My Google Alert on Zoom fatigue provides about 10 new articles every day reporting how remote workers, students and teachers around the world are affected by this new disease.
High-tech companies, such as Microsoft,are developing solutions to trick the brain into overcoming the phenomenon.
What is Zoom Fatigue?
The phenomenon is described in studies and reports with the following effects:
- feeling more exhausted, drained and physically tired at the end of the day
- strain on the eyes
- feeling isolated
- a lack of personal connection
Students, teachers and remote workers are particularly affected by this phenomenon. Often they have seamlessly chained up to 7 or 8 hours of video meetings a day and feel much more exhausted than after a classic work or school day.
Where Does Zoom Fatigue Come From?
There are many explanatory models for this phenomenon, which has many different causes.
Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, says that video calls “put us in a position that is unnatural. A combination of having prolonged eye contact and having someone’s enlarged face extremely close to you forces certain subconscious responses in humans. Our brains have evolved to have a very intense reaction when you have a face close to you,”
Julia Sklar describes in her article “‘Zoom fatigue’ is taxing the brain” that our brain derives during in-person communication dozens of nonverbal cues and that the processing of these natural signals is somehow disturbed during video calls.
There are accordingly different assumptions about the possible causes for Zoom fatigue:
- Our brains produce intense reactions when you have a face close to you
- Crude and disturbing background noises
- A screen full of people constantly moving
- People process information at different speeds (but the information stream continues steadily)
- Technical reaction latencies of 1 or 2 seconds are perceived as impolite or negative
- Too many nonverbals cues (when you see the participants)
- Not enough nonverbal cues (when you don’t see the participants)
- Exertion due to strict time slots (often back-to-back)
- Only parts of the video call are interesting for the participants, but they must be attentive over the whole call (efficiency problem)
- For many, it’s challenging to take the floor (and interrupt the public statement flow with their own contributions)
A Remedy for Zoom Fatigue
Obviously, the easiest solution to cure video fatigue is to make fewer video calls. However, this is difficult because video calls have enormous advantages over other forms of communication. What are they?
- Nonverbal communication: Facial and voice expressions that our brains are trained for can be processed in deeper and faster brain regions than textual information
- Immediate results within a given time frame (if things go well)
- Quick exchange of thoughts and direct responses
- Emotional team alignment through video communication
These advantages should somehow be preserved, while the disadvantages described above should be eliminated. How can this be done? Well, this is where we come in with a novel technology called fractal conferencing or time-independent meetings.
An Alternative to Zoom Calls: Time-Independent Meetings
Technically, there is no need for all participants to sit in front of a computer in real time, giving it their full attention for hours, which is where a significant part of the exertion comes from. They can instead watch recordings and record or send statements and only occasionally adopt the appropriate posture to set themselves in the right light. This already eliminates much of the effort experienced in classic video calls.
Communicating through video messages can achieve positive effects in the following areas:
- Hours of required uninterrupted attention are avoided.
- You only consume important statements from important areas. You save time.
- You can increase the playback speed and skip low-priority topics.
- Participants think before they speak: the statements are denser, clearer and shorter for everyone.
- You can participate when you find the time. Strict time slots do not matter.
- You can optimize the statement with all available technologies (editing, etc.)
Better than Personal Talks and Zoom Calls: Fractal Conferences
Linear meetings have a fundamental problem. The thoughts always interrupt each other. So if thought A contains valuable hints about a problem to be solved, the subsequent thoughts B, C and D only refer to certain parts of A and then usually move on. The initial effect of A fades away, and B, C, D go on to interrupt each other.
This is different in fractal conferences (as we sometimes call time-independent meetings when they are controlled by a fractal UX). Here, participants can refer to any aspect of any segment at any time. Over time, it becomes clear which statement has the greatest effect and attracts the most contributions and reactions. It is not the randomness of the linear sequence that determines the importance of a statement anymore, rather its actual inner quality.
Fractal Conferences for Schools
Schools and universities face an existential challenge because of Covid-19. America’s oldest college newspaper describes how the business model of universities is being shaken by online teaching: “Dartmouth’s $57,796 annual tuition rate clearly could not, in any other circumstance, be justified by a purely online education.”
However, the problem goes much further; it is about finding a way to convey knowledge under such conditions to preserve and further develop the knowledge of mankind. Previous methods are no longer easily possible in the pandemic, so it is time to find new ones. And that is exactly what the teachers do.
English professor Dr. Kristi Humphreys told the Baylor Lariat: “I have to get creative and work harder at it when we are online, but I have enjoyed learning all kinds of new skills — from media recordings to editing to sound effects and thought bubbles — skills I can take into my face-to-face sections when we return to make sessions more entertaining.”
We see that there is a great willingness to be creative and to develop new methods, by teachers and students alike. This is the perfect scenario for fractal conferencing.
In fractal conferences, the students can participate in the presentation and development of the material much more than in linear meetings, which have to include the classic frontal teaching as well as the Zoom call — they all follow the same linear paradigm.
It is quite clear that we are becoming more immersed in a ‘gig’ economy where expert knowledge for certain problems is spread all over the globe. With fractal conferences, experts are activated to engage themselves at the right time and with a lot of energy.
Participants are responsible for curating and economising their own knowledge processes in a fractal conference. This competence will be of existential importance in a post-Covid world and could be encouraged in students early on.
Our Technology Needs Engaged Users to Develop
We are developing fractal conferences and time-independent meetings for all kinds of target groups who are interested in an accelerated knowledge process. Schools, universities, scientists, companies and organizations are on our table at the moment, and we are super happy to get your feedback.
We need your support and enthusiasm to develop the technology according to your needs and feature requests. Please get in contact, and help us to grow and make the world a beautiful place for our children and grandchildren.