S2E19 – Zoom got you down?

Show Notes

 Mon Chaio and Andy explore the concept of Zoom fatigue, investigating its existence, potential causes, and its ramifications for both extroverts and introverts. They delve into personal anecdotes, research findings, and theories such as media naturalness theory to understand the cognitive and somatic exhaustion associated with video conferencing tools. They discuss how Zoom fatigue is defined, its link to increased brain fatigue, and how it disproportionately affects women and introverts. The hosts also offer potential solutions and adjustments to mitigate the effects of Zoom fatigue, raising questions about the long-term implications of video conferencing on workers’ productivity and well-being.



Andy: And we’re here again for another episode of the TTL podcast. Mon Chaio and I have been mulling over in our heads topics, things we could talk about, and leading on from extroversion and introversion and what to do about it, we had this next idea, which is where does zoom fatigue come from, which is a bit of a leap, but there is a path.

Mon-Chaio: Stick with us here. This path is,

Andy: So, so there is a path, zoom fatigue, as we know of it, which we’ll define at some point, or we won’t because it’s, I think, pretty well known now. Will be worse for extroverts than introverts. That was my hypothesis.

And then on the idea that managers would be more extroverted off of our last episode, that the Zoom fatigue that I felt when I was a manager day to day during the pandemic on Zoom I, I just, I had this question. How does this fit together? Is this worse for extroverts or is it better for extroverts? I don’t know.

And so we went and we researched this and we asked the question as well. Is, does Zoom fatigue even exist or is something else going on? Were, were we all just feeling down in the doldrums because the world was shut down around us and everything was changing?

Mon-Chaio: Yeah. And Andy had this hypothesis, which I thought was very interesting. I also felt like it tied in well with our remote work series. We didn’t really talk at all. I don’t think about zoom fatigue or video conference fatigue in our remote work

Andy: No, it didn’t come up at all. Strangely enough,

Mon-Chaio: But obviously, if you’re going to be working remote, you’re going to have some sort of video conference as your primary interaction model.

Unless we go back to the old days of the conference phones and no video.

Andy: which given our research, slight spoiler, might not be a bad idea.

Mon-Chaio: Might not be terrible. Although personally, I can’t see myself doing that for extended periods of time. I remember, do you remember when we worked together at IMS Health, they had mostly that conference phone situation? It would be in those large meetings with seems like ages ago.

Andy: I, I, Yeah.

Mon-Chaio: but I felt like it, it fit well into the remote work series too, to connect the two.

So I thought this was a good topic

Why don’t we start at let’s try to define zoom fatigue and then we can start to talk about, is it real?

Andy: Okay. All right. So I’ve given, I’ve read a whole bunch of papers. I have to admit, I do not remember the definition any of them gave. So I’m going to give my own and check it against your recollection of the definitions you recall or don’t recall. I think this is our common pattern on this, isn’t it? So my, my definition of Zoom fatigue is that feeling of lethargy and well, fatigue that you get after a series of conference calls, a series of video conference calls specifically.

And it’s called Zoom fatigue because it came, the term showed up during the pandemic where. It seems that no one else used Google or Microsoft. And so everyone went to Zoom. I didn’t understand that at all. Like, why did everyone suddenly go to Zoom when most of us were working with Google suite or Microsoft suite?

Mon-Chaio: I don’t know. That’s I think I have some hypothesis for

So, the definition that I have here from a paper that tried to pull together a bunch of other papers and figure out their definitions and pull them into one. The definition they gave is that zoom fatigue is defined as somatic and cognitive exhaustion. So that lethargy or that fatigue that you felt that is caused by the intensive and or inappropriate use of video conferencing tools.

And we could talk about what they mean by inappropriate in a bit. Frequently accompanied by related symptoms such as tiredness, worry, Anxiety, burnout, discomfort, and stress, as well as other bodily symptoms such as headaches.

Andy: All right. Yeah.

Mon-Chaio: And that feels to me right, like I don’t think I experienced all of those, but certainly I experienced some of

Andy: Yeah.

Mon-Chaio: And could I have attributed that necessarily to the fact that it was through intensive and or inappropriate use of video conferencing tools? I don’t know. I think working remotely, I don’t think there was ever a case where I said, well, let me try a week without video conferencing tools and do an AB test to see if my fatigue is better.

Right? Often it’s, you go on vacation, you feel better, but then there’s that vacation aspect it. Sometimes there’s the people are out of the office. And so you are not meeting over video as much.

You’re doing more independent work, writing documents and whatnot. But that’s also not necessarily this concept of A B testing, right? Like writing documents is very different work than interacting with

Andy: Yeah. Can also be very cognitively draining. And I’ve sometimes feel stress when I’m thinking, I’m sitting there thinking, I don’t, I don’t have anyone around that I can ask these questions. And so I feel stuck.

Mon-Chaio: man, that’s the, I love pair programming for 99 percent of it. But I found that I tend to be very uncomfortable making decisions on my own about big stuff. I don’t know if you feel that way. I’m like, well, I feel like all the data is there and pointing the right way, but I really would love it if someone took a look at it and

Andy: I just, I want someone to check and make sure that I am not missing the obvious right here.

Mon-Chaio: Right. So, all of which is to say it feels reasonable. feels reasonable.

So, we have a definition, both yours and mine, which basically are the same. And we have some anecdotal evidence that we both have experienced it. And of course, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence through news reports and colleagues chatting and whatnot.

But is there any is it quantitative evidence or research backed evidence that Zoom fatigue actually exists? Or is it just this, we’re big complainers because we can’t go out to our favorite sandwich shop?

Andy: So for that we need a, a much more direct theory of the causes of fatigue. And the first one that was put out, as far as I could tell the first one that was put out by, I think the researcher’s name is Bailenson hypothesized four elements of Zoom fatigue. And these were then later tested. And so the four elements come down to the way that we interact with other people. One is the excessive amounts of eye contact that you get through Zoom. And so what this is, is that when you’re in a Zoom meeting, everyone is facing forward and facing toward you. And it doesn’t matter if you’re the presenter or not. They’re still facing towards you. You’ll always be the center of attention.


Mon-Chaio: Or you’ll feel like you’re the center

Andy: In your interpretation of the body language you can see. Because they’re making eye contact, to the best of their ability, with you, even if they’re not.

Mon-Chaio: Well, I think, better stated, they’re making eye contact with the camera. Which everybody who’s in the meeting feels like they’re making eye contact with them And so you feel like they’re making eye contact with you all the

Andy: Yes. Yeah. So yeah, I was describing the perception of it and you were describing physical aspect

Mon-Chaio: Fair,

Andy: yeah. So then the next one is that you see yourself. And so for instance, right now, for those who listen to us as a podcast, actually, you all have to listen to us as a podcast, we don’t put the videos up, but Mon Chiao and I are on a video call right now, and just like on Zoom, I can see Mon Chao, but I also see myself. Now, staring in a mirror every second of the day is not a normal thing for humans. And there is stress, if you’ve ever looked in a mirror, you probably feel it slightly yourself. You start looking at it and thinking, Oh, is that what I look like? That’s that what I’m looking at right now? Does it look like I’m looking at the right thing?

You become very very interested in how you look. And that’s constant on a Zoom call in the default settings. We’ll talk about this as the default settings of most of these calls. So, so that’s the second element. The next one is you’re just stationary. You don’t move much. And then the last one is there’s higher cognitive load because.

I’m, I, I’m not exactly as sure about how to interpret Mon Chaio, your little head nod there, or the fact that I see you just looked down around your microphone. So, I, I need to, I need to spend more mental effort understanding, or, or I shouldn’t say understanding, interpreting what I’m seeing. And so all of that stuff adds up.

In this theory, that all adds up to Zoom fatigue. Mm.

Mon-Chaio: found a theory about Zoom fatigue, which is very similar. And I think most of them tend to be very similar. The basis of this theory is called media naturalness theory. Now, I’ll give a caveat that I could only find, and I didn’t search super hard, but I could only find one paper about media naturalness theory. And the author ended up writing a bunch more papers about it, but it doesn’t seem like anyone else is writing papers

Andy: But they haven’t gotten else to bite.

Mon-Chaio: that set off. So for our listeners, as you do your own research and Andy, and I definitely hope you do not just listen to us, but think about other things that are interesting to you as you look into research papers and as you read them, I think one big alarm bell that you should keep in your mind is what is the sample size of what they’re discussing and when it’s a single paper that hasn’t been replicated and then future papers are the same author referencing themselves. That is something to keep in mind.

That doesn’t mean it’s not real. It just is something to keep in mind. The media naturalness theory. posits that the human brain is hardwired by evolution for face to face contact because there’s been, however many years of Millions and millions years. And that any mismatch between that and electronic communication results in communication ambiguity and increased cognitive effort.

So, that seems to make sense, right? Now Something we talk about a lot, Andy, and you might lean more towards one side than I do is about the malleability of the human brain.

Andy: Mm.

Mon-Chaio: And that just because evolution sets us up one way, doesn’t mean that we’re stuck there forever.

Andy: No, we’re not stuck. We can, we can expend mental effort. That’s one of the things that makes us, I think, in some ways a bit unique. We can expend mental effort to overcome those natural . Those inborn tendencies.

Mon-Chaio: And you can even argue that as we expend mental effort, we get better at it and expend less mental effort. And so if you want it, I suppose you could argue that, let’s just give this 5 or 10 years and then Zoom fatigue won’t be a thing. Media naturalness theory would say that that’s probably wrong because they are leaning more heavily to how the brain is wired and it’s less malleable in the span of, the 5, 10, 15, 25, year type that’s at least the

Andy: We need faster generational change and more more selection pressure, pressure from Zoom.

Mon-Chaio: That’s

Andy: That, that’s dystopian future for you.

Mon-Chaio: But as a basis for this with media naturalness theory, they posit that there are six factors for zoom fatigue, many of them very similar to the four Andy that you found. I will so lack of eye contact definitely was one of them. So we won’t talk as much about that. Self awareness was one, which you mentioned, the self view.

There’s one addition to the self awareness, which is there is research that shows when you see yourself and are more aware of yourself, criticisms within the meeting are borne more heavily by you.

Andy: Oh, interesting.

Mon-Chaio: And so if you have that little self-view and you can see yourself, for whatever reason, if somebody in the meeting says, eh, you know, I don’t know that that idea that you presented was well researched or I really think that’s not the right way to go.

It hits harder than if you didn’t see yourself. That’s what the research shows. Pretty interesting.

Andy: see myself wince. And then by seeing myself wince, I feel that wince even more strongly.

Mon-Chaio: Perhaps. Yes. Some of the other interesting factors that the first paper you mentioned, I didn’t hear talked about they talk about asynchronicity of communication. And they linked to some interesting studies that showed delays of even a few hundred milliseconds that you’re not even aware of can cause increased stress, cognitive load, and emotional regulation.


Andy: On that one, if you want a stressful experience, try singing with someone, even just one other person, on a video call. Because suddenly those very small delays are really obvious and important. it’s, it’s terrible. It’s, it’s, in some ways, it’s a slightly less extreme, but I think a little bit more, you can think about it, version of, have you ever, have you ever on a, on a video call gotten feedback of yourself?

Where, where you speak and then you hear come back with a small delay?

Mon-Chaio: Yes,

Andy: The impact it has on me, and I think everyone else I’ve ever watched, is your brain shuts down. Like, if you hear yourself coming back. You’ll make it through a few words and then just stumble to a stop. The mental effort to ignore that and, and deal with that delay is so high that you can’t even continue speaking.

Mon-Chaio: that is, that is true. I have found that as well. It’s very difficult, right?

Andy: Mm hmm.

Mon-Chaio: two questions around this though, which is how often are you singing with other people in your conferences?

Andy: So, so before the pandemic where I worked, we had a weekly get together at lunch to sing sea shanties.

Mon-Chaio: Oh, right.

Andy: And, and so after the pandemic started we tried to go, we tried to continue, and we could, we, like, so the best way that we figured out of doing it was that, so in Sea Shanties you have the shanty man, and then you have the crew, they’ll sing the chorus back. So, the best way we found of doing it was that the, how did we have do this? You, you had to mute everyone except the shanty man.

Mon-Chaio: Mm hmm.

Andy: So, everyone could be there, you’d only hear the shanty man, you wouldn’t hear the others. The shanty man would generally mute everyone.

Mon-Chaio: hmm.

Andy: I think is how had to do it. And then, no no, the shanty man had everyone, could hear everyone. But during the, during the refrain, or during the the, the, chorus sections they just had to overpower everyone and ignore that they were all out of sync.

Mon-Chaio: Oh my goodness.

Andy: We we early on we tried just tried singing and seeing if could we just sync this up? Could we? No, because everyone is in slightly different delays and even if they were on One delay, like it just sounds terrible and it’s hard to sing and you can’t get any timings right and you can’t hold a steady beat because everything’s telling you you’ve got it wrong.

Mon-Chaio: And I think the singing as well as the hearing yourself back, those are perceptible delays, right? As is lag that you sometimes see in VC meetings. Those are perceptible delays, and I think people can understand that. We have recorded before with perceptible delays, and it caused us to, like, oh, is he done talking?

Is there a lag? When should I start, right? So everybody understands that. The research has also shown that imperceptible delays of just a few hundred milliseconds actually cause more stress. And they did interesting ways of like just delaying it slightly and measuring brain activity. A lot of these things actually have measured brain activity.

And so I think it’s pretty interesting. So, asynchronicity of communication delays, I think sorry, asynchronicity of communication is one of their factors that we didn’t touch on in the other paper. Lack of body language. The interesting thing here is that research shows the brain prioritizes body language over facial expressions.

They did research where they had mismatched facial expressions and body language. And so, the face would look calm, but the body would look angry.

Andy: Interesting.

Mon-Chaio: measure brain response to see what, what people thought, right? Or, or how their brains were reacting.

And this is more of a hypothesis on their realm, because I don’t think it was tested. Actually, this whole theory is more hypothesis, right? It’s less tested. We could talk about what was tested. But the hypothesis here is that in a Zoom call or in a VC call, just seeing the head without seeing the body leads your brain to work extra, because it expects to see the body first as the first signal.

They also talked about this unnatural interaction with multiple faces. And the interesting thing is they had research that measured the size of faces on video calls and where people mostly sat. And one thing that they learned is that most of the face sizes end up as if this person is standing really close to you in real

Andy: yeah, like half a meter away or a meter away.

Mon-Chaio: Right. And so that denotes a more intimate relationship, which for most people, they aren’t ready to interact with their coworkers that intimately. And that causes stress in the brain as well.

Andy: That, that actually does overlap with the other theory, too. I think, I think part of what happened was that this theory teased it out a bit more in, in the presented theory. The other one, it was just kind of like, it’s, it’s all in there. It’s all in there.

Mon-Chaio: well, and I think I’ve read other papers too, which have some subset of all of these types of things. And so, yeah, I think, I think. What’s really important, I think, to note is that portions of them have been researched. So for each of these six factors, there has been research that shows how it could lead to VC conference fatigue. But there hasn’t been anything that says, well, obviously these is the actual cause of videoconference fatigue.

Andy: Now the thing is, the theory that I brought up, the author created that in order to create what’s called an instrument, a way of measuring zoom fatigue.

Mon-Chaio: Yes.

Andy: Because in order to measure it, you have to have a theory of what it is so that you have the concepts and then you can, and then you can get things that will correlate to those concepts.

They came up with the ZEF scale, the Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue Scale. And they used that, and they, they went through an entire system.

So there’s, there’s processes you go through to create these kinds of instruments and these scales. And so they went through that, and they started with like 114 or 144 or something questions, and they eventually got it down to, I think it was 44. And then others have continued to research it, translated it into German, and localized it for Chinese, and all of that.

And each time you do that, you have to re test the whole thing. So it’s actually been tested a lot. These instruments that get changed get starting in one place and then get translated and moved from one culture to another, they actually get a lot of research into whether or not the scale still seems to correspond to the concepts.

Mon-Chaio: Mm hmm.

Andy: Z F scale, is one that it seems like a lot of people have picked up. Now, that said, only about three years old because, hey, this all came out of the pandemic.

Mon-Chaio: Right.

Andy: Now that scale, though, does give them the ability to check it against other things. And I know Mon Chaio, you, you really want to see the physical nature of these things.

You, you want to know, like, can they measure the heart rate, or the sweat, or something else. And in this case, I did find a brain study. That was looking at the ZEF scale as well as a, the BMIS score, which is another psychological instrument. And in that, the primary thing that I think we’re interested in, especially since I do not know medical stuff, like the social side of things, I actually studied a little bit, the medical side, I look at it and I’m just like, I have no idea.

But, but this section I can say does relate to us, which it says “regarding the ongoing EEG, our results showed increased frontal theta power during the video conferencing session indicating brain fatigue. This was linked to lower levels of liveliness and the overall BMIS score, as well as to increase general fatigue at trend level, a component of the ZEF score. if compared to the face to face condition.” So they found that the ZEF score also correlates with a physiological response in this, which is there is a signal that gets associated with fatigue.

Mon-Chaio: And I think for me, that feels like a pretty neat little package. We have the anecdotal evidence that we’ve seen and heard. We have hypotheses and models and theories that have been built that have research backing portions of them. Right? If not the whole thing.

And then we also have more quantitative evidence that can show increased brain fatigue while video conferencing. So while each on their own may seem a little suspect, I think the package together, at least to me, feels that Zoom fatigue is a real phenomenon.

Andy: Yep, it is. I, I, I think it is. I think it really seems to exist. Which then gets us into how bad is this?

Mon-Chaio: How bad is it?

Andy: It can be pretty bad. So, now in terms of magnitude of fatigue caused by it we don’t have exact research on that. But the fact that the entire world started feeling it shows that there is an effect size here. There’s an appreciable effect size. Now, on our original question, the one that sent me down this path that I, we used to prompt this episode, extroversion, introversion. Is it better to be introverted or extroverted?

Mon-Chaio: With regard to Zoom

Andy: regard to zoom fatigue.

Mon-Chaio: they

Andy: And the answer was, at least slightly. It wasn’t hugely strong. It was there, but it wasn’t like, oh, this is gigantic, but it was there. Extraversion results in less zoom fatigue.

Mon-Chaio: did they posit a reason why?

Or a posit hypothesis as to why that might be.

Andy: They did have some thoughts about why that might be happening. And they say specifically “Certain personality traits also appear to protect individuals from experiencing Zoom fatigue. For instance, people who were more extroverted felt less exhausted after videoconferencing because they experienced significantly less mirror anxiety.

This may be because introverts experience the process of seeing and managing their self image in a videoconferencing as more cognitively demanding than extroverts.”

Mon-Chaio: Aha. Okay.

Andy: gets to What in the research I was finding, that gets to , how much each component contributes to the zoom, zoom fatigue. And in that by far the biggest contributor to zoom fatigue was what’s called mirror anxiety. That seeing yourself. And so the hypothesis is introverts are more affected by that than extroverts.

Mon-Chaio: That’s interesting. I would have thought that perhaps Mirror Fatigue contributed but wasn’t such a big contributor, which is, which would be why extraversion only provided a small protection versus a larger protection. But, given that the data shows Mirror Fatigue is a large contributor, perhaps extraverts just have a smaller A smaller protection against mere fatigue than introverts.

Andy: extroverts are attuned to getting that external stimulus, an external stimulus that is themselves isn’t as big of a deal.

Mon-Chaio: And I think that kind of follows on from our previous research as well around extroversion does help you become a better leader, but smaller effect sizes than you might imagine. Small, small, but positive effect sizes. And here we show that extroversion also is not super different from introversion, but it is different.

And there are effects that stem from those differences.

Andy: The biggest thing about this research was that it affects women more than it affects men.

So the thought of why it affects women more than it affects men is similar to the hypothesis or the thinking behind why it affects introverts more than it affects extroverts, which is that the mirror anxiety and all of those things, women are more attuned to paying attention to those, those stimuli.

Mon-Chaio: hmm. Mm hmm. So, it is problematic. Zoom fatigue.

Andy: Yeah. So that, that means that, that kind of means that introverted women leaders are being put into a very tiring position,

Mon-Chaio: Mm-Hmm.

Andy: which isn’t great.

Mon-Chaio: So what do we draw from this then, we are in a world where remote,

work, let’s not say remote work. We are in a world where video conferencing is not gonna go away. Now there are some technologies that are trying to expand beyond video conferencing. I used to work at Meta, right? In reality Labs the whole concept of the metaverse, although we didn’t have legs in the metaverse, at least the ones that I tested. So, But we did have bodies. And so I don’t know how your brain perceives the difference between your body and your legs,

Andy: I, I imagine metaverse will make it even worse because of the uncanny valley.

Mon-Chaio: I imagine so as well. But in the near term, what can we do about this? Or is the answer, we can’t really do anything.

Andy: I, no, I think, I think there is some stuff you can do. And in fact, a lot of these papers, or at least the paper that I was looking at, the one that produced ZEF, the reason they produced it was because they were like, we need to understand what could be causing this so that we can tell people what to do to stop getting as much.

Mon-Chaio: Mm hmm.

Andy: And and so that they can guide give guidance to the producers of this software to, to limit this.

Mon-Chaio: hmm.

Andy: Now, what I find fascinating is I remember at one point, some, one of these companies was working on technology. They’re like, Oh, this will make it so that it looks like you’re looking at the camera more.

Mon-Chaio: Right. Yep. And many companies are working on that.

Andy: But all of this research says, please don’t do that. That would make this even worse.

Mon-Chaio: I think there are good applications for that and bad.

Andy: Doing a set piece video. Cool. That’d be great. Always on for my teams meetings. That would be terrible.

Mon-Chaio: Right. But the option, right? If you’re doing a one on one, I think eye gaze is probably fairly important.

Andy: No, actually you wouldn’t want it there either, because people get comfort in that you look away. It gives, it gives them a sense of a little bit of privacy. Whereas if you’re constantly staring them down, that’s like, that’s like an aggressive act.

Mon-Chaio: Well, I think that, I don’t know. For me, I think the looking away would be, you can’t see what I’m doing now, but would be, shifting, and then looking off camera a little bit, and I don’t think it would, I hope it doesn’t, like, bring your head and your eyes back when you move your

Andy: Yeah, that’s true. Maybe, maybe that’s what they’re having to, why it’s taking so long is that it keeps having these weird bug eyed things going. But, but, okay, so, things that you can do. Turn off video. Turn off incoming video. That gets rid of that kind of, like, sense of being watched.

Mon-Chaio: hmm. Mm

Andy: turn off your self view.

Mon-Chaio: hmm.

Andy: fact, one thing I would love to see is if self view was off by default, but on for just the first few seconds and then faded away. Just long enough that I tell that I’m in frame, people can see me, I’m not, like, backlit and no one can make out anything. But then I don’t have to see myself.

Mon-Chaio: Well and I think there’s other possibilities where your self view can just be an outline, so it doesn’t look like you, but it can be an outline of your head. And so maybe that more abstract view of yourself has less sort of self awareness and mirroring effect.

Andy: Yeah.

Mon-Chaio: But I think it’s interesting because for me at least, speaking of the mobility aspect especially if the meeting is long, I will tend to move around.

I will look for a piece of paper or something. And you always want to make sure you’re re centered back in frame, right? And so they, they have posited that that causes cognitive load to making sure that you’re always centered in frame, that people can see you, that people can hear you, are you muted?

Are you not muted at the right time? So there is something I think around how you use self view to do that. But yeah, I, I like your idea at least off by default. Or some sort of on at the beginning, or some sort of abstraction, I think is a good thing. But, you would also mention muting all incoming video.

So, then are we talking about audio conference calls now?

Andy: Well, basically, one thing to do is, if you don’t need all the video, yeah, go to an audio conference call. And, and don’t look at your computer. Like just, just have the call happening go for a walk like I struggled with this. I know I could never bring myself to do this, but I do know people who did it and it was effective for them.

Mon-Chaio: So, let me ask a question then. Video conferencing came after audio conferencing. So, So, if audio conferencing is so much better, why haven’t we just moved back en masse these three, four years?

Andy: I wouldn’t say it’s always better. So I wouldn’t say you always do this,

Mon-Chaio: Mm hmm.

Andy: but I would say start mixing it in,

Mon-Chaio: Mm

Andy: make it an option. Now, I think there is also a thing of video conferencing, especially with camera on, and I have to admit I’ve historically and after, I might change it after this, I’ve been a big proponent, proponent for camera on,

Mon-Chaio: Absolutely.

Andy: I think it does have benefits. It does help people pay attention, but one of the problems here is that people pay attention and they get so tired that they’re going to just be tired and fatigued and, and all of that. And I, I was actually, I was interested like on the so what. Okay, so we’re tired, so what? Well, there’s all sorts of problems, but let’s, let’s stick with the business context problems. One of them is that when you’re more fatigued, you’re less likely to take a risk. Mental fatigue correlates with less risk taking

Mon-Chaio: hmm.

Andy: making. And if, if you’re working with a product team who’s like, who’s trying to figure out what to do next, you want some risk taking.

Mon-Chaio: Mm hmm.

Andy: And if everyone’s just too tired to take a risk, that’s not going to work well.

Mon-Chaio: Yeah, that computes for me. Whenever I talk about collaboration, and sometimes this is the pair programming part of it, One thing that I mentioned is that you can offload mental fatigue from one thing or mental energy from one thing to

Andy: Mm hmm.

Mon-Chaio: because when you’re mentally fatigued, you are less willing to take risks.

You’re more willing to be in the status quo. And that doesn’t produce often the best product or the best decisions, right? When I’m counseling ICs, I usually talk about things like. If you know that a build is going to go out every commit, for example, you don’t have to worry about that.

It just goes out. So you just continue. Whereas if you have to spend mental energy typing in six commands every time, you want to make a build that takes your energy away, become more fatigued through that. And you don’t have that energy for other things that are higher value.

Andy: I like this as another argument about why branching is just stupid and wrong. I, I like

Mon-Chaio: Yes. We, yes. That episode won’t actually be an episode. That episode will be live and we will have people screaming at us and we will defend ourselves against that. I think that’s how that episode is going to

Andy: It’ll be a battle royale. Mon Chaio and Andy branches.

Mon-Chaio: Against GitFlow. But yes mental fatigue is bad.

Andy: And the other one is the other thing that I found Although this is a, this is a good thing. This, this would actually, you could take this and just say, like, we should keep people tired all the time. Is people lie less when they’re fatigued.

Mon-Chaio: Yeah. It takes energy to lie, you

Andy: Yeah, and, and that, that was the hypothesis. That was the idea was behind it was so it, it takes mental energy to come up with a, a believable fabrication. And, and this was specifically financial misreporting of managers. They found that the managers who were more fatigued chronically were less likely to do financial misreporting.

Mon-Chaio: and see, Andy, that’s why we come up with such believable lies every week we spend so much time and mental energy on this, right?

Andy: Yep.

Mon-Chaio: But getting back to the audio conference calls, Based on the factors around fatigue and Zoom fatigue, the audio conference calls don’t relieve many of them. They relieve some of

Andy: mm hmm.

Mon-Chaio: to move around. That mobility factor relieves. It relieves the gaze factor for sure.

Remove the mirroring effect.

But things like asynchronous communication and the delays between that, it doesn’t release you from that obligation.

Andy: Yep.

Mon-Chaio: And one other that I didn’t have time to mention earlier was they talked about how video conferencing tools present multitasking problems. So you’ll have a side chat going where somebody in the call will be chatting with you.

You’re going to be looking up a different presentation as you’re preparing to share your screen or to counter somebody’s argument. Or you’ll be responding to an urgent email that came in. All of which, if we recall back to when we were in the office, really things you did when you were sitting around a table, right?

In fact, one of the papers that I saw, they actually presented a picture of, I can’t remember what it was, some city council or some UN meeting or whatever.

Andy: Is this the one where they had the little, you could slide the thing back and forth? I think I found the same one.

Mon-Chaio: saw that one too, right? And they highlighted what everybody was doing. Right. And they’d highlighted all these side conversations that were happening and whatnot.

And so, there are some multitasking in in person meetings, but a lot of the stuff that takes our attention away and causes us cognitive load is this multitasking via the tooling. I don’t think audio conferencing reduces that, right? So the communication asynchronicity and the multitasking still exist within audio conferencing.

Andy: It does. However, I’m gonna, I’m going to bring up what exactly this researcher suggested. He didn’t quite say go audio conferencing. He said they, he, I don’t know actually if it’s a he or a she. Are they? They said ” During long stretches of meetings, give yourself an audio only break. This is not simply you turning off your camera to take a break from having to be non verbally active, but also turning your body away the screen, so that for a few minutes you are not smothered with gestures that are perceptually realistic but socially meaningless.” So, what they’re saying is, continue listening, But turn away, turn off your video, so that you don’t have to see it all, and listen in. So it’s not like you completely drop video conferencing. It’s, it’s still there, but you, you kind of like step out for a bit. And you disengage visually from what’s happening.

Mon-Chaio: And I like that suggestion because I think, to your point, video is important. We talk about building community, we talk about building trust, and it’s much easier to do in a visual medium, of course, much easier to do face to face and if we don’t want to get into these roles where it’s like, oh, this meeting is a trust building meeting, everyone turn on your video, oh, this one doesn’t matter as much because we’ve already done three trust building meetings today, so everyone go to audio.

We have to have less dichotomy between, Oh, this is the time. This is not the time. I worry though, Andy, and I don’t know if you worry about this. I worry that these are all around the edges of the problem. Yeah, they’ll make it better, but they won’t reduce it. maybe,

Andy: Well, that, that is what making it better is, is reducing it a bit.

Mon-Chaio: sorry, I misspoke. They won’t eliminate it. And we can argue about what that reduction look like. Is it a 2 percent reduction? Is it a 5 percent reduction? But my sense without any research behind it is that the reduction is unlikely to be large. And so it still is very troubling that we’re putting ourselves into this medium, a communication medium day in and day out for large portions of our lives.

What are your thoughts on that?

Andy: I mostly agree. I, I think absolutely, like the, the putting ourselves into a situation that just tires us through large portion of our lives, like eight hours a day, nine hours a day through most days of many days of the week. The thing that we don’t know, and I didn’t find research on this, I didn’t look too closely, was how much more fatiguing is the video conferencing than in person.

Mon-Chaio: Mm hmm.

Andy: I get fatigued from in person meetings as well. What I don’t know is how much more I get fatigued from video conferencing meetings.

Mon-Chaio: Right.

Andy: it could be that this, this can get us down to just a few percent more fatiguing. But that’s a trade off of, we’ve found a way to do that, and that’s a trade off to give people that flexibility of being able to work from home, and as we talked about in that, and being able to take care of a loved one, or of their house, or live in a place that it gives them more connection to family than they done if they had to go into the office all the time.

So I, to me, it’s that. What we don’t know is how much are we paying there for what we’re getting.

Mon-Chaio: Right. And that’s going to be difficult to know

but I think at least what I feel like we’ve done in this episode, I hope, is given folks an idea of what causes Zoom fatigue, or at least what the current research says causes Zoom fatigue. And hopefully that allows folks to find their own ways to reduce Any each or any of those aspects in the ways that work well for them. The bigger societal question about should we be having people on video conference 60 percent of the time I think is way too big to tackle here but If anybody wants to tackle that and have a nice discussion with us Andy and I are always up for that

Andy: Absolutely Mon Chaio. And if they do want to do that, they can get in contact with us at hosts at the TTL podcast. com or on LinkedIn or. I’m on Twitter. I don’t think you’re on Twitter. Although I,

Mon-Chaio: I I just don’t post anything. I’m consumer only.

Andy: I don’t know.

I don’t know the last time I logged in. I don’t even know why I bothered bringing that up. So, and if you would like either Mon Chaio or myself to come in and work with your company on any of these topics and how you can help your team or yourself address Zoom fatigue, leadership, or anything like that.

Send us an email as well. This is what we do. Until next time, Mon Chaio. Be kind, and stay curious.


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