Zoom Fatigue – are your eyes suffering?

Working Distance

Zoom Fatigue – are your eyes suffering?

Zoom Fatigue – are your eyes suffering?

Working from home was something that a minority of the population participated in up until the beginning of 2020. It was often perceived as something isolated and lonely. Then the world was turned upside down and working from home became the new norm.

Most people have realised the importance of creating a proper workspace with an ergonomic desk and a professional office chair – strained necks and backache have ensured that these items became of the utmost importance.

What has been given less consideration is the lighting of our home office. In commercial office spaces, there are usually quite bright office lights – far brighter than those in a home environment. Yes, we can add a desk lamp to our home office setup, but it really isn´t quite the same. Proper lighting makes all work tasks easier. We absorb approximately 85% of our information through our sense of sight. Appropriate lighting, without too much or too little reflected light, glare or shadows, can reduce eye fatigue and headaches.

Previously, people working from home did so autonomously, made occasional calls to the office and received emails with updates. Now, extended working hours seem to be a necessary evil in our new working conditions. Hours are spent in front of a screen- far more than when everyone was working in the office! There are endless video conferencing meetings to ensure that everyone is engaged, and a new term has been created for this phenomenon – Zoom fatigue. We would like to point out something obvious – this phenomenon can take place on any video conferencing platforms such as Slack, FaceTime, GoToMeeting, Teams, Hangouts, Meet, Skype etc. If you are feeling more exhausted at the end of your workday than you used to be, you are not alone! There are several reasons for this. Let´s start with the video calls.

Screen time

The tiredness from video conferencing is caused, in part, because we have been forced to rethink and relearn how we absorb information. Many of the nonverbal cues that we typically rely on – eye contact, tone and pitch of voice, body language such as leaning forward, an intake of breath indicating that someone is about to speak etc – are no longer available to us. When the screen goes silent, we experience the panic wondering if our Wi-Fi has frozen/dropped. A 2014 study by German academics showed that delays on phone or conferencing systems shaped our view of people negatively – delays of as little as 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused. Quite often, in a normal office meeting, you can recover when you get distracted with a quick whispered side exchange from a colleague. You can ask clarifying questions without interrupting the flow of the meeting. It is almost impossible to do these during a video call.

Another problem with video conferencing is how easy it is to get distracted and lose focus. while you are in the meeting, it is tempting to check our social media, reply to an email, text someone… all within 20-40 seconds. And don´t even get me started on the distractions caused by family members and pets!

There´s also the expectation to look attentive. In normal meetings, yours eyes are constantly looking around the room as you listen. If you do this on a video call, it looks like you aren´t paying attention! This “constant gaze” is quite uncomfortable and tiring. We are also hyper-aware of how we look on camera – we can see every wrinkle and expression on our face, as well as everything in the background that is out of place. People spend a lot of time worrying, trying to ensure that they look both attentive and professional. Video calls aren´t just for work anymore either. They are also how we connect with friends, participate in Pilates classes, attend events, and learn remotely. It is quite difficult to avoid them!

What can we do about Zoom Fatigue?

Our eyes need visual breaks to allow us to refocus, otherwise, our brains become over-exerted and our eyes become oversaturated. This over-exertion leads to brain fatigue which, in turn, leads to physical fatigue.

To avoid this fatigue, it may be a good idea to simply turn off your camera and sit back and listen. Another good idea is to block off times before and after meetings to catch your breath. You could also suggest switching some of the meetings to “old-style” communication like a phone call or an email. Previously, when people would conduct meetings over the phone they would often walk and talk at the same time – walking meetings are known to improve creativity and reduce stress. If you are feeling worn out, this could help. Another suggestion is to agree, within your work colleagues, to a Video Conferencing Free Day once a week.

Another obvious fix is to avoid multitasking. If you are on a video call put all other devices aside. Change your settings to only show the speaker. Mute any notifications or pop-ups.

Anything else?

Apart from the video conference calls, people are spending far more time in front of screens these days, both for business and pleasure. Hours spent staring at your screen can strain your eyes. Every device emits some degree of HEV (High Energy Visible)  light, part of this is the much referred to Blue Light. When this type of light is emitted by the sun it is actually healthy for us. However, we spend far more time up close and personal with our devices than we ever would with the sun.

Because screen time is a relatively new thing, there isn´t enough data on the long-term effects of staring at our screens for hours. It has been proven that people blink far less per minute when spending time on screens, which can dry out your eyes. Staying on some type of screen or another, whether it be your computer for work or your phone for social media or Netflix, disturbs your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is your body´s natural clock and helps to regulate how much sleep you need and achieve. The blue light emissions can suppress melatonin and wreak havoc with your sleep routine.

Try the 20-20-20 rule

We mentioned it previously in other articles, but this particular piece of advice is so good that I´m going to mention it twice- take regular breaks! We suggest that you try the 20-20-20 rule. After every 20 minutes spent on the computer, you need to adjust your gaze to look at something 20 feet away from you for at least 20 seconds. This simple routine is shown to help alleviate eye strain and reduce stress – and not just eye stress, it relieves overall feelings of stress. It is also important to mention that if you have children who spend time on screens, whether they are online learners, gamers or video vultures, you need to teach them this important rule.

Switching to night mode can help – this gives the screen a warmer hue and allows for a more comfortable experience. Another great investment would be to purchase Blue Light protective lenses. Anti-reflective coating…