Managers looking to encourage engagement and inclusion in remote meetings have long encouraged team members to keep their cameras on. But researchers examining the reactions of remote workers to the constant video conferencing calls of the remote working age have found that keeping video on all day actually increases so-called “zoom fatigue.” This is especially true for women and new hires, groups that can already feel under the microscope.
When the global workforce shifted to working from home, many organizations leaned heavily on virtual platforms with video calling capabilities (Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams) to replace live meetings. face to face. While such meetings offered a chance to maintain a social bond in an age of social distancing, a few weeks after remote working, “zoom fatigue” and “virtual meeting fatigue” entered our vernacular, capturing the feeling of fatigue and exhaustion that comes from being stuck in an endless cycle of virtual meetings. The researchers reacted to this phenomenon by developing a Zoom exhaustion and fatigue scale. Others have started to investigate aspects of virtual meetings that might contribute to virtual meeting fatigue (pro tip: mute your microphone when you’re not speaking helps!).
However, little research has attempted to isolate and understand the impact of the video camera itself on zoom fatigue. How much does having your camera on contribute to your level of fatigue? Should you keep your video camera on or off?
To explore the effects of video cameras on everyday virtual meeting fatigue, we’ve teamed up with BroadPath, a business services company in Tucson, Ariz. That has been providing remote working offerings for more than a decade. With its thousands of home-based employees in the US and overseas, BroadPath had experimented with streaming video as a way to improve the community. When the pandemic hit, however, they began to suspect that the use of front cameras in all meetings could affect the remote working experience.
As the pandemic unfolded, BroadPath sought to collaborate with researchers in the remote workspace and contacted members of our team. Together, in late summer 2020, we designed a study that involved collecting daily data over four weeks from 103 BroadPath employees. We randomly assigned participants to keep their cameras on or off for the first two weeks of the study, then we changed assignments for the last two weeks. We also asked them to complete a brief after-work survey each day that captured their energy level at that time (“Right now I’m feeling tired”), as well as their engagement (“Over of today’s meetings, I felt engaged ”) and their voice (“ In today’s meetings, when I had something to say, I felt like I had a voice ” ). To help isolate the camera effects, we also tracked the number of virtual meetings each employee attended each day, as well as the total number of hours employees spent in meetings.
Our results – recently published in Journal of Applied Psychology – were fairly clear: the use of the camera was positively correlated with feelings of daily fatigue; the number of hours employees spent in virtual meetings was not. This indicates that keeping the camera constantly on during meetings is at the heart of the fatigue problem.
Even more interesting for us, we found that fatigue reduced employees’ sense of engagement, as well as their voice in meetings. Activating cameras is often encouraged, as it is generally seen as helping to address both of these challenges – engagement and getting everyone heard -. .
To complicate matters further, when we looked at our results as well as the employee demographics, it was also found that being in front of the camera was more tiring for some groups, especially women and newer employees. in the organization.
For these groups, the camera likely amplifies the self-presentation costs, which reinforces the effect of camera use on fatigue. Women generally face greater social pressures in organizations – they are often given lower social status and judged more harshly, suggesting that being in front of a camera could be more stressful for women than for men. Women are also victims of what has been seen as the “grooming gap” or the expectation to appear physically presentable at all times. And, as women assumed disproportionate levels of childcare during the pandemic, the likelihood of them experiencing interruptions related to family or children in the background became greater, further compromising their perceived commitment to work. .
While new hires are also vulnerable to the pressures of self-introduction, the reasons are different. Specifically, their “rookie status” reinforces the need to demonstrate that they are good performers worthy of the organization. They also establish their professional image while striving to understand social norms in the workplace, which can be difficult to achieve within the confines of video camera meetings.
That’s not to say that men and more experienced employees are immune to the fatigue of virtual meetings. Rather, it means that we need to recognize that some members may be taxed more by turning on their cameras than others.
The obvious implication of these results is for us to turn off the camera during our video calls, especially as we start to feel tired. But there are other solutions as well: turning off auto-display on platforms like Zoom has been a popular idea among employees we have spoken with, as has the setting up of “walking meetings” where calls are taken. on the phone to encourage employees to get on and move.
Our results also suggest that managers have a key role to play not only in setting camera standards, but also in engaging their staff for feedback. How often do employees want to be filmed? Should employees be given greater autonomy in using the camera? And, if the cameras aren’t on, how can you change your mind about what the engagement “looks like”?
Finally, as we delineate the nature and impact of positive virtual workspaces in our lives, it will be imperative to explore emerging technologies. For example, would devices placed on the side be less tiring, allowing employees to work side by side without looking directly at the camera? Or, with the increase in gamification, are technologies that use avatars or create virtual desktop environments the wave of the future?
So while few would say virtual meetings are here to stay, the way we use our cameras is still up for debate.