Phone vs. Video: Has the Pandemic Caused Video Call Fatigue?

Peyton Duplechien • 14 Apr 2021 • 4 min read

The pandemic has seen a spike in the usage of diverse remote tools, with people fast adopting new devices. Be it Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet, video conferencing tools are now engrained in our daily lives.
Yet, even if it’s social or even business, this technology we praised in the beginning is causing us to feel more disconnected than before.
Business leaders like Doug Parker, the CEO of American Airlines, went as far as calling Zoom meetings awful. Adding insult to injury, Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, shared, “30 minutes into your first video meeting in the morning, you’re fatigued.” Nadella further added, “One of the things that has changed is that all meetings start on time now, but if you are booked back-to-back, you have no transition time – none of that halfway walk. So, we need to think about wellbeing.”
Why do video calls make us feel worn out?

“No, not another Zoom call!”

In the past year, many of us have felt more exhausted at the end of each workday. Video calls are partly to blame. As face-to-face meetings moved online, we’re now spending more time talking to screens than ever before. “Zoom fatigue,” although not limited to Zoom alone, is a newer term that’s becoming increasingly popular. On Google searches we can see how the term has notably risen since the beginning of the pandemic.
One of the main symptoms of this fatigue is that it’s only become more difficult to separate the different emotional aspects of our life. According to Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD, the lack of diversity in our work, relationships, and family sphere makes us susceptible to negative feelings.
Simply put, even a virtual happy hour with friends doesn’t take you away from the tools and environment you use at work. Instead of feeling the typical, exciting endorphins of hanging out with your friends, you’re left feeling tired. Because, just like at that virtual board meeting this morning, you sat in the same chair, in front of the camera.
Another reason for this fatigue is that – unlike in phone calls – being on camera tends to make us feel more self-conscious and a pressure to appear interested. We might feel that everyone is scrutinizing our appearance, body language, and even our surroundings. Plus, it’s surprisingly hard not to look at your own face on the screen – an action that makes us more stressed and less certain in our interactions.
For example, a meta-analysis of job interviews found that people performed worse when they were interviewed through video rather than in person. The evidence is clear that stress is a factor in video calls.

Effects of video calls on the brain

Still, there are more profound reasons for the adverse effects of video calls. The key lies in the way we, as human beings, approach communication. Our feelings, sentiments, and approaches are conveyed through nonverbal signals. These signals include facial expressions, voice tone, gestures, and body language. In video calls, our ability to identify these nonverbal cues becomes limited. As a result, our brains need to work harder to make sense of the interaction – a process that can be extremely draining.
This can be further aggravated by the specific context of the video call. One of the negative factors is poor video quality. Delays of even just one second can make us perceive the responder as less friendly or distracted. Moreover, multi-person video calls pose a challenge to our brain’s central vision, forcing us to accommodate more people at once. This brings confusion, depersonalizes the environment, and makes us less focused on the topic at hand.

Next time, try a phone call instead

The mistake we make is that we often assume that video calls are a direct substitute for face-to-face meetings, yet that’s not the case. Taking advantage of modern technologies shouldn’t stand in front of taking care of ourselves first.
If video calls don’t serve the end goal well, then we might need to rethink the frequency of their usage. What are the alternatives?
Let’s think about whether we can simply replace some of our video calls with another form of communication. Unless it’s a presentation where seeing the visuals are critical, a simple phone call might do a better job. One study found that during a voice-only call, participants conveyed some information more accurately than during a video call. Using a mix of phone and video can help to add variety and hopefully alleviate some fatigue.
If video calls are inevitable, try to:

  • Have a little cognitive break – this can be simple stretching or a short meditation exercise.
  • When on the call itself, we should avoid multitasking to limit sensory overload and
  • Hide our own image to avoid unnecessary exposure to self-doubts.

There are solutions, and we will all continue to move through these times, together.
To explore more related content, check out our blog.