I’ve never thought about this before, but there’s one simple reason why you might experience zooming from zooming. It’s easy to overlook this, even though it stares right in your face.
On any Zoom call, it is physically impossible to look someone in the eye. Wait while I explain this, because it’s a little weird. On most laptops or even desktops with an external webcam, when you look at the camera itself, you display your image showing eye contact, but you don’t see the other person’s eyes. Look them in the eye (meaning in the screen itself) and they won’t see your eye contact. In no case can you win.
(You can try it now. Look at your laptop or external webcam and then the center of the screen. You’ll notice your head tilt a little.)
It’s subtle, because we’re talking about just an inch (or less) here. The larger the laptop screen, the less eye contact you will have.
According to the scientific journalist and author of the book Daniel Goleman (better known as the person who popularized the term emotional intelligence), we can’t look people in the eye on Zoom. He mentioned this during a recent podcast episode. To do this, we will need a camera in the center of the screen or a little above the center, but modern technology (still) can’t. He explained that eye contact is an important part of social connection, perhaps the most important part of all.
So why does it cause fatigue?
For those of us who zoom in on calls all day, it multiplies and exacerbates the thought that we are no longer together. Make about five or six Zoom calls a day for a few weeks, without good eye contact, and something is going on in our psyche. We don’t feel connected. We don’t think anyone is actually paying attention, even if we see them staring at us. This is a nonverbal scenario. We notice a lack of direct eye contact, even if we don’t quite realize it, even though it’s only an inch.
“Either you look at the camera or in the face,” Goleman says. “The brain doesn’t receive the signals you pick up in real life.”
Goleman says sending emails and sending messages is even worse than Zoom calls in terms of our emotional connection. Yet, fatigue happens when we sit for hours and hours of video calls without the social connection that people crave.
We are tired because the focus is only on sharing information and we do not get the cognitive rest that arises when we chat in person.
Without direct eye contact, Goleman says, we miss all the benefits of human communication. We don’t see, we don’t hear, and we don’t feel the nuance, which means our brain has to work overtime. So how do you overcome this problem?
One solution is easy to identify. Start with the reason. We get tired because we don’t make eye contact, but also because we miss all the emotional connection. We transfer data from one video stream to another. Nothing is real. That means we have to take far more frequent breaks. We have to stop and quite literally “smell the roses”. Take more breaks and find the real person.
The second question is that this will never change. As long as we look at the screen, we won’t have the same connection. That means we have to stop relying too much on video chats when working remotely. Visit to the office, even once a week, will help.
I also started using a wide angle webcam. It helps because people on the other side of the chat can see more context. I still get comments about how my guitar sits next to me and why I have a long table full of books. (That’s because I’m writing one.)
Lack of eye contact during video chats is one of the simple reasons why fatigue starts. However, that is not the only reason. At least the ability to recognize what is happening is a step in the right direction.