Virtual meeting fatigue?

Here’s how to boost engagement and enhance output.

Virtual meeting fatigue?

Love them or hate them, virtual meetings are now a way of life. Even for those of us back in the office part or full time, we continue gathering online almost as frequently as we are gathering in the boardroom. As our comfort and adeptness with virtual meetings has improved over the past two years, many benefits have clearly emerged. Increased accessibility to colleagues across locations, decreased expense in travel and increased productivity for those who must be home for one reason or another (sick kids, a plumbing appointment, etc., just to name a few).

On the other hand, virtual meetings have no shortage of pain points. Battling technical difficulties and staring at a screen all day can be downright draining – so much so that the term “Zoom fatigue” has become part of the vernacular.

Identifying and Beating Virtual Meeting Fatigue

Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), studied the psychological effects of spending hours a day in virtual meetings. As published in the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior in February 2021 and summarized in a Stanford News article, Bailenson identified four primary reasons why prolonged video conferencing fatigues human beings.

1. An excessive amount of close-up eye contact is intense.

Per the Stanford article, “in a normal meeting, people will variously be looking at the speaker, taking notes or looking elsewhere. But on Zoom calls, everyone is looking at everyone, all the time.” Bailenson explains that the human brain processes this as an intense situation, and that can induce stress.

Recommendation: Push the camera back. This easy but effective technique not only improves appearance, but it also creates more personal space, thus reducing the intensity of the interaction.

2. Constantly seeing yourself during video calls is exhausting.

In his study, Bailenson cites research that shows when you see a reflection of yourself, you are more critical of yourself. It is wearing to see ourselves on screen for hours every day. In a 2020 HBR article, “How to Foster Psychological Safety in Virtual Meetings,” authors Amy Edmondson and Gene Daley confirm that seeing oneself on the screen heightens self-consciousness and inhibits psychological safety.

Recommendation: Use the “hide self-view” function. Simply remove yourself from the picture. As Edmonson and Daley write, “after all, we don’t use a mirror during face-to-face meetings.”

3. Video meetings dramatically reduce our usual movement.

As noted in the Stanford article, we typically walk and move around when we are on the phone or in live meetings. With videoconferencing, we tend to stay in a fixed position as the camera’s field of view allows. Movement and mobility are unnaturally limited.

Recommendation: Turn off the camera for a few minutes and move around. There is general consensus among health experts that even a few minutes of movement every hour boosts wellness. Further, Bailenson points out that “there is a growing body of research that says, when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively.”

4. There is a heavier cognitive load in video communication.

Bailenson says, “in regular face-to-face interaction, nonverbal communication is quite natural and each of us makes and interprets gestures and nonverbal cues subconsciously. But on video, we have to work harder to send and receive signals.”

Recommendation: Turn away from the screen and give yourself a break. Again, a few minutes away from the stimuli of the video can make a big difference. Bailenson suggests “turning your body away from the screen so that for a few minutes you are not smothered with gestures.”

These recommendations should be considered in balance with good virtual meeting etiquette. For example, The Digital Workplace, an online hub of resources dedicated to rebuilding work for the digital age, recently updated an article on online meeting etiquette for 2022. They advise that “video is a powerful way to maintain a human connection in a virtual meeting.” While this view may appear to conflict with the recommendations above, both can be true and useful. In this example, enter the meeting with video on, but take short camera breaks as needed.

To Mute or Not to Mute?

The Digital Workplace article offers prudent and specific advice for boosting engagement when it comes to the mute button as well. The bottom line: don’t mute if the meeting is small.

“Staying on mute unless you have something to say lowers the fidelity of the conversation. It gives others fewer signals to interpret. Even picking up on a quick laugh or ‘mmhmm’ is helpful to whoever is talking,” according to Neil Miller, host of The Digital Workplace. He goes on to advise, “mute yourself if it is a large call of ten or more people or you hear a feedback echo or have noise in the background. “

How to Run a (Virtual) Meeting

In August 2019 we published a crib sheet for How to Run a Meeting, and the same advice is perhaps even more applicable in the virtual space. In a nutshell:


As the adage goes, tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them. Draft and circulate an agenda in advance explicitly articulating the objectives and expectations. Once the meeting is complete, circulate notes that highlight the decisions, action items and next steps.


Actively moderate the meeting by keeping the conversation focused on the objectives, ensuring all voices are heard and probing for deeper discussion when valuable.


Consider if a virtual meeting is essential. If your business needs can be met in another way, consider an alternative.

Virtual meetings have become an important and effective tool in moving business forward. That said, be mindful of fatigue in yourself and others and take some of these simple steps to mitigate burnout.