Work life | Getting rid of “Zoom fatigue”

Effective during the pandemic, virtual meetings are now an essential tool for teleworking. But stringing them together exhausts workers, creating debilitating cognitive fatigue. How to avoid overloading?

“I don’t have time to make myself a coffee, or even go pee!” »

Isabelle*, 32, works in academia in Montreal. Working remotely, she holds Zoom meetings to the point where she has no downtime.

“We’ve been doing virtual meetings for almost four years now,” she emphasizes, “and it seems like it’s only getting worse. We are in a movement to always be more available and more productive. »

Tired of not having any breaks to advance her professional tasks, she uses a strategy without the knowledge of her superiors: she blocks time slots in her Outlook calendar to advance her files.

“I told some of my colleagues and they do the same thing,” she admits.

Valérie*, an account manager in her 30s, estimates that she participates in around 25 virtual meetings each week.

“The mental load of these meetings is immense,” confides the woman who is 100% teleworking. You always smile, you look at your own face on the screen, you have to stay focused on the content… I often wonder if it is really necessary for me to be there! »

Less effective communication

Fatigue linked to excessive use of videoconferencing platforms like Zoom, Meet and Teams is well documented: psychologist Jeremy Bailenson, from Stanford University, published the results of a study on this subject three years ago. “Zoom fatigue” has psychological and physical consequences on workers, indicates the study: stress, anxiety, immobility, lack of interactions and connections with colleagues, more difficult communication and understanding, etc.


“Zoom fatigue” has psychological and physical consequences on workers.

According to Élise Ledoux, professor of ergonomics at the University of Quebec in Montreal, the degree of attention required during virtual meetings is much greater than during face-to-face meetings.

“The brain has to work harder,” she says, “because we don’t have access to all the microsignals to facilitate the interpretation of messages. The information must be recomposed to decode the message. »

Informal setting

François Courcy, professor in the psychology department at the University of Sherbrooke, recalls that the choice of words only accounts for 8% of communication. “There is a whole aspect of non-verbal that we lose during virtual meetings,” he explains. When you’re face to face, you can glean a lot more information. »

Even if teleworking has its share of interesting advantages, Mme Ledoux questions the use of certain technologies, such as videoconferencing meetings. “Are we using these technologies to intensify work? “, she asks, while recalling that “some things are sometimes settled around the coffee machine or in the door frame before a meeting at the office”.

Mr. Courcy also likes to challenge his students by asking them “which tool has the best return on investment in the office”. Answer: the coffee machine! “The hierarchical distance tends to disappear and we tell each other the real things,” he notes.


To reduce Zoom fatigue, Tania Saba, professor at the School of Industrial Relations at the University of Montreal, suggests thinking about alternatives to virtual meetings.

“Is this a meeting for decision-making, continuous improvement, file processing, problem solving or brainstorming? The purpose is different, and therefore the monitoring and means used will be different,” she explains.

To avoid virtual presenteeism, i.e. being on screen, but not quite present in mind, Tania Saba says the organizer of the meeting should carefully choose the participants.

“When someone is not focused, or is taking advantage of the moment to do another task, it may be an indicator that there was no need for them to attend the meeting…” she blurted out.

And is simply refusing to participate an acceptable solution? No, insists Élise Ledoux. “At the start of the pandemic, we thought that individual tips were enough to reduce the effects of Zoom fatigue, but it is now an organizational issue: managers and teams must develop solutions that suit them, in line with the business culture. »

* Isabelle and Valérie testified on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals or judgments from their employer and colleagues.


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