Zoom meetings and kitchen table home offices seem here to stay. But our familiarity with this new way of working doesn’t make it any less exhausting.
Working from home has created a whole new class of mental and physical stressors that affect both wellbeing and work productivity, according to Leyland Pitt, PhD, a marketing professor at the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver, and the author of a recent report in the journal Business Horizons on applying mindfulness practices to cope with work-from-home weariness.
One of those stressors is the ubiquitous use of video conferencing to keep remote workers connected and engaged. But at what cost? A new article in Technology, Mind, and Behavior explains Zoom fatigue and why meeting digitally can be way more draining than in-person. Director of the Stanford University Virtual Human Interaction Lab and author of the article, Jeremy Bailenson, PhD, theorizes that Zoom fatigue is a result of excessive amounts of close-up eye contact, which we normally go out of our way to avoid in-person. “On Zoom, behavior ordinarily reserved for close relationships—such as long stretches of direct eye gaze and faces seen close up—has suddenly become the way we interact with casual acquaintances, coworkers, and even strangers,” writes Bailenson. It can be intense. Then add the fact that you are working harder to communicate on Zoom, where the nonverbal cues we unconsciously and consciously use to express ourselves are either out of frame or harder to detect. Plus, science tells us that staring at ourselves much of the day prompts continuous self-evaluation that has been shown to have negative effects, including rumination and depression.
Can Mindfulness Help?
“I had been skeptical about mindfulness as a technique to enhance mental wellbeing,” says Pitt. “Then the pandemic hit, and I found myself spending hours in front of a Zoom screen, realizing that this type of online work brings on a different kind of fatigue and work-induced stress.” His report co-author, Mariana Toniolo-Barrios, a PhD candidate at SFU in organizational behavior, asked him to try out a few mindfulness exercises she was developing. “For the first time, I realized that there are simple, easy to follow, practical, and very useful techniques that actually make me feel better,” says Pitt.
Here, the practices Pitt and Toniolo-Barrios recommend to create boundaries between work life and personal life, minimize distractions, and beat Zoom fatigue and burnout: