Seemingly out of nowhere, Zoom became a staple part of life. Especially during lockdown, it was the only way to connect with others face-to-face (...ish). All of a sudden, everything from work meetings, to birthday parties, to exercise classes, and even house viewings were all happening via video call. There were of course the usual players - Skype, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet, but it was Zoom that really caught on. 

Certainly at first, it was a blessing - a portal that helped facilitate connections in a desperately strange time. It meant many were able to carry out a form of 'business as usual'.

A man blowing out birthday cake candles, alone, with an open laptop in front of him

In fact, many businesses are finding that it’s easier, safer and more efficient to carry on using Zoom even after lockdown. 

But what effect is this having on the way we work and interact?

Well… I’m sure you’ve heard of ‘Zoom fatigue’. Without a doubt, it’s real. Call it what you like, we’re all too familiar with the physical impact of staring at a screen for hours on end. Headaches, weirdly painful eye-sockets and a smidgen of back ache bunged in there for good measure.  

But there’s also the psychological exhaustion. It’s all very unfamiliar - trying to communicate without all the sensory input, non-verbal cues and background ambience we normally take for granted. A great deal of extra mental energy is required to stay engaged. Too much time spent on video calls and you can expect burnout.  

If we’re not careful, it can lead to misunderstandings. One study discovered that, when the signal is glitchy on a video call, we tend to perceive the person at the other end negatively. We automatically get frustrated at them, as though it were their fault. 

Plus, always seeing your own face in the corner of the screen is disorientating, and can make you feel overly self-conscious, flustered or distracted. How about realising mid-way through a work meeting that your underwear is drying in the background… Great, just great. 

Finally, I’ve noticed that in the west, we’re silence-phobic. When the conversation dips, we get awkward, and impulsively try to fill it. This problem is amplified on Zoom, in the absence of natural fleeting silences and general office chit chat. We need to ask ourselves, are we really present, really listening? Or just aimlessly filling in the gaps? This is especially the case in group meetings, in which we have to name the person we’d like to respond.

A frustrated girl on her laptop

At the end of the day, in spite of these challenges and peculiarities, it’s really not all doom and gloom. Ultimately, video calling is an incredibly powerful tool, and without it, we’d be a lot worse off. The key is to be aware, prepare and find what works for you.

We just need to keep in mind that everyone’s different, with varying vulnerabilities. So be sensitive, and be patient. Not everyone’s always ready to jump on Zoom and be energised and on the ball. It takes some getting used to!