The coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on our mental health as we continue social distancing, self-isolation, and related measures. While schools, businesses, health care facilities, courthouses, and many others started to heavily rely upon virtual platforms to continue their day-to-day operations, this technology has quickly become another source of stress and anxiety.
Overnight, we were expected to master a wide variety of virtual meeting platforms including, but not limited to, Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams, in order to continue business as usual. We are now starting to see “Zoom fatigue,” the term being used to describe the tiredness, anxiety, or worry resulting from overusing these virtual platforms. Video conferences are mentally exhausting. It is unnatural to have someone’s enlarged face extremely close to you with prolonged eye contact. Nonverbal cues are lost, distorted, or delayed. The expectation that we can have normal professional and social interactions this way is unrealistic.
While juggling childcare and other household responsibilities, cooking meals, and navigating the fearful trip to the supermarket or pharmacy, employees across the country must also fit in their work. With video conferencing, you cannot easily jump on and off what should be a quick call in your sweatpants. Now you must add in doing your hair and makeup or putting on a clean, ironed shirt and shaving your beard.
Just as there was an appropriate time and place for an email versus a phone call in our former working lives, there is now a time and place for a video conference. Sometimes a video conference is necessary or even preferred.
With my own staff in our Mental Health Law practice, occasionally we find it comforting to see each other’s faces, check-in with one another, and discuss ongoing client matters face-to-face. This does not mean that I have imposed a daily check-in on Zoom, crowding their already hectic schedules. We should still be respectful of everyone’s time, setting and honoring appropriate boundaries.
Similar to the issue of setting boundaries is the concern for our privacy. Video conferencing invites your colleagues, clients, or patients into the privacy of your own home. Zoom meetings have been hacked, allowing complete strangers to see into your home. Many people are finding it extremely challenging to find a quiet place to engage in a professional video conference. Not everyone has the luxury of a home office. Many find themselves in small apartments with their spouse and children, hiding in the bathroom, desperate to find a few minutes of quiet and privacy to sign into a virtual meeting.
Once you have signed into your meeting or class, it is often difficult to navigate this new technology. Many of us are using small laptops or dusty old computers to run our businesses, healthcare practices, and classrooms. Even for the most technologically savvy person, it is frustrating to jump between the video screen and other windows or documents all while engaging in a conversation. Older generations and those not accustomed to conducting business online are at a significant disadvantage when forced to use virtual platforms. They must learn new technology, install microphones, video cameras, and software, and operate these virtual tools from their homes without IT support.
Lastly, these virtual tools cost money, another stressor during this unprecedented time. This virtual world is taking a financial toll on us that we cannot afford with the need for video cameras, headsets, and other supplies. Small businesses may have been forced to furlough employees and decipher complicated loan applications just to stay afloat. Now they also must manage the cost of licenses for at least one online platform to continue communication with clients and colleagues as well.
A healthy work-life balance is more important than ever during this pandemic. It is okay to decline a work Zoom call at 9 p.m. that you would have otherwise never been expected to take. It is acceptable to request a phone call where a video conference seems unnecessary. Try suggesting that everyone turn their video cameras off unless speaking. Take breaks in between video calls. Overall, be thoughtful and use these virtual platforms as tools to make your currently challenging life easier.