Thank goodness for the people who can cut through the bullshit and find the ridiculousness during stressful times. The pandemic has given joke makers and meme creators plenty of material to turn lemons into lemonade, and Zoom meetings have created plenty of opportunities for the laughs we need right now. From people being stuck as images of potatoes to intentionally using green screens or dressing up as different characters, Zoom is redefining business casual in hilarious ways.
But as fun as it is to laugh about people who live with us accidentally waltzing into the background of important meetings in their undies or threatening to nag our kids for snacks when they are on their video calls, Zoom can also cause exhaustion. The fatigue you are feeling from a day of virtual meetings is real. All of our work meetings, online classes for our kids, virtual social time and story hours, and streamed fitness classes come with physical and emotional tolls. If you are sick of your online workspace, you are not alone.
While technology can be effective for keeping us connected, there is also a loss of connection — the frustration I feel so perfectly summed up by a tweet from Italian professor Gianpiero Petriglieri:
“It’s easier being in each other’s presence, or in each other’s absence, than in the constant presence of each other’s absence.”
I am a public speaker and an extrovert to the core. I am also very intuitive. I can read a room and group of people well, but online webinars and Zoom calls limit this superpower I have — and they’re limiting yours, too. It’s not that all-day meetings weren’t draining before, but when we are in a physical space with another person or group of people, we’re better able to read body language and watch for facial expressions. We can sense the vibe in the room. That gives us valuable feedback we struggle to get while on a video call. Especially if one of your coworkers has morphed themselves into a mermaid.
Petriglieri went on to say, “Our bodies process so much context, so much information, in encounters, that meeting on video is being a weird kind of blindfolded. We sense too little and can’t imagine enough. That single deprivation requires a lot of conscious effort.”
With Zoom meetings it can also be hard to find the right beat to speak, or know if someone else needs to talk but doesn’t have the forwardness to interrupt. We are hyper-focused on cues we normally take in naturally when in the same physical space as someone. And if we’re trying to do this with more people in meetings than we’re used to in the name of efficiency, we are mentally and emotionally taxing ourselves in a time when we are in a constant state of feeling drained anyway.
Thanks to the pandemic, our bodies’ default is set to either fight or flight. We are going into our daily meetings stressed, cranky, and anxious, and Zoom meetings are reminders that nothing is normal and we don’t know when it will get better. Yet we have to stay, join the meeting, and hope no one walks by without clothing. Our worry is not just on the actual work that needs to get done, but of all of the other external variables too.
Where are the kids? What if they are loud? Will someone need something? How do I change this background? What if my internet becomes unstable? Fuck, my internet is unstable. What did they say? Should I just nod? I am nodding. Is their internet unstable? Did they hear me? They’re nodding. Should I ask if they heard me? Dear God, my neck. Why does my neck do that? Is that how I always look?
Our bodies are trying to find relief too. Not all of us have home offices that actually mimic office space. We are working at tables, on couches, beds, or in the bathroom to find the best internet connection and quietest places in the house. We’re not sitting on ergonomic furniture. Our bodies are tense and achy, and we aren’t walking from room to room like we would at work when transitioning from one meeting to another to alleviate some of that stiffness. And we likely are not following our usual eating habits. Can you call it a working lunch if you’re eating while on a Zoom call? Personally, I’d rather not have someone watch me eat my food, and I definitely don’t want to hear someone else chew.
Our eyes are strained and the blue light from overuse of our computers and smartphones suppresses melatonin; this impacts our ability to fall asleep and have a peaceful night’s sleep. We go to bed sore and restless and wake up to do it all over again. But there are some ways to relieve some of the strain and fatigue of Zoom life.
It’s important to remind yourself that you are living in your workspace, and that doesn’t give you a chance to unwind during a commute home. You can’t just leave work behind, because that counter where you are prepping dinner is where you had seven Zoom calls and will need to catch up on emails after the kids are in bed. Work is always present, and so is the stress. Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D. suggests in an article for Psychology Today that, if possible, we should make our workspace feel different than our living space. A change of lighting, using a new mug, or listening to a different radio station can set boundaries between work and home time.
Ideally you won’t need to schedule back-to-back Zoom meetings — but if you do, then give yourself 10 or 15 minutes between calls to stand and stretch, go for a short walk, or get some food and a glass of water. And Steven Hickman, Psy.D. says that we should avoid multitasking. It’s too much to be on a call and also read and respond to emails, especially if we are navigating between two screens. He also suggests using “speaker view” so that you can focus on one person at a time vs. being overwhelmed and distracted by multiple faces on your screen.
And if you have had too much (virtual) face-to-face time, either at work or with friends and family members, stick to voice-only calls. You can still show up and contribute without a visual presence. If video calls are sapping your already limited supply of energy, take a break from them.
We are working harder than usual by using Zoom to get our work done, so be easy on yourself. This situation is temporary, and we won’t be living in a digital work space forever. However, it’s vital — even in temporary situations — to make tweaks to our environment and schedule to preserve our mental and physical health.