Pagoda Blog

How to Avoid Video Call Burnout

July 2, 2020

Calling in to work meetings removes the harried commute, the need to dress professionally on both the top and bottom half, and the obligatory small talk with coworkers. So, these virtual meetings should be less stressful, right? As it turns out, video calls come with their own set of stressors and they’re taking a real mental toll on the workforce.     


It’s important to note that video conferencing software has been a critical tool in keeping teams connected with each other and their clients during shelter in place. The ability to work remotely while still checking in with team members “face-to-face” through a screen can help make people feel less isolated in their home offices and maintain productivity. The use of systems like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, UberConference, Skype and Google Hangouts have all skyrocketed during the pandemic as companies scrambled to find ways to replace the in-person meeting. 


Related reading: Video Conference Call Etiquette and Security Tips


While still being able to see your coworkers from your home office can provide an often much-needed tether to the outside world, too much video call time, just like too much screen time, is exhausting. Here’s why video calls can quickly lead to extreme mental exhaustion (also referred to as ‘Zoom fatigue’) and how to avoid the burnout. 


Lines between work and home life become blurred 

Video calls can be used both for work meetings and virtual social gatherings. Even if we were working from home before shelter in place, we could escape the screen for some good old fashioned socializing at a restaurant, bar, coffee shop, or music venue. While some of these places have reopened, not everyone feels comfortable socializing indoors, especially with large groups of friends.  



Create a physical boundary between work calls and personal calls. Designate a room in your home for work meetings and another for social hangouts. You may also want to limit the number of social video calls that you join. It’s important to set boundaries and give yourself enough time away from the screen. 


More concentration and eye contact required  

Poor sound and video quality can require you to exert more energy concentrating on the person speaking than would be required in person. In virtual meetings, you’re straining to hear what each person is saying and to pick up on subtle social cues that are harder to identify through the screen. Nonverbal cues are a huge part of how we communicate, but these are often lost or distorted through video.  


As you’re straining to catch the entire conversation, you’re also maintaining an abnormal amount of eye contact. Eye contact is how we show others we’re giving them our undivided attention, but extended eye contact can become awkward and exhausting. Also, when interacting through a screen, we blink less than half as often as we would in person, leading to eyestrain and fatigue. 


Video calls compound this issue by making us feel like we have to maintain eye contact with everyone on the screen for the entire call. If we look off in the distance, glance down, or gaze anywhere but the screen, there’s the fear that we might appear distracted and unengaged. Conversely, we feel like we’re being watched by everyone for every second of the call. In person, only the speaker has all eyes on them, giving you multiple opportunities to relax and let your guard down. In an article from USA Today, Vaile Wright, the American Psychological Association's director of clinical research and quality explained, "It's this pressure to really be on and be responsive."


Not only do we feel pressured to be extra on and responsive, but the people we’re interacting with through the video call are often much closer to us than they would be in real life. This can feel jarring and like a violation of our personal space. On top of that, you’re also often looking at multiple talking heads, inches from your face, and, strangest and most unnatural of all, your own talking head is amongst them. Settings like gallery mode in Zoom that show every meeting attendees’ face in a grid of Brady Bunch-esque squares is like watching multiple TV shows all at once—it’s simply way too much for your brain to process. 



Your video software of choice should provide you with multiple viewing options. Select an option like ‘speaker view’ in Zoom that only brings up the speaker’s face and/or choose not to see yourself during the video call. Another idea is to only turn on your video for the first five minutes of the call for a brief check-in, then turn off video and do audio only. For larger groups, video may feel necessary so everyone knows who’s speaking. In this scenario, suggest that everyone turns off their video while listening and only turn it on when you have the mic. 

You’re forced to stay unnaturally still 

Video calls don’t allow for as much physical shifting as in-person meetings. In-person, it’s acceptable to shift from side to side, lean forward and back in your chair, you may get up to present an idea at the front of the room, and even get up to use the restroom. In a virtual meeting, your fidgeting can be incredibly distracting (another reason to turn off video unless you’re the speaker) and if you’re using one of Zoom’s green screen backgrounds, your head completely disappears from view if you lean back a little too far.    



Again, don’t feel obligated to make every meeting a video call. Try using audio only for some of your internal meetings and offer an audio-only option to clients as well. They’ll probably be relieved to have the freedom to stretch and fidget to their heart's delight. You can also try standing for one meeting and sitting for the next if your setup allows. Finally, give yourself 5-10 minutes to stretch and walk between calls to get the blood flowing. This little bit of movement will help you feel more alert and focused.  


No commute means more time for more calls

Finally, the welcome elimination of the commute and, for some, those spontaneous water cooler chats, has freed up more time for back-to-back virtual meetings. It’s hard to justify leaving even a 15 minute gap in your calendar when every meeting is held from the exact same chair. While this could mean fitting more meetings in during a shorter time frame, freeing up extra hours in the day to attend to your personal life, that’s rarely how that extra time gets used. More commonly, working from home makes us feel like we should be more available to our team, keeping us tethered to the desk beyond the required 9-5. Back-to-back virtual meetings also exacerbate eyestrain and mental exhaustion, sapping our energy and plummeting productivity. 



Schedule in 10 minute breaks between calls to allow time for you to look away from the screen, get up and stretch. Make a conscious effort to have a distinct work schedule with hard start and stop times. Yes, your laptop is right there in the other room, but it’s so important for your mental health to have dedicated family and me-time, away from the screen. 


Want more resources on managing stress and avoiding burnout? Check out the following posts: 


5 Tech Gifts to Make You Happier and Healthier at Home

3 Ways Technology Can Reduce Stress & Increase Productivity

8 Easy Hacks to Improve Your Productivity Online   



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