What is virtual communication fatigue?

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Health Assured team

26 October 2020

Even when working in the office, we receive a huge amount of information on a daily basisBut at the very least, some of it is a little slower than the rest—human conversation, body language and even eye contact make communication natural and simple. 

With a larger percentage of the workforce working from home than ever before in 2020, though, an unpleasant phenomenon has become more common: virtual communication fatigue. 

Any repetitive task can fatigue us. Indeed, repetition fatigue is a well understood danger in manufacturing industry. But less understood—or at least, less acceptedis the idea that constant, detached communication can cause serious fatigue in employees. 

Talking with colleagues via video call is easy and convenient—at first. COVID-19, though, has meant that a lot of office workers are only able to speak with each other via video, or text-based chat clients. This is new to most, and is causing some unique stress. 

How does fatigue affect us? 

More than just tiredness, fatigue in all its forms can have serious effects, which if left untreated can lead to burnoutIf someone is feeling several of these effects, they may be fatigued: 

  • Difficulty carrying out simple tasks 
  • A severe lack of energy 
  • Lack of concentration 
  • Having trouble thinking, speaking, or making decisions 
  • Difficulty in remembering things 
  • Feeling breathless after only light activity 
  • Dizziness or a feeling of light-headedness 
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia) 
  • Loss of sex drive 
  • Feeling more emotional than usual 

While admittedly working eight hours a day in a noisy factory is more likely to lead to these than using remote communication tools at home, the danger is still there. And burnout—whatever the cause—can be catastrophic for mental health. 

How can I avoid communication fatigue? 

The easiest way? Back away from the information overload a little bit. 

It’s okay to streamline some meetings, and ask for postponements—especially if those meetings form part of a 9-5 block with no breaks. Try booking out some breaks every day, setting yourself to unavailable, and getting on with a little work without chat windows, call alerts and updates blinking away for your attention. 

If you can manage it, limit online meetings to 30 minutes or less, and have at least 15 minutes between them—if this isn’t possible, then a five-minute break in the middle of a meeting where everyone can get up, stretch, fill their water bottle and rest their eyes will go a long way. These breaks are proven to help with engagement—after all, the most productive meetings happen when there is full engagement. 

Weirdly, switching off your own video feed can help, due to a phenomenon known as constant gazing. If people only have their own feed visible to themselves while speaking, this phenomenon affects them much less. 

And, of course, limiting distractions will help. Closing down windows on other screens, muting audio from other apps and making sure your working area is clear, uncluttered and lacking in shiny toys will help you concentrate on the video calls you need to make.  

Health Assured are experts in guiding people through the pitfalls of burnout and fatigue. Call us today on 0844 892 2493 to talk about how we can assist you and your people with your remote work worries—we’re your healthy advantage. 

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