Is teleconferencing the cure for Zoom fatigue?

By Dave Bayless

Teleconferencing might be the better option if a relationship among the participants has already been established and the focus is on the content of the conversation.

Accelerated by the pandemic, video conferencing has become the default mode of communication for many of us. It’s a convenient and inexpensive way to develop rapport when in-person meetings are impractical. Video allows us to pick up on the gestures, facial expressions, and body language that are missing in other modes of communication. On the other hand, “Zoom fatigue” is real.

The Causes of Zoom Fatigue

Researchers at Stanford University have identified four causes of Zoom fatigue:

  • Excessive amounts of eye contact
  • Constantly seeing an image of yourself
  • Reduced mobility
  • High cognitive load

Relatedly, there is evidence that video conferencing inhibits the production of creative ideas. Furthermore, the use of video may result in unwelcome demonstrations of relative status or pressures to conform. However, as Jeremy Bailenson of the Stanford Virtual Interaction Lab notes, “Just because you can use video doesn’t mean you have to.”

A New Look at an Old Technology

In On-demand Conversations 0001, we addressed a question submitted by a member who is re-thinking old-fashioned teleconferencing as an alternative to Zoom. We explored the conditions under which audio-only might make sense. For starters, it’s clear that teleconferencing addresses all four causes of Zoom fatigue:

  • There is no eye contact.
  • You don’t see a mirror image of yourself in real-time.
  • Phones no longer restrict our movement.
  • The constraint of audio-only lightens our cognitive load.

Without the need to process a sometimes overwhelming amount of visual information, we can devote ourselves more effectively to listening to what’s being said in a teleconference.

On the other hand, teleconferencing has its own shortcomings:

  • Absent visual cues, teleconferences consisting of more than a handful of participants are more likely to devolve into a broadcast without skilled facilitation.
  • Video conferencing is probably more effective at building rapport, trust, and relationships than teleconferencing.

Preliminary Guidelines

The beginnings of some guidelines for choosing between video conferencing and teleconferencing emerged from our conversation:

  • Video conferencing may be the better choice if the focus is on relationship building and when there are more than two or three participants.
  • Teleconferencing might be the better option if a relationship among the participants has already been established and the focus is on the content of the conversation.

Acknowledging that video conferencing has become the norm for many organizations, we can mitigate Zoom fatigue in a variety of ways:

  • Try to keep the group size small.
  • Shorten the duration of Zoom meetings.
  • Create opportunities to go off-camera including “video breaks.”
  • Make use of the “hide self-view” option.
  • Where appropriate, make use of shared whiteboards (we like MURAL) and other visual representations that allow the participants to look at something other than each other.
  • Have a clear purpose and agenda.

Finally, let’s acknowledge that the real world is a hybrid world. We don’t exclusively engage in video conferencing or teleconferencing or live text chat or asynchronous text messaging or in-person conversations. Our task is to be thoughtful regarding which mode or modes are right for the purpose and people at hand.

Additional Reading

Stanford researchers identify four causes for ‘Zoom fatigue’ and their simple fixes

Virtual communication curbs creative idea generation

Chad Littlefield’s YouTube channel

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