I do not know about you, but I am feeling very tired in these days of home-working and physical distancing… Why is that?

Apparently the endless stream of work meetings, webinars, family chats, friends catch-ups and after-works on video-calls is creating fatigue and stress.

Digital Fatigue

Since the outburst of the corona-crisis we're spending more and more time on our screens than ever before and this leads to what has been labelled as digital fatigue.

According to the psychotherapist Elizabeth Scarlett digital communication, while often effective, "doesn't offer the same level of unspoken connection with another person“. Our brains get all the same stressful social stimuli as in a conversation, "but without production of our social-hormone oxytocin” hence it doesn't feel as good, according to Allison G. Johnsen, manager of behavioural health at Central DuPage Hospital and Delnor Hospital.

Digital communication requires more focus than face-to-face chats, as we work harder to process the non-verbal communication that enriches our human experiences: facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language. Paying more attention to these cues consumes a lot of energy. "You cannot relax into the conversation naturally," says Gianpiero Petriglieri Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD. Moreover in digital communication we lose  the part of non verbal-communication which includes handshakes, simple touch, hugs and this lack, besides preventing the production of oxytocin, leads to irritation and even burnt out because "it ultimately isn't the human interaction we truly long for," as psychotherapist Laura F. Dabney states.

Digital communication requires more focus than face-to-face chats.

When on a video conference call you realise that everybody's looking at you; it feels like being on stage, hence the social pressure and the feeling that you need to perform. This situation is really stressful.

Working from home in many cases allows for no delineation of work and home, which means that many people feel the need to be more available and accessible to work than if they had set hours at a separate workplace, a Japanese study recently found.

Work-life balance

The blurred boundaries affect our own personal health and well-being, adding to general anxiety and potentially "obsessing" over work responsibilities, Psychology Today reported. Without commutes, coffee breaks, lunches and chats with co-workers, many people are finding their bodies beat down by the constant video-calls. Sitting such long hours in front of our screens affect both our physical and mental well-being.

Many factors contribute to why video conferences have become so overwhelming and exhausting, the solution is not to avoid video-conferencing altogether, but to recognize its benefits as well as its downsides and to limit the digital time to a certain amount of hours a day keeping time reserved for some other activities which do not require a screen, for instance: walking, exercising, cooking, reading, gardening, painting or whatever makes you feel good!

Here are some practical things we can do

Here are some things we can do to ease the stress and avoid digital fatigue:

  1. Structure your day and respect that workdays begin and workdays end. One easy thing you can do is to mark the beginning and end of your workday with a ritual, for instance simply getting “dressed up” for work and changing into casual clothing when finished.

  2. Avoid blurring work-life into your private life. A couple of simple tricks could be:

    a) have a working station that you only use when you work,

    b) make sure you shut down your computer screen when the workday is over. (You can always re-open it if you wish to use it for private matters like surfing, Zooming with friends, playing games, making payments, watching videos.)

  3. Do not over use video-calls: turn the video on only when truly necessary. If you do not need the video on, you can use your phone so you can move around or even sit outdoors to enjoy some sunshine and fresh air.

  4. Spend some time chit-chating and check into people's well-being before you get into the meeting's serious matter. This way you can truly connect, build or keep trust and reduce fatigue and stress.

  5. Behave as in a real conversation even when you are on video: do not stare at the screen all the time and do not feel like yo need to constantly smile ! Allow yourself to be natural: look away, grab a glass of water or a cup of coffee/tea.

  6. Schedule short breaks in between calls to allow for focus time, preparation or just simply a short rest to allow your mind to clear.

Loredana Sundberg Cerrato

Principal Project Manager-Speech Technology, Tech Operation Northern Europe Healthcare Division at Nuance

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