Quantify webcam fatigue – Propmodo
Thinking back to the start of the pandemic, I can’t help but think how naive I was about the whole thing. My first thought when the global lockdowns started was “it’s okay, we’ll be back to normal soon”. Now that we are almost two years into treating the disease and all the complications that come with it, I realize how wrong I was. I had no idea the huge impact this would have on our lives. Some aspects of the transition were actually quite painless. The world has collectively learned to perform many of our same tasks remotely. Videoconferencing has become the norm. Zoom has become a household verb. Other aspects of life didn’t mesh so well with our new early remote lives. We have all felt the pressure on the social aspect of our lives in one way or another from not being able to visit loved ones or spend much more time alone. This brings me to my second naïve idea, one many of us had in 2020: I can use the same tools that help me work from home to facilitate social interactions.
For a brief moment, my friends and I all tried to get together for what was called a “Zoom happy hour.” I say quick moment because we did it exactly once. It wasn’t that the experience was bad, mind you, we shared a few laughs as always. It was that after a long day of video meetings, the last thing we wanted to do was reconnect and socialize. Also, we could all feel that the banter had changed a bit, we were no longer bouncing effortlessly from topic to topic like we would in normal conversation. Instead, we found ourselves taking turns exposing the topic at hand as, well, like a meeting.
We all have a feeling that video meetings aren’t the same as in-person meetings, obviously you lose a bit of the interpersonal cues that make a conversation flow. But what’s harder to understand is how these video meetings affect us. We all feel that Zoom fatigue is real, but I’ve always thought it was due to the sheer number of meetings we have now that 30-minute video meetings are the accepted business norm. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, this is not the case. Although we may have more meetings after the pandemic, the duration of these meetings is shorter (after 40 minutes, you have to pay!), which represents an overall decrease of 11.5% in the average time spent in meetings before the pandemic. pandemic. Why we feel so tired of our virtual meetings is what a recent study called The Tiring Effects of Using the Camera in Virtual Meetings made to measure.
The researchers studied 103 employees of a healthcare company for 19 days. They randomly asked employees to keep their cameras on or off for meetings each day and sent them a daily survey rating fatigue, voice, and engagement for that workday. Fatigue and engagement are pretty straightforward, but voice is a new concept in organizational behavior that means the employee feels free to speak up and voice their concerns. These three elements are considered pillars of our understanding of morale and productivity. In an attempt to account for the subjective nature of these qualities, the researchers analyzed the “with in person” responses, comparing each person’s video and video-free days.
What they found wasn’t exactly shocking to anyone who’s spent long days in video meetings. “Our results suggest that using a camera can be tiring for employees and can inadvertently prevent employees from staying engaged in virtual work, which goes against conventional wisdom on the subject ( e.g., Kanter, 2017),” the report says. He goes on to cite previous research that shows how video in addition to voice “humanizes the room” through the prominence of facial expressions, but adds this rebuttal: “While such sentiments were likely relevant pre-pandemic when virtual meetings were less prevalent, our findings suggest that the use of video in virtual meetings represents an additional burden.
More interesting to me than what this research found about why the video aspect of meetings was so tiring and it all has to do with the concept of self-preservation. I’ll let the report define it for you: “Self-presentation refers to the idea that most people have an innate desire to be seen in a favorable light and aim to convey positive information about themselves. .”
Ok, no duh, right? Well, when we know that our image is, as the children say, exploded, it really changes the way we act. “Regardless of the camera status of other meeting participants, meeting participants whose camera is on tend to send additional intentional nonverbal cues (e.g., nodding exaggeratedly to indicate agreement, talking louder, trying to show that they are making eye contact by looking into the camera), which require extra cognitive effort on their part.
I don’t know about you, but I felt a little challenged when I first read this take. I know my wife and I are always amazed at how much louder we talk in virtual meetings than in real life. The researchers also noted that “participants in virtual meetings have significantly longer gazes and are less likely to look away from the speaker than in face-to-face interactions (Andrist et al., 2013; Bailenson, 2021) , which may further contribute to the cognitive demands associated with feeling watched.
The fatigue that accompanies self-preservation is not universally felt either. The report notes that “females and new hires were more camera-tired.” It makes sense that people who might feel more pressure to look good in these meetings would be more affected.
While this report really just confirmed my suspicions, it got me thinking about the repercussions of our immediate and frankly random adoption of virtual meetings. These digital conversations haven’t just replaced our in-person meeting, they’ve replaced almost all real-time interactions since no one under the age of 30 seems to want to talk on the phone anymore. There’s something more personal about sharing our faces, outfits and homes in video meetings, so we need to use them responsibly. Some meetings should still be phone calls. Hell, most meetings could just be concisely written emails. It might be time to save our video faces for special occasions, when we want to get to know someone, connect with loved ones, or maybe even share a laugh at an awkward Zoom happy hour.