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Cameras as the source of Zoom fatigue

Alan Flurry

In the post-pandemic world, a few things have become ubiquitous: masks, hand sanitizer and Zoom fatigue, or the feeling of being worn out after a long day of virtual meetings. But new research from a team led by University of Georgia psychologist Kristen Shockley suggests that it’s not the meetings causing the fatigue—it’s the camera.

“We knew people had the perception that Zoom meetings were leading to fatigue, but we didn’t know what about those meetings was the problem,” said Shockley, associate professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “Our study revealed that there’s something about the camera being on that causes people to feel drained and lack energy.”

For the study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Shockley and the team worked with BroadPath, an Arizona-based health care services company. BroadPath has been in the remote-work field for almost 10 years using its own proprietary video software, and CEO Daron Robertson wanted to quantify how video can add or detract to the experience.

“A lot of the prevailing thought around remote work and video collaboration technologies has been, ‘More is better.’ It’s like saying, ‘Drinking a glass of wine every night is good, so drinking a bottle of wine can only be better,’” said Robertson, co-author on the paper.

“Our experience is that using front-facing video cameras in back-to-back Zoom meetings doesn’t feel good for a lot of employees. We wanted to quantify that and establish a baseline to measure improvements against.”

BroadPath employees were 95% remote before the pandemic and quickly transitioned to 100% after the pandemic, providing the team with a valuable opportunity to investigate a new phenomenon.

“I never heard the term ‘Zoom fatigue’ before the pandemic, and it’s rare that you get to study something that’s so relevant and new,” Shockley said. “We were able to conduct a study using the gold standard design—a true field experiment, with random assignment, which is also rare.”

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