Whether it’s Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams or another collaborative platform, we’re using video calls more than ever because of COVID-19. It looks like we’ll continue to do so, whether working in iso or back in the office.

This expert article looks at the positives and negatives of video calls, why they can be exhausting and what we can do about it.

Positives

The positives are many. Video calls can save travel time, reduce the isolation of working alone by keeping us connected, increase effectiveness because we can ‘see’ who we’re communicating with, and allow us to hang out in meetings in the comfort of our home or workplace. At the beginning of the pandemic they might even have been novel and fun.

Negatives

Negatives are beginning to emerge. More scientific and other research, and more mental health and communications experts, are saying video calls can be physically and emotionally draining. They can even make some us feel anxious or worried.

Why are video calls exhausting?

Video fatigue is real. Some common causes are:

  1. Video calls don’t all run smoothly.

Video calls can be distracting if the person we’re communicating with isn’t looking at us direct through the camera but instead has eyes wandering all over. It’s even worse when that person is fussing or bobbing their head up and down.

  1. More focus is required.

Research is clear that we have to focus more on screen than in real face-to-face meetings or chats. We work harder to process body language and non-verbal cues like facial expressions. We expend more energy concentrating on tone of voice and even on words.

  1. Frustrating and annoying.

Video calling with someone who isn’t properly framed or not looking at the camera can be frustrating. Also annoying is when the person is fidgety or playing with their pets more than they’re concentrating on what’s being said.

  1. Impersonal and unfriendly.

As much as video calls allow us to see each other, technical challenges can make us feel the person we’re talking too isn’t very friendly. This includes technical challenges like screens that freeze, and delays and echoes.

What can I do to make video calls less exhausting?

  1. Avoid multitasking when on a video call. Don’t tidy your desk or make a to-do list or get other ‘stuff done’ when you’re supposed to be concentrating on a video call meeting. Multitasking can be draining, so focus instead.
  2. Reduce the number of video calls. Only hold video calls that are necessary, to help manage fatigue levels.
  3. Shorten the length of video calls. Marathon video calls are just that—marathons, and we all know how tiring they can be. Manage the length of calls by scheduling a set amount of time and sticking to it, just as you would face-to-face meetings.
  4. Chunk things up. Don’t cram everything into one video call, so participants collapse when it’s finished. Think through whether two or three shorter calls, focusing on individual topics, would be more effective.
  5. Avoid back-to-back video calls. Give your poor brain a break. When you think about it, holding back-to-back video calls is no different than holding back-to-back meetings in person. How effective are you at the end of a string of meetings?
  6. Take breaks. Build in an appropriate number of mini breaks so you can switch off for a few minutes. Stretch. Get a bit of fresh air. Make a cuppa. Eat a piece of fruit. Do whatever it takes to shake the cobwebs out of your head.
  7. Make a phone call to change things up. No rule says you have to use a video call for everything.
  8. Redesign training on video calls. If you’re training using video calls, design your training around clear sections. Build in smooth transitions from one section to the next and mini breaks to enhance concentration.
  9. Set boundaries. Establish ground rules for how video calls will run and have a chair (formal or informal) to keep things from getting out of hand. One rule could be to not talk over one another.
  10. Take a day off. When scheduling your week, build in a day or two when you’re not participating in video calls. You’ll be surprised at how much of a difference this can make.

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