A shot of a stressed out businesswoman working on a laptop from home looking worried, tired, and overwhelmed.
I’d never thought of it before, but there’s a simple reason you might be suffering from zoom fatigue. It’s easy to miss, even though it’s staring you straight in the face.
Every time you zoom in, it is physically impossible to look someone in the eye. Wait while I explain this because it’s a little weird. On most laptops or even a desktop computer with an external webcam, when you look at the camera, you show yourself an image of yourself that shows eye contact, but you don’t see the other person’s eyes. Look them in the eyes (ie, at the screen itself) and they won’t see your eye contact. You can’t win either way.
(You can try now. Look at your laptop or external webcam and then look at the center of the screen. You will notice that your head tilts a little.)
It’s subtle because we’re only talking about an inch (or less) here. The larger the laptop screen, the less eye contact you will have.
We can’t look Zoom in the eye, according to science journalist and author Daniel Goleman (better known as the person who popularized the term emotional intelligence). He mentioned this on a recent podcast episode. To do this, we need a camera in the middle of the screen or directly above the middle, but that’s not (yet) possible with modern technology. He explained that eye contact is an important part of social connection, perhaps the most important part of all.
So why does it cause fatigue?
For those of us who make Zoom calls all day, this multiplies and exacerbates the notion that we are no longer together. Make about five or six Zoom calls a day for a few weeks without making good eye contact and something will happen to our psyche. We don’t feel that connected. We don’t think someone is really paying attention even when we see them staring at us. It’s a non-verbal scenario. We notice the lack of direct eye contact, even if we don’t fully realize it and even though it’s only an inch.
“You either look at the camera or you look in the face,” says Goleman. “The brain doesn’t get the signals you get in real life.”
Goleman says email and text messages are even worse than Zoom calls for our emotional connection. However, fatigue occurs when we endure video calls for hours without the social connection people crave.
We are tired because the focus is only on exchanging information and we are not getting the cognitive calm that occurs when we chat in person.
Without direct eye contact, says Goleman, we miss all the benefits of human communication. We don’t see, hear, or feel the nuances, and that means our brains have to work overtime. How do we overcome this problem?
One solution is to just spot it. Start with the why. We get tired because we aren’t making eye contact, but because we lack all emotional connection. We transfer data from one video stream to another. Nothing is real That means we have to take breaks much more often. We have to stop and literally smell the roses. Take more breaks and find a real person.
The other problem is that it will never change. As long as we are looking at a screen, we will not experience the same connection. That said, we need to stop relying on video chatting too much when working remotely. A visit to the office even helps once a week.
I also started using a wide angle webcam. It helps because people on the other end of the chat can see more context. I still get comments about my guitar next to me and why I have a long table full of books. (It’s because I’m writing one.)
The lack of eye contact during video chats is a simple reason why fatigue begins. However, this is not the only reason. To at least see what is happening is a step in the right direction.