If you’ve worked remotely at any point in the last few years, you’ve probably experienced some pre-meeting panic about turning on your camera—especially if you spend hours in virtual meetings each week.
Even though seeing our colleagues’ faces from time to time is a good thing, constantly staring at each other (and staring at ourselves in the viewfinder) can be draining. New research from Dr. Jeremy Bailenson, Founding Director of Standford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, shows that the constant staring and non-verbal cues we receive in online meetings can take a toll on us.
What Is Non-verbal Overload?
“In a normal meeting, people will variously be looking at the speaker, taking notes, or looking elsewhere,” Vignesh Ramachandran noted in a report on Dr. Bailenson’s work. This split attention, or feigned split attention, isn’t possible in a Zoom meeting or other video chat application.
This inability to look away or “busy yourself” with other things when the camera is on can cause non-verbal overload, which is all about the stress that someone feels when constantly being gazed at by others or having to constantly gaze at others. In discussion with Slack on the topic, Dr. Bailenson reportedly said that “there is [a] maximized productivity” that comes with having meetings with cameras on, “but it wears people down.” So what’s to be done?
How to Reduce Non-Verbal Overload
Every aspect of work has its pros and cons, including virtual meetings. Regardless, it’s an essential part of the modern-day workplace and has only become more common since the beginning of the pandemic.
Thankfully, there are ways to improve meetings—like using Docket to make meetings effective and streamlined!—and reduce non-verbal overload. By following the below tips, you can reduce some of the daily strain that video conferencing puts on your mental well-being.
Have Scheduled “Cameras-Off” Meetings
Going into a meeting where you know all cameras will be off can take some of the tension out of the air. That way, no team member needs to worry about the proper “etiquette” of having cameras on, relieving some of the mental load that comes with video conferencing.
Of course, sometimes it’s necessary to see your colleagues’ faces (think presentations, performance reviews, vital progress updates, company news), but many recurring weekly check-ins can be more relaxed to reduce overload.
Leave Some Gaps in Your Schedule
When you’re in the office, you usually have some time in between meetings to get some coffee, use the restroom, or just walk from one meeting room to another. When working remotely, it’s all too easy to stack meetings back-to-back without taking any breaks in between. While this might seem like a great time-saver at the moment, it can be exhausting.
Go “Old-Fashioned” With a Phone Call
There’s a running joke among the phone-shy that having to make daily phone calls to the dentist, distant family members, and potential employers is akin to torture. The real torture would be having to video chat every person you need to get in contact with. Thankfully, they don’t have to do that, and neither do you as a working professional.
Consider scheduling a good old-fashioned phone call instead of a Zoom meeting for your more informal meetings or quick one-on-one check-ins. You can comfortably twiddle your thumbs, pace around the house, or even take a walk without fear of being watched.
The Bottom Line
Managing your mental health is crucial for your personal well-being and productivity, so if you’re starting to feel overwhelmed with being on camera, use these tips to take action and reduce non-verbal overload.