Are ‘video’ conferences necessary?

4 minutes to read
Professional success, happiness and Linkedin

Think back to your last video conference, and rate your level of enthusiasm moments before logging in.

Or recall how quickly you turned off Zoom when the meeting ended?

If you feel your shoulders slump at the thought of getting ready for yet another face-to-face virtual meeting, you are not alone. As the world continues to work from home, the overuse of online video meetings results in tiredness, anxiety, and burnout for many; a condition now commonly known as ‘Zoom fatigue’.

‘Zoom Fatigue’ and ‘Coronababies’

‘Zoom fatigue’ may be one of my favourite breakaway terms of 2020. It is forever etched in our memories alongside terms like ‘covidiot’, ‘flatten the curve’ and ‘coronababies’. In fact, ‘Zoom fatigue’ searches even exceeded ‘Zoom conference’ searches in Canada on certain days this year.

In an article published in the journal Technology, Mind and Behaviour; Stanford Professor Jeremy Bailenson, (founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab) listed four psychological consequences of spending prolonged hours on videoconferencing platforms that create Zoom fatigue.

  1. Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense and unnatural.
  2. Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing.
  3. Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility.
  4. The cognitive load is much higher in video chats.

Considering these points, one may conclude that most ill effects arise due to the video component of videoconferencing. As such, Professor Bailenson’s recommendations to counter fatigue also focused on switching off video, hiding self-view on Zoom or taking regular breaks away from the camera and the computer screen.

My ‘Audio Only’ experience

Earlier this year, I interviewed around 10 recent graduates for a research internship and discovered a surprising trend. Around half the participants chose not to turn on their cameras. They came from various backgrounds, so culture or religion were not the only factors.

Putting aside my initial scepticism and reservation, I found myself enjoying the conversations just as much as, if not more than, the video calls. I also found myself feeling less anxious, not having to try and read body language or base my decisions on appearances. Instead, I was able to focus on the answers presented by the candidates and engage in a meaningful.

The future of virtual meetings

The social response to video calls amongst certain sections of the population also correlates with a rise in popularity of voice-based communication apps such as Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces.

On the opposite end of the spectrum – designers and design thinkers have introduced a unique system of online collaboration and ideation by using virtual whiteboards and post it notes using online platforms such as Mural and Miro.

The latest, and perhaps most interesting example of an alternative to videoconferencing is Facebook’s Horizon Workrooms: an online collaboration tool based in virtual reality. The Beta version – which can be downloaded for free to Oculus Quest 2 devices – was released in August to mixed reviews by technology publications.

So, will the future of collaboration be entirely ‘sans video’? Not necessarily. The ability to see a person face is to face is still a much-valued requirement, especially in formal settings such as legal proceedings or leadership meetings. It adds a personality to the meeting and demands attention in an otherwise distracted conference. It also gives confidence to team members when they see team leaders or instructors in person – something very beneficial in a work from home or study from home environment.

In conclusion, remote teams should not restrict themselves to face to face meetings but consider it one of the options available. Facilitators should give participants the choice to turn off their videos, especially in large meetings or meetings that are being recorded. Participants should also explore tools such as online whiteboards, mind maps, or email communication to enhance their meeting experience and ultimately reduce the need for a video conference. Work from home and remote collaboration is here to stay but let’s hope Zoom fatigue becomes a thing of the past.



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