Staff falling victim to video conferencing exhaustion

There is growing evidence that the move to remote meetings is having a negative impact on employees’ mental health as new remote working risks emerge.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the increase in virtual interactions has created a new challenge: fatigue caused by video calls, also known as Zoom fatigue or videoconference fatigue.

The use of video conferencing leapt during the pandemic as the number of staff forced to work remotely increased. The global market share is expected to reach $95 billion by the end of 2032.

It is expected that by the end of 2025, the use of video conferencing will be commonplace as over 36.2 million American companies are planning to allow staff the option to work remotely.

Currently in the United States, 37.82% of employees work via video conferencing, weekly once or twice, whereas 13% of employees use  it three to five times, and 12% of employees used it more than five times.

videoconference fatigue is characterised by a feeling of tiredness and alienation due to too long or inappropriate video-based communication, had previously only been investigated through surveys and self-assessments by users. An interdisciplinary research team led by René Riedl from the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria/Campus Steyr and Gernot Müller-Putz from Graz University of Technology has now managed to provide neurophysiological evidence of videoconference fatigue.

In the “Technostress in Organizations” project funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF, the researchers conducted a neuroscientific study with students to investigate videoconference fatigue in the context of online university lectures.

The test subjects took part in lectures that were held both in-person in a traditional lecture hall and online via video conferencing. These two experimental conditions were then compared with each other. The research team measured fatigue parameters both neurophysiologically based on electroencephalography (EEG) and electrocardiography (ECG) and by questionnaires. This allowed them to record objective physiological parameters and subjective perceptions.

The objective findings based on EEG and specific parameters of heart rate variability as well as the subjective perceptions of the respondents showed that a 50-minute video conference-based lecture exhausted the test subjects significantly more than a lecture of the same length in the traditional lecture hall format, where lecturers and students meet face to face.

“A better understanding of videoconference fatigue is important, as this phenomenon has a far-reaching impact on the well-being of individuals, interpersonal relationships and organisational communication,” explained Riedl.

Müller-Putz explained that “a holistic view of the underlying psychological and physiological mechanisms is required to develop effective strategies for coping with the harmful effects of videoconference fatigue”.

Together with two North American colleagues, the two scientists constitute the board of the Society for Neuro-Information Systems a non-profit international scientific association based in Vienna that promotes and supports research and innovation at the intersection of neuroscience, information systems research and digitisation.

A key aim of this society is to make people more satisfied and productive when using digital technologies. “A better understanding of the neurophysiological processes in the body and brain of users is essential to achieve these goals,” the two scientists concluded.