Zoom meetings are here to stay, even if COVID-19 isn’t. The flexibility that at-home meetings afford is simply too valuable for employers or employees to lose — especially for those who are housebound, like the chronically ill. So, as Elle Woods said, don’t fight the fabric: change it! The best way to do Zoom is not to get rid of Zoom entirely; it’s to learn to live alongside Zoom meetings harmoniously.
First: Employees Have to Be Able to Turn Off Their Cameras
A 2021 study performed by the University of Arizona found that having cameras on during video meetings exacerbates Zoom fatigue, especially in women and new employees. Giving employees the option — or even a mandate — to turn off their cameras can keep Zoom fatigue to a minimum. If you’re a boss, make sure your underlings understand that they’re not obligated to show face. If you’re an employee, tell your boss and colleagues that you prefer to meet without your camera. It will save you (at least a little) from the 4:00 p.m. sleepies.
What Is Zoom Fatigue?
The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic introduced a new phenomenon called “Zoom fatigue,” during which you feel exhausted simply by having been on a camera conference call (or multiple calls) for too long. While at first this might have seemed silly — we were all at home, at our most cozy — Zoom fatigue quickly earned recognition among remote workers as a real problem. According to research published in Technology, Mind, and Behavior in February of 2021, video conferencing is more exhausting than other forms of communication for the following possible reasons:
- Employees cannot walk around, as they might be able to on a phone call or in a conference room
- Being on a video call reduces your ability to understand body language and other nonverbal communication
- You’re actually much closer to your colleagues on a video call than you would be in a conference room. Engaging with someone at a very close distance is more exhausting than chatting at a more-common five feet
- Zoom’s interface may make you feel like you’re the speaker, even if you’re mostly listening to your boss' monologue. In the words of Jeremy N. Bailenson, the author of the research: “From a perceptual standpoint, Zoom effectively transforms listeners into speakers and smothers everyone with eye gaze.”
How to Reduce Zoom Fatigue
The number one way to reduce Zoom fatigue is to have cameras off during the meeting. Treat it like a pro-forma conference call: it’s just a call. With your camera off, you can pace around your home as you please and avoid interfacing directly with a screen, which is itself tiring.
The only other way to reduce Zoom fatigue is to limit the amount of video calling in the first place. Keep meetings below a certain threshold. Speak briefly. Keep low-priority topics to emails only. Use Zoom only when necessary.
Make Sure Your Household Knows You’re on Zoom
Being on a video conference call is serious business. But it’s hard to keep a straight face through a presentation of 2020’s quarterly revenue if your spouse is dancing to ABBA behind you (provided you have your camera on). On Air Warning is a three-sided light which lets the household know you’re on the air — aka, currently on a Zoom call. Keep things professional with a warning light; then, you won’t have to waste time apologizing for any disruptions. Remember: The less time you spend on video conferences, the better.
When in Doubt, Apply a Background
Applying a false background is an easy way to protect your privacy during a Zoom call, if you do, in fact, have your camera on. Remote workers are in a difficult position because they have effectively invited work into their home. This can mean that a) your home now feels like a workplace and b) your colleagues can see your home. This is an invasion of privacy for many people; your coworkers don’t need to see your Greta van Fleet poster or your Ouija board collection. Moreover, they don’t want to see it. A false background — a green screen-style image applied over your face — can keep things professional, even if you’re hiding from your kids in the nearest closet.
How to Apply a Fake Background
In order to apply a fake background, you must first enable virtual backgrounds in your personal Zoom settings. To do so, go to the Zoom “portal,” which is just zoom.us in your browser, and log in to your account. Go to “Settings,” followed by “Meeting,” then “In Meeting (advanced),” and make sure to toggle the “Virtual background” button so that it is engaged. NOTE: You will have to scroll very far down the page to find this button! This section of your account settings will also ask you if you’d like to enable videos-as-backgrounds. If you prefer a looping video of a roller coaster as your background, by all means, enable this as well.
If you use Zoom with a group — like a company or university Zoom account — your administrator may have restricted your ability to use virtual backgrounds. If this is the case, the “virtual background” button will be grey and immobile. If this happens, contact your administrator and request a change.
Actually applying the virtual background is easy. Once on the call, click on the three dots near your own video. Follow the menu to “settings” and select “backgrounds and filters.” From there, you should be able to apply either a photo or even a video to your Zoom visage.
How to Make Your Virtual Background Even Better
Zoom itself recommends using a green screen to enhance your virtual background. Green screens: Not just for Marvel movies! You can purchase a personal green screen at a number of online retailers, Wal-Mart and Amazon included. If you do use a green screen, opt for non green clothing. Otherwise, your body will disappear into the background, too.
Yes, You May Need to Use a Password
Since late 2020, Zoom has required users to apply either a password or a waiting room to any Zoom meeting. This is because, following the beginning of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom saw an uptick in “Zoom bombers,” or people entering Zoom meetings with the intention of disrupting them. Zoom bombers were at the very least disruptive and, at the very most, traumatizing. (Some Zoom bombers would intentionally disrupt social justice-oriented meetings to scream ethnic slurs and hate speech.) After a round of bad publicity, Zoom opted for a few mandatory safety measures. For a meeting, you must use either a password or a waiting room. If you do not wish to do either, you can make sure your attendees are “authenticated users” of the platform. All free accounts on Zoom are limited to waiting rooms or password-protected rooms.
Keep Zoom Freeze-Free
Frozen or lagging video on Zoom is related to your internet connectivity or possibly your computer. If your computer has low capability — like a $200 Chromebook, which operates solely on the web — it may not be able to handle webcams.
Always Use Headphones
Headphones can be an irksome accessory, but they are necessary for pleasant video calls. They actually limit echo sounds in a call because they do not let ambient noise into the call. Picture this: You are Zooming into a company conference call from your dining room, which has high ceilings and virtually no furniture. The room has impressive acoustics, which means your voice has a tiny echo. But as soon as another co-worker begins to speak, their voice (coming through your laptop’s speakers) echoes throughout your dining room, all because you are not using headphones. Headphones absorb these kinds of sounds such that the Zoom call will be absent of vacant, hollow echoes.
Eating at your desk or eating during work has long been controversial. Employers want you to do it, or so employees tend to think, and, laden with too many daily tasks, employees feel obligated to work through their lunch break. In the era of Zoom meetings, this is doubly bad: You should not eat on a Zoom call, and you should not work through your lunch break (or snack break). Here’s why:
- Research indicates that employees who take full lunch breaks are refreshed, satisfied, and more able to be productive in the afternoon hours. In general, our evolving understanding of human work modes supports the lunch break. Humans just cannot work for eight hours straight. In fact, most research points to a sub-60 minutes work spree followed by a short, 15-minute break. (One popular science-backed method is 52 minutes of work followed by a 17-minute break. The Pomodoro method, also popular, is 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break.)
- Eating in front of a screen will make you more likely to overeat. One lab study from 2010 found that those who ate lunch in front of a screen were more likely to snack heavily later in the day. This is because you don’t perceive the food you’re eating next to your computer as an actual “meal” — you may even barely perceive that you’re eating at all.
- Eating during Zoom may trigger the pet peeves of your colleagues. No one wants to hear you enjoy a club sandwich, or, more accurately, an assorted collection of things you found in your fridge. Your colleagues may even have misophonia, a condition which makes the sounds of eating unbearable.
- Eating near your computer is a hazard. Even if you’re not a messy eater, crumbs can sneak into your keyboard and get trapped under the keys, eventually forcing a trip to the Genius bar. It’s like eating in your car: People do it, but it’s not exactly good for the machinery.