Video calling on Zoom has become a lifeline during the coronavirus pandemic for many businesses, which suddenly found themselves managing a remote and disparate workforce.

During this time, many people have become accustomed to the faces of their colleagues spread across a grid on a screen. But for some, the endless parade of video calls has gotten a little too heavy.

HSBC and Citi have implemented so-called “no zoom” days, reserving a day of the week when employees are not supposed to make video calls.

These decisions are not simply based on anecdotal comments from staff. There is an emerging niche in research into the effects of constant video calling. In addition to Zoom, there is a range of similar tools that businesses use like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco Webex.

Jeremy Bailenson, professor at Stanford University, was study the impact this video call overload has had on people, dubbed “zoom fatigue”.

“Currently, the medium is designed to allow various forms of exhaustion and fatigue – socially, emotionally and physically,” Bailenson told CNBC.

His research looked at some of the main causes of this fatigue: excessive gaze in the eyes, seeing oneself reflected back to you for several hours a day, being attached to a physical place for long periods of time, and increased difficulty interpreting non-verbal cues. .

When this setting is the only way to meet managers, coworkers, and clients, it can wreak havoc.

Days without zoom

Many companies, from large corporations to start-ups, feel similar. Tech giants TikTok and Salesforce have placed restrictions and limits on the number of video conferences their employees make.

“The team decided not to have a meeting on Friday and we need to give people time back away from the computer,” Terri Moloney, senior manager of employee success at Salesforce in Dublin, told CNBC. “It turned and turned into a combination of a wellness day and a day without a meeting.”

People have remained just as productive while working from home, if not more, she added. But it can mean blurring the line between work and home life and more time in front of a computer screen and, therefore, more video calls with colleagues.

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Moloney said a day without a meeting is not necessarily a rule to be enforced, but rather permission for employees to have time that is entirely theirs, whether for a particular project or to participate in corporate initiatives. well-being of the company.

“To be honest, having the free space to be able to manage your time and manage your schedule, and knowing you have that flexibility is half the battle,” Moloney said.

British fintech start-up Plum led a team split between the UK and Greece long before the pandemic.

Managing Director Victor Trokoudes said he was able to take this experience of juggling a distributed workforce and adapt it to the Zoom era.

“Engineers don’t have meetings on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. We have blocked all Zoom meetings so they can have time to focus on working without having to jump into a Zoom,” did he declare.

“The only important thing with Zoom calls specifically was to really try to focus them on a certain period of time and give people time off, say in the afternoon, to work more, or on other days. they wouldn’t have to jump. on Zooms. “


While some companies are reducing the number of video calls, support is not disappearing either.

Leighton Hughes, UK sales vice president for video conferencing company Pexip, said companies need to think carefully about the “etiquette” of video calling.

“Where we’ve seen customers whose users are the most engaged is how they’ve incorporated a certain etiquette into the meeting,” said Hughes.

“Businesses are responsible for the correct meeting etiquette when we meet remotely,” he said. “This includes little tips around the gaps between meetings, the number of people in the meetings.”

Hughes said one of the main driving forces behind people who are fed up with video is trying to replicate the traditional on-screen meeting environment.

There is a technical solution to this with an emphasis on video and audio quality. Pexip recently signed an agreement with Nvidia to assist in processing audio and video using AI so as to adjust and optimize each call to the visual and audio environment of the participants.

This could include filtering out ambient noise in the background, or automatically adjusting the size and layout of the on-screen grids to reduce the cognitive load on viewers.

“We don’t necessarily think meeting fatigue is driven by the meeting, we just think meeting etiquette and meeting quality needs to improve to make people feel less tired.”

Future research

Bailenson of Stanford said there was more research to be done on the effects of video call overload on people.

In another article he co-wrote, the effects of Zoom fatigue have been shown to be more common in women.

He said future research will need to test different variations of video calls to examine how people react, such as testing some calls with people who cannot see each other.

“What we need now is more experimental data that varies the type of features used during lectures to get a better idea of ​​the psychological mechanisms at play,” he said.

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