Zooming Away From Video Calls

Cameras May Cause Anxiety & Lost Production

By Sean Zucker –

The COVID-19 pandemic clearly forced a lot of change in America and across the world. For many people, work became, well, remote—something done at home not in an office. Just how this transition impacted workers, families and managers is still being examined. Ultimately, different people, companies and industries were probably all affected differently. One thing, however, that almost everyone involved in remote work had to confront was the widespread use of video calls and meetings, a tool that has become crucial to almost all industries.

The question now facing businesses and their employees is whether these calls are all that helpful. Perhaps, according to new research, flipping the off switch on video calls would be beneficial, despite their widespread use and popularity.

The study comes courtesy of the American Psychological Association (APA) by way of the University of Arizona. It initially aimed to determine the origin of reported increases in work related fatigue, particularly present during virtual meetings.

“Importantly, virtual meeting fatigue does not seem to be merely a function of time spent in meetings,” it noted before diving into some prior findings that suggests the issue may be in the cameras themselves.

“Specifically, we considered how camera use in virtual meetings indirectly relates to two aspects of meeting performance—voice and engagement. Our investigation helps expand the nomological network of this newly prevalent work phenomenon within a COVID-19 work world, as well as our understanding of how daily fatigue can affect meeting performance, which has generally been understudied in the organizational literature,” the Arizona team explained.

To get there, the researchers from the University of Arizona Eller College of Management conducted a four-week experiment. It involved simply removing the visual aspect of meetings, focusing only on audio. The results saw people freed up to stop concentrating on their own faces and how they looked, opening the opportunity for more concentration on the content of the meetings, according to the study’s authors.

“When people had cameras on or were told to keep cameras on, they reported more fatigue than their non-camera using counterparts,” said Allison Gabriel, one of the lead authors. “And that fatigue correlated to less voice and less engagement during meetings. So, in reality, those who had cameras on were potentially participating less than those not using cameras. This counters the conventional wisdom that cameras are required to be engaged in virtual meetings.”

One major issue appears to be general anxiety of presentation.

“There’s always this assumption that if you have your camera on during meetings, you are going to be more engaged,” Gabriel explained. “But there’s also a lot of self-presentation pressure associated with being on camera. Having a professional background and looking ready, or keeping children out of the room are among some of the pressures.”

It’s an issue that disproportionately affect women and newer employees, as they tend to be more vulnerable towards their social position in the workplace, according to Gabriel.

That’s not the only potential drawback of video conferences. WellWell, in fact, previously reported that excess exposure to computer screens leaves delicate tissues of the eyes vulnerable to potential damage. This can manifest as simply dry, irritated eyes or even blurred vision—none of which is likely to boost productivity.

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