Camera usage and its effect on virtual meeting fatigue

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to switch to virtual meetings instead of physical ones. It may seem like an excellent method to hold meetings remotely and discuss your tasks, but did you know that it also could be the reason why you’re feeling tired lately.

Many researchers are now working on this topic to understand what it is about virtual meetings that cause this fatigue and how to overcome it. Allison S. Gabriel et al. point out that one of the key causes of this is camera usage during meetings.

There are many ways camera usage can cause fatigue. This article will cover what those are and how to overcome them.

Causes of fatigue

Looking Presentable

Humans are very self-conscious. Having to switch on the camera can add a lot of pressure to some people if they think they are not presentable at the given moment. This is very high for women as most people expect women to look physically presentable at all times.

Interruptions in the background

People feel that they will jeopardize their perceived commitment to work when their meetings are interrupted by children or events that are happening in the background become visible.

Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact

In virtual meetings, everyone looks at everyone very closely, whereas in a regular meeting, they will divide their attention among many things such as taking notes and looking elsewhere. In most applications, the primary speaker's face will be enlarged, which is unnatural and increases eye contact. The brain interprets the larger face size as someone standing too close to you during an intense moment. This increases people’s public speaking anxiety as they feel there is too much attention on them.

Additional pressure on self-representation

New employees and old ones who naturally have very silent personalities will find themselves under pressure to represent themselves in meetings. For old ones, who do not speak much during the meetings feel as if they are invisible unless they talk or switch on the camera. The new ones need to show that they are good performers while trying to establish their professional image within the confines of camera-on video meetings.

Seeing yourself during video conferences

In most video conferencing applications, there is a small window that shows a preview of yourself. This is very helpful when you want to ensure your audience can see you properly with correct lighting. But it also could be tiring as it might make you feel as if you're staring at a mirror while speaking and making decisions. You will also be checking your reflection to make sure your facial expression and body language also convey what you are trying to say verbally. It might distract you from your meeting too. For example, if you notice something wrong with your hair, you might try to fix it, hoping to be presentable. Thus, distracting you from the meeting. If you miss anything during that time, you will be stressed to catch up on what you missed.

Reduced mobility

We often join meetings that have no significance to our work directly or meetings that discuss the work related to multiple teams. We often tend to mute ourselves during such meetings, switch off the camera, put the meeting on speaker, and do something else while listening to the meeting. However, you cannot do those things while the camera is on. This stresses people as it reduces their ability to multitask.

Furthermore, even when you are solely focusing on the meeting, getting a cup of coffee during the meeting might also make you feel overwhelmed because you feel like the others are watching you in the call.

Too much information to process

During a physical meeting, our brains process all the non-verbal communication cues efficiently. But in a video conference, the brain has to add some extra effort to absorb that information. In addition, if you are in a meeting room with five people, all their backgrounds are the same. So your brain simply ignores it. However, if it is a video conference, there are multiple backgrounds, and your brain tries to capture information from them too.

How to avoid fatigue

Resizing the window

Feel free to resize the window so you won’t feel that way if you feel uneasy or intimidated by the large, unnatural sizes of their faces and close-ups.

Hide the preview of yourself

If you feel like you are getting distracted by your own reflection, hide the preview once you confirm with the audience that they can see you properly. Unfortunately, most platforms do not provide a straightforward way to do this. But if you resize the window, most applications tend to show only the primary/active speaker on the screen. It will help you focus on the meeting efficiently.

Using additional cameras

Professor Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford University recommends using an external camera farther away from the screen, allowing you to move around and write on a whiteboard during virtual meetings, just like we do in physical ones.

Switch off the camera periodically

Remember to give yourself a break during long meetings or back-to-back meetings by periodically switching off the camera. It will release you from the stress of feeling watched at least for a few minutes and will allow you to relax.

Etiquette

Adapt new video conferencing etiquette. Ask the participants to switch on their cameras at the beginning of the meeting to introduce themselves and switch off when the meeting proceeds. They can switch back on when they are speaking and switch off once they finish. This can reduce the stress they feel tremendously.

Conclusion

As Professor Jeremy Bailenson says, “Videoconferencing is a good thing for remote communication, but just think about the medium – just because you can use video doesn’t mean you have to.” At the end of the day, all organizations want their employees to be happy and productive. If having autonomy over using the camera can reduce the stress and improve performance, maybe we should think twice about asking the participants to keep their cameras on throughout the meeting.


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