their concerns and identify issues that are affecting people within the organisation.

Guide employees. Based on feedback, advise employees on how to schedule future meetings.

Consider the individual. While some employees may thrive when working remotely, other personality types may find video conferences more draining.

When assessing the need for a video conference meeting, Landis said team and organisation leaders can also ask the following questions:

  • Does this need to be discussed in a meeting?
  • Who needs to be there?
  • Is this an opportunity for employee members to reclaim time for other productive tasks?

Ultimately, avoiding video conferencing fatigue and other sources of burnout can be accomplished by setting boundaries as an individual and having open communication between employees and leadership to establish organisational standards. These efforts can help professionals navigate the “new normal” to balance productivity and personal well-being. 

Citation for this content: The UCL Online MBA.