Tuesday, October 27

Zoom and Gloom: The effects of screen fatigue and what to do about it

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Dawn DiPeri

by Dawn DiPeri

A curated list for higher-ed administrators. How to work from home – with breaks from the screen, exercises for the eyes and body, and tips for reducing the need for excessive online meetings. 

Since COVID-19 arrived, record numbers of higher-education administrators and staff working remotely have been inundated with web conferences, online meetings, and webinars using various online conferencing software such as Zoom, Google Meets, Google Hangouts, Facetime, Skype, Adobe Connect, GoToMeeting, Jitsi, and more. These are excellent tools that help us to keep in touch during a quarantine. But too many online meetings and too many hours in front of the screen can be detrimental to our mental and physical health. While we can’t escape our seemingly endless list of online meetings and lectures with giant heads, we can try to achieve a little bit of balance in our work.

This article will cover: 

  • The symptoms of screen fatigue 
  • Exercises for the eyes and body
  • Why online meetings are tiring and how to reduce them

 The symptoms of screen fatigue 

Screen fatigue is a medical diagnosis called asthenopia. Asthenopia occurs as a result of staring at a computer, tablet, or phone for extended periods of time. According to Santos-Longhurst (2018), screen fatigue has multiple symptoms including headaches, pain around the eyes, dry eye, blurry vision, tired or watery eyes, tiredness, difficulty keeping your eyes open or focused on the meeting, sensitivity to light, and even vertigo. Asthenopia has also been called digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome and can be exacerbated by reading digitally for extended periods, working in dim light, or excessive exposure to the kind of blue light emitted by screens. For some, excessive Zoom meetings leave them with an intense feeling of apathy and anxiety. How can anyone be productive if they are in a half a dozen online meetings a day? It is one thing to check in with your team, but another to force them to be micromanaged online all day. 

Exercises for the eyes, mind and body

We can lessen the effects of screen fatigue with some of the tips and suggestions below.

Check your lighting.

Are you working in dim light, in the dark, or under omnipresent fluorescent high hats? You can create a happy medium. Find out what works best for you. Placing a light source behind you, versus having light shining right into your eyes, can help increase the amount of time your eyes tolerate looking at a screen. 

Limit your time.

Use the built-in features on your phone to report, monitor, and limit your screen time. Apple IOS and Android phones track which apps you use most frequently and how long you are on your screen. With those details, you can make changes to limit exposure and work more efficiently. Perhaps you are spending too long commenting and scrolling through LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, which can result in more screen hours on-screen than desired. If your phone does not have these features, there are plenty of apps that do.

Apps like HeyFocus can help you increase productivity and keep you on track. According to the website, HeyFocus is a distraction-blocking program aimed to improve your productivity. It is based on the Pomodoro technique and allows you to work in 20-minute intervals while blocking all websites, pop-ups, alerts, and messages across multiple browsers and prevents certain apps from working. You can focus on one task at a time so you can finish that to-do list and have plenty of time to incorporate off-screen activities into your day.

Practice the 20-20-20 rule.

Try looking at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes for 20 seconds. Excessive time in front of a screen that is close to your face can cause screen fatigue. If you alternate looking at something up close and far away, you can help combat it (Marcin, 2017). Looking out the window or going for a quick walk can help. Remember to take care of your entire body. Regular exercise and proper sleep can help balance the number of hours we spend each week in web conferences. Consider a standing desk or sitting on an exercise ball. Be sure to stretch your arms, shoulders, fingers, and thumbs. Check out some of these simple ideas on how to combat the effects of being a desk jockey. According to Bellis (2016), we can improve our long day in meetings by making small ergonomic changes to our workstations and consistently perform simple stretches.

 Why online meetings are tiring 

During COVID-19, many people find that getting ready for online meetings can feel emotionally and physically exhausting. These feelings are driven by the pressure to keep the camera on, maintain eye contact, and find quiet distraction-free, uncluttered places to work in the midst of our sometimes-chaotic home lives. Meetings are important to connect with teams, share knowledge, and build rapport. Meeting rituals that were practiced in the office have been continued. But when the boss leans toward micromanaging,  online meetings can often multiply, which can add stress to teams, and lower morale.

There is a lot of talk lately about cognitive load and for good reason. We are in the midst of a pandemic and must be aware of the trauma employees continue to experience. Anxiety is high and many  people have or are  experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder in the past few months. Others struggle with the chaos of children and spouses at home. Workers have more on their mind and plate than ever before, and many are at their tipping point. Requiring staff to be online with cameras turned on multiple times a day is insensitive to the situation at hand. According to Sander & Bauman (2020), online meetings increase our cognitive load. We need to work harder to process non-verbal communication and to try to concentrate, simultaneously, while hoping there are no home distractions (i.e. barking dogs, noisy lawnmowers, honking horns, screaming kids). And sometimes our Zoom virtual backgrounds fail, revealing a cluttered room on the screen. 

There is no doubt that online meetings are here to stay. But we can control the negative effects by reducing meeting frequency and what times they are scheduled. Creating a shared, detailed agenda ahead of time using a Google doc can cut down on meeting length. Participants can comment or edit beforehand to make the meeting smoother and more efficient. Additionally, using a messaging platform like Slack can help reduce the need for meetings by allowing for team communication in real-time. Lastly, a quick touch-base phone call is often the best means to communicate. A call also reduces the stress of having to get dressed up, clear your calendar, and declutter your surroundings. The added benefit of being able to go for a walk and get away from the screen can make phone calls an appealing option. Zoom is a great tool. But just because we have all these bells and whistles doesn’t mean we need to use them. Trust your team, check in when needed, but do not require a cognitively burdened employee to be in back-to-back meetings all day.

 References

 Bellis, R. (2016). 5 Simple Exercises To Fix The Damage Your Desk Job Does. Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/3055658/5-simple-exercises-to-fix-the-damage-your-desk-job-does

 Santos-Longhurst, A. (2018). Asthenopia: Remedies for Tired Eyes, Fatigue, Strain, and More. Retrieved August 29, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/asthenopia#causes

 Marcin, A. (2017). 20-20-20 Rule: Does It Help Prevent Digital Eye Strain? Retrieved August 30, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/eye-health/20-20-20-rule#research

 Sander, L., & Bauman, O. (2020). Zoom fatigue is real – here’s why video calls are so draining. Retrieved August 31, 2020, from https://ideas.ted.com/zoom-fatigue-is-real-heres-why-video-calls-are-so-draining/


About the author

Dawn DiPeri

Dr. Dawn Lee DiPeri, MFA, DM has been teaching, writing, designing, and developing courses for the online, face-to-face, and hybrid modalities since 2012. She has taught courses ranging from graphic design, interpersonal communications, and new media. Dawn is a current and active researcher as well as co-owner of East End Advertising, which is a graphic and instructional design agency that specializes in the education, non-profit, and healthcare sectors. Dawn has written for academic journals, newspapers, and magazines mainly on the topics of education and workforce development.

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