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Video conferencing fatigue – and how to avoid it

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Over the last few months, video conferencing has ‘crossed the chasm’ from early adopters to the mainstream majority. With many people in lockdown, it has become an essential business tool for keeping in contact with colleagues, customers and suppliers. Socially, it’s being used by families and groups of friends to keep in touch. It’s not uncommon to spend hours in virtual meetings for work, and then join another video conference with friends in the evening.

Why can video meetings be such hard work?

The benefits of video conferencing are obvious and widespread, but this rapid change in behaviour is not without its drawbacks. People are reporting ‘video conferencing fatigue’ – tiredness and frustration associated with spending too much time on video conferences. Psychologists have tried to understand the cause, and have identified various issues:

1. It’s unnatural to have so much visual engagement in meetings
With the exception of one-to-one meetings, it’s rare for people to look at each other much in business meetings. They’re looking at content, taking notes, or not actively looking at anything at all. Video conferences focus a lot of attention on visual elements, which can distract people from the actual meeting content.

2. You don’t know when you’re being watched
In an in-person meeting, you can tell when people are looking at you by following their gaze. In a video conference, you can only see that someone is looking at their screen – you can’t tell if they’re looking at you, or someone else, or content on the screen, or even browsing the web. And if this makes people feel self-conscious, their attention is distracted.

3. Seeing yourself on-screen can be distracting
It’s hard not to look at your own face if you can see it on-screen. It’s like holding a conversation while looking in the mirror – and there are good reasons why mirrors aren’t typically found in meeting rooms. Each time you think about your own appearance, your attention moves away from the content of the meeting.

4. There isn’t enough visual information to be helpful
Webcams typically capture people’s faces and little else. By contrast, you can find many more non-verbal cues in an in-person meeting when you need them. For example, body language can reveal a lot about someone’s mood and whether they’re engaged or not. And even the slightest delay of a few milliseconds in the video stream can make it difficult to politely interrupt, or for quieter participants to find the right time to contribute.

These issues all have common consequences. They can reduce meeting effectiveness because there are so many things to distract participants from the content that is being discussed. And they can make meetings tiring because people are constantly shifting their attention between competing priorities, which consumes a lot of energy. Another more debatable downside is that it’s more difficult for participants to multi-task in a long meeting – checking email or reading documents, for example.

When to add video to your meetings

At LoopUp, we believe that video has the potential to significantly improve remote meetings – but not every remote meeting. For example, when two people meet in-person, such as for a recruiting interview, the visual elements are important. There’s typically a lot of eye contact, and you can be fairly sure that the other person is looking at you most of the time. Here, a video conference may be more effective than a phone call. Similarly, in a meeting where getting to know other people is important, such as a sales pitch, video conferencing can provide an increased level of engagement.

By contrast, in a larger meeting with people who work together regularly (which is a more common scenario), it may be better to leave the camera off. And in a situation where one person does most of the talking, like a briefing, it may make sense for only the presenter to be visible. Recent LoopUp research indicated that 68% of regular conference callers feel that some remote meetings are better without video.

Video the LoopUp Way

For this reason, every LoopUp meeting starts as audio-first. Participants click on a link to join the meeting and LoopUp calls their phone. If the host feels that video would make the meeting more effective, the host can click the ‘Start Video’ button and all participants are then able to turn their webcam on (if they choose). Otherwise, the meeting remains audio-only, allowing participants to focus on the conversation and any content that’s being shared on the screen, like a spreadsheet or a presentation. We don’t make the video conference a default option, or encourage participants to start their camera at the beginning of each meeting.

Since the lockdown began, we’ve seen a significant increase in the percentage of LoopUp meetings that include video. This reflects changes in the needs of our users – meetings that would previously have occurred in-person are now being held remotely. However, the majority of LoopUp meetings are still audio-only, with screen sharing the most commonly used feature.

Overcoming video conferencing fatigue

So how should we address the issue of video conferencing fatigue? One approach would be to consider whether your next remote meeting needs to be a video conference. If an audio conference would be sufficient, try changing the meeting settings to make it audio-only. And if you’re a guest on a video conference but you don’t feel the need to be seen, try leaving your camera off – you might be surprised to see how many people follow suit!

About LoopUp

LoopUp is used by over 5,000 organisations around the world for better, more productive remote meetings. Contact one of our specialists to find out more about LoopUp’s approach to video conferencing, or experience LoopUp for yourself with our Free Plan.

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