‘Zoom fatigue’ is a thing, study shows

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The explosion of remote working during the UK’s first Covid-19 lockdown saw employees suffer from ‘Zoom fatigue’ and highlighted the need for longer periods spent away from work and digital communication devices. It has also seen workers’ routines being dictated by ‘what technology packages are available’, according to an expert.

According to new research by London South Bank University (LSBU) intensive remote communications can harm employee wellbeing at work, if left unregulated.

The study looked at the levels of energy depletion experienced by employees engaged in remote working and their increased need for daily recovery time, considering various digital media applications used to complete a range of work tasks.

The main findings were:

  • Remote working generally leads to increased tiredness or Zoom fatigue for employees and a greater need for longer recovery time compared with on-site office work
  • Communication via video calls is more tiring to deal with than other forms of digital communication, such as emails, texts, or chats, as video calls require higher levels of self-control and regulation of emotion
  • Daily fluctuations in different forms of remote communication between employees is detrimental to the overall well-being of the workforce.

The danger is that many work routines are now dictated by what technology packages are available, giving the user little time for reflection on whether what’s been provided is adequate” – Karin Moser, report co-author

Based on these findings the report’s authors said employers needed to be aware of employees’ need for sufficient time to recover from the demands of remote working. They needed to be firm about staff not working beyond core hours and taking regular breaks.

Employees should be encouraged to shut down digital devices such as laptops and work phones outside working hours to support people to achieve a healthy work-life balance. The findings also underlined the need for employers to support staff who already have extra demands on their their time because of caring and family responsibilities.

Karin Moser, professor of organisational behaviour at LSBU’s Business School, who jointly carried out the research, said: “Whereas previous research looking at remote working practices in the UK focused on employee productivity, this study is the first of its kind to demonstrate that these practices pose a threat to employee wellbeing.

“The pandemic has thrown much of the workforce into one huge online experiment, forcing the majority of employees to work from home suddenly. This has left staff with no previous experience of remote working, with little time to prepare and adjust.

“The danger is that many work routines are now dictated by what technology packages are available, giving the user little time for reflection on whether what’s been provided is adequate. Meanwhile employees are also lacking the necessary skills training to help them collaborate and lead virtually. This business practice is not sustainable, and in the long-term, will have detrimental impacts on employee health and productivity.”

The researchers conducted a daily diary study surveying a cohort of 102 UK employees working remotely across a 10-day period during full national lockdown.

Levels of exposure to remote communication were assessed by asking participants how many minutes they had spent each day using: text-based media (texting, emails), video conferences (Slack, Skype, Zoom, MSTeams), voice-based media (phone calls), social media (Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat), collaborative platforms (Slack, Workzone, Blackboard, Glip).

The full name of the study is An Investigation of Self-Control and Self-Regulation as Mechanisms Linking Remote Communication to Employee Well-Being during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

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2 Responses to ‘Zoom fatigue’ is a thing, study shows

  1. Avatar
    WILLIAM H. HOLLOWAY 12 Nov 2020 at 9:25 pm #

    Dr. Moser,
    Extremely interesting, and most timely!

    Did you take into consideration the age of the respondents?

    My hypothesis is that younger workers (say 20’s & 30’s) tire more easily and get more tired than older workers (say 40’s and 50’s and above).

    Basis for the hypothesis: the older workers are more used to in-person meetings, and therefore are used-to and better-trained to have to maintain more: self-control, regulation of emotion, and attention span. The younger workers who have “grown up with technology” are used to more operational/ interactional freedom and multi-tasking than the older workers, and the additional focus and unfamiliar interactions are not as familiar to them. Thus the younger workers are more impacted by Zoom Fatigue than older workers, and will require longer recuperation periods.

    Respectfully submitted.
    Bill H

    • Avatar
      Karin Moser 14 Nov 2020 at 7:10 pm #

      Hi Bill – many thanks for your feedback and interesting suggestions. In the study reported above, we did not find any age differences. We did however, find differences based on whether employees had previous experience with working from home or not, and with ‘digital literacy’, which essentially measures people’s competence in using digital media. We also found that depletion and the need for recovery was task dependent. Higher need for coordination was associated with higher depletion, whereas people with more work autonomy are less exposed. I hope you find this additional information useful. We are continuing this research, so can hopefully provide further insights soon.
      Best wishes, Karin Moser, PhD, professor of organisational behaviour
      For more information, visit the Moser Lab: http://www.karinmoser.net

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