Chances are, if you’re someone who began working at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, you’ve found yourself sitting on a Zoom video call when you didn’t want to be on camera.
People have been voicing their frustrations with video conferences on social media throughout the pandemic. Writer Roxane Gay tweeted, “I miss calls where I don’t need to show my face. It doesn’t need to be a Zoom. It just doesn’t.”
“Nothing makes me happier than hopping in a Zoom meeting and seeing everyone with their cameras off,” Twitter user @hnkwaku wrote.
There are even web tools, like Zoom Escaper, that allow users to self-sabotage their call, giving them the perfect excuse to leave their virtual meeting.
Melissa Dowd, a therapist at virtual mental health and primary care company PlushCare, says it’s normal for people to feel an “added pressure” to be in front of the camera throughout the day.
“Unlike in-person meetings where the focus might be on one speaker, during Zoom calls everyone is looking at everyone,” she says. “This can be intimidating for some people and cause social anxiety.”
One user, @mdb2, summed up how a lot of people are feeling: “Normalize letting people keep their camera off during zoom calls so that they can maintain one personal boundary while work invades our home lives,” the tweet read. It has garnered more than 140,000 likes.
Dr. Amy Nicole Baker, professor and assistant chair of psychology and sociology at the University of New Haven, says this blurring of work and home boundaries is one reason it’s important to disengage from video when you can.
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“People need time to disengage from work, it is healthy, it actually makes you more productive and actually improves worker well-being,” she says. “The assumption that we’re working from home on Zoom and we’re available any time encroaches on that ability to disengage, and I think that may be part of the reason we’re seeing such Zoom fatigue.”
The pressure for women to ‘be on’
For women, the pressure to look put together during video calls can be even greater, which can have lasting negative effects, experts say.
“Normalize women getting on Zoom calls and not having to apologize for the having the same disheveled, working-their-butts-off-from-home appearance that men do,” user @daniellamyoung tweeted.
Baker explains, “Generally speaking, women tend to be evaluated on their appearance in different ways than men are and one of those evaluations does center around norms for professional makeup in the workplace – that’s only heightened on being on Zoom because the camera is pretty much on your face and that’s all that you see.”
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The pressure to look good can lead people to look at – and critique – themselves during these meetings.
User @jamjamfong explained, “When I have my camera on during Zoom I am 1000% only looking at myself.”
“Just looked at my camera while on a Zoom call and scared myself (because) my eye bags are so awful, my heart is still racing,” user @maryhmcdaniel wrote.
Dowd says staring at ourselves for hours at a time can have a negative impact.
“We might find ourselves comparing how we look to others, or constantly checking to see how we look versus focusing on the topic of the Zoom meeting,” she says. “This might lead to feelings of anxiety, jealousy or sadness.”
‘The Zoom Boom’
Plastic surgeons say they’ve seen an increase in treatment requests for face and neck treatments during the pandemic.
Dr. Norman Rowe, a board certified plastic surgeon with Rowe Plastic Surgery, says he’s seen a “dramatic increase in men and women – of all ages, I might add – seeking to improve their Zoom appearance.”
This trend has been dubbed the “Zoom Boom.”
“Most patients specifically mentioned their Zoom appearance as the driving factor since they are basically looking in a mirror all day on video calls,” Rowe says, adding that some want to “feel better about their appearance during this difficult time.”
Rowe says patients have been looking for quick fixes for a range of things, including looking tired, nose size and complexion.
Dr. Gabriel Chiu, founder and plastic surgeon at Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery Inc., has also seen an increase in appointments. He believes more availability in people’s schedule for recovery time has contributed to the increase.
His patients’ most common Zoom-visible requests include treatments for bags or lines under the eyes, acne scars, wrinkle lines and large pores.
He also doesn’t see the trend changing anytime soon, saying he thinks it’s because video conferencing is “likely here to stay.”
This can be seen in workers wishing to continue remote work as well as new technology that could make virtual meetings even more life-like. ARHT Media, for example, has developed a HoloPresence technology that aims to beam someone’s presence directly in front of you.
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How to combat Zoom fatigue
Baker says “it is difficult” to disengage from Zooming, especially depending on the nature of your workplace and position.
“Some people won’t have the autonomy to do that, but for those of us that do have at least some autonomy… do set specific time to block that off in you calendar,” she advises. “Because it does matter the time to disconnect – especially for people who are introverted – to have break from being on.”
For managers, Baker suggests asking, “Does this really need to be on Zoom? Do we really need to have a meeting about this?” Dowd adds that managers can also consider making camera use optional and ending a few minutes early so people can have a break between meetings.
If you’re struggling with the blurred line of work and home, Dowd suggests setting boundaries.
“Using a virtual or blurred background, muting when not talking and scheduling Zoom calls around your personal schedule can be helpful ways to separate work and home spaces,” she says.
Anyone whose self-esteem is being impacted might find it helpful to hide the self-view to focus more on the speakers, Dowd suggests.
So should you turn your camera off? The short answer is, it depends.
Baker says it’s important to think about the nature of the work you’re doing.
“Does it require that you’re able to see each other or can you do the work you need to do and give other people that performance break?”
Dowd adds that it comes down to setting boundaries.
“Be intentional about your schedule for Zoom calls and if you plan to use your camera,” she says. “Take breaks. We often find ourselves in back-to-back Zoom meetings, which can be tiring and ultimately reduce our productivity because we might become burned out.”
That feeling you can’t name? It’s called emotional exhaustion.
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