Yes, I know there are multiple platforms that allow people to connect in on line virtual environments, but I do really like Zoom and I love the opportunities to play with the word “zoom” and popular culture. Like the title of this post for example, riffing on the Talking Head’s song, Life During War Time.
But to get down to brass tacks (does anyone ever use that phrase or is it just me?), or to use the words of the immortal Aretha Franklin, who’s zooming who these days and why?
Most of us use online platforms for work and play. We can connect with friends and family, we can sign up for all manner of courses from quilting and cheese tasting to yoga and pouring acrylic. The possibilities are endless. I myself have been using online environments to learn new quilt techniques, to plan and deliver on different projects, and to connect with far flung friends and nearby colleagues.
There has been some research on the impact of all this zooming, teaming (Microsoft), meeting (Google) and Facetiming (Facebook) to name a few. National Geographic produced an extensive look at the impact of what it called “Zoom Fatigue” on humans. The magazine concluded virtual interactions are hard on the brain. Here’s why:
Zoom gloom: Humans communicate even when they’re quiet. During an in-person conversation, the brain focuses partly on the words being spoken, but it also derives additional meaning from dozens of non-verbal cues, such as whether someone is facing you or slightly turned away, if they’re fidgeting while you talk, or if they inhale quickly in preparation to interrupt.
In the virtual environment we tax the brain and that leads to fatigue. We can reduce the fatigue by turning off the camera or by switching to the telephone and walking outside at the same time.
What about meetings that require a video component? Throughout the pandemic I have been signing up for courses on how to deliver training in virtual environments. So along with the fatigue that comes from the brain trying to manage various signals, in training sessions, we are also asking the brain to take on something new.
I’ve learnt a lot about ice breakers, how to manage introductions (especially when you have several pages of screens of tiny blocks representing individual people), and how to chunk up your content so it isn’t all talking, all slides, all the time.
Recently I had a breakthrough in a learning session. I couldn’t figure out why I felt so perky after a two hour class. Yes, the facilitator chunked up the content; yes, there was prep work beforehand so we could get comfy with various creative tools; and yes, we had small, medium, and large breakout sessions with fun exercises.
It came to me that the facilitator included an exercise in each class that required us to move. I usually give people a 15-minute break to step away from the screen, to get a drink of water or a snack. I have even suggested they take a quick stroll outside.
But how do I know people in my sessions actually do what I recommend? I don’t. Chances are they are checking their emails, responding to a family (human or animal) need etc.
In both sessions, after our short break, we did an exercise: one involved mirroring the movements of another person on the screen (it didn’t matter who) for about a minute and half. Another asked people to make a pose and three people got numbers. The leader mixed up the numbers and we replicated what each number represented. The leader got faster and faster and then we collapsed in laughter.
In both examples, this embodied exercise shifted focus and restored energy. If you study or follow Chinese (and other Eastern cultures) medicine, the concept of chi, or energy flow, is very important. Practitioners of tai chi use particular movements to restore balance and redirecting energy flow to different parts of the body.
Do you have to do this only in a group? I don’t think so. As an experiment, I turned off my camera on a recent video call. I spent a minute just playing the online version of Simon Says from my last class by myself. The 60 seconds of movement re-shifted my focus enough that I could return to my call and pay attention. I’ll probably try this more often to give myself an energy boost instead of grabbing another cup of coffee and I am definitely incorporating it into my online meetings and training sessions.
What about you: how are you managing with zoom fatigue?
MarthaFitAt55 lives in St. John’s and works pretty well anywhere the ether will take her.