During the current COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of information workers around the world are sheltering at home and using remote collaboration tools to stay connected and remain productive.  It’s a great thing that so many people have discovered the tools that we in the industry have been promoting for years, but it’s unfortunate that a lot of people did so with no guidance nor experience – and no warning.  Stories have begun popping up in the news about “video fatigue” (or the more colloquial “Zoom fatigue” that acknowledges the tremendous growth of Zoom into the conversational lexicon).  Users unfamiliar with days full of videoconferences and remote collaboration are experiencing real symptoms of eyestrain, neck fatigue and general stress that can all be associated with long stretches of collaboration technology use without appropriate guidance.

I recently had the pleasure of hosting a webcast to examine this phenomenon and help provide some of that missing guidance.  I was joined by Ira Weinstein of Recon Research, Bryan Hellard of Wainhouse Research, Sam Kennedy of Poly and Vivienne Fleischer of PBergo.  The five of us – four technologists and an ergonomics expert – identified and classified the reasons for this video fatigue and discussed how to prevent them.

The first point we made was that it’s perfectly understandable for people to be experiencing fatigue during this crisis.  No one expected to be thrown into a mostly unfamiliar situation as rapidly as we all did.  End-users have described the speed at which everything changed causing a feeling similar to whiplash.  There was no preparation and no time to begin gradually – we were all immediately thrown into the deep end of the collaboration pool.  The stressors with that speed and with the pandemic in general were certainly a factor in experiencing the problem.

When we broke-down the other causes of video fatigue, we classified the activities that could mitigate it into three areas:  Planning Steps, Technical Steps and Ergonomic Steps.  We discussed several elements in each area that would improve the situation.

  • Planning steps were all centered around managing the meetings themselves. Making them shorter, putting spacing between them, taking a break / walk between calls, etc.  An additional great suggestion from Ira was to manage the types of meetings that follow each other, preventing high stress / critical meetings from happening at multiple times during the day.
  • Technical steps involved optimizing the tools for each situation. This included using a larger display and/or multiple displays, using higher quality cameras, headsets and lighting, and optimizing your view of remote participants (making them as big on the screen as possible instead of the continuous presence or ‘Hollywood Squares / Brady Bunch’ view.)  Interestingly, you should do some of these steps improve your perception of calls, but in a nod to the current pandemic face mask situation, some of them should be done as a courtesy to improve the other participant’s (far-end’s) perception of the call.
  • Ergonomic steps were centered around the position of each user relative to his or her technology, including posture, height of cameras, appropriateness of chairs and desks, and other physical factors. Making sure the user’s body isn’t straining is one way to minimize the stressful impact of video calls.

Working remotely is never going to be a situation that absolutely everyone loves, but with a little additional attention to details, it should be an empowering option for knowledge workers for a long time to come.  With the right planning, ergonomics and use of awesome technology (like Poly’s headsets, speakers and video cameras) I’ve been doing it successfully and stress-free for nearly two decades.  You can easily achieve this stress-free experience as well.