It’s been over a year and a half since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and the infamous coined ‘Zoom fatigue’ is a phenomenon circulating since April 2020 now.
Notably, Jeremy Bailenson published the first peer reviewed article deconstructing meeting fatigue from a psychological perspective. According to Bailenson, there are four primary reasons why we’re experiencing such meeting fatigue:
- Excessive amounts of close-up eye gaze
- Cognitive load
- Increased self-evaluation from staring at video of oneself
- Constraints on physical mobility
Amy Sandler writes, explaining his research: “In the study, Bailenson contrasts an in-person conference room experience, where direct eye contact is limited, with the Zoom experience, where we get direct views of other people non-stop, effectively being ‘smother(ed)…with eye gaze.’ He likens Zoom to being in a crowded subway car where you’re forced to stare at the person you’re standing right next to. (Grateful that Smell-O-Vision hasn’t taken off yet…) On top of that, you’ve got what feels like all the other subway riders turning their bodies towards you, so they’re not in your peripheral vision, like in a real room; they’re hanging out in a part of the subway car/your eyes that’s very sensitive to stimuli.”
Philip Rosedale elaborated as well last year on several problems that afflict those using videoconferencing and feeling the dreaded meeting fatigue. “At a high level, what we’ve learned is that although video communication is sometimes effective as an alternative to face-to-face, it is rarely satisfying and also fatiguing in large doses. And, it’s complicated. There are a number of overlapping problems, including the lack of the Cocktail Party Effect, issues with Bluetooth (that add a ton of latency, which also can cause unnatural conversations), people not using headphones, and more...
Now that we’ve summarized the obvious issues with videoconferencing, let’s discuss the most important part: Solutions. How can we combat meeting fatigue? And most importantly, what sort of platforms and software are already doing so?
How to Fight Meeting Fatigue Using Spatial Audio
Let’s look into the future of what our online worlds together might look like — sans meeting fatigue, finally. One thing is clear: Emphasizing the use of good audio instead of video makes a big difference (as you’ll see in research below), and there are platforms beginning to integrate it…
(Curious about what "spatial audio technology" is and what the general benefits are? Check out this article.)
1. Use Voice-Only Communication Instead of Videoconferencing
Firstly, check out a summary of these three peer-reviewed articles summarizing the benefits of voice-only communication instead of using video while in virtual meetings. For example, listeners are actually more accurate at gauging speakers’ emotions when using voice only, and audio-only interactions have higher synchrony and more collective intelligence (for clear definitions of those, check out the blog post).
Bailenson’s research supports this, too. He writes, "Part of the reason we're fatigued by all these Zoom meetings isn't just the presence of video, it is also the audio quality and how voices are delivered to our ears. Think about it: in the physical world, all the sounds we hear and process in our brain come from different locations in a 3D environment. When you're at a cocktail party, you can have multiple people talking at the same time and still understand what everyone is saying.” Ah, the ‘Cocktail Party Effect’ again that Rosedale mentioned in his ‘How to Treat Zoom Fatigue’ article last year.
2. Use Upcoming Virtual Event Platforms
“Virtual event platforms go beyond what videoconferencing software provides: They aim to create an actual experience — the feeling of what it’s like to be sincerely with people at in-person conferences.” There are virtual events platforms adding features now that even more closely mimic a real-life gathering, such as SpatialWeb integrating spatial audio. Check out a list of them here. Several of the components of meeting fatigue are addressed: No sustained eye contact, not constantly gazing at oneself, etc.
And how can audio help? Well — what is the single component that basically every virtual event will have? Yes, audio. Here’s an article that summarizes why the audio experience at virtual events being high quality is so important.
3. Try Proximity Chat Platforms
Proximity chat platforms are a great way to ‘move’ more naturally around a virtual space instead of being stuck in videoconferencing boxes, providing a good solution to combat meeting fatigue.
“The watercooler serendipity of chatting with others while getting a coffee, and then parting ways easily to move around the room and meeting another nearby person…” Proximity chat platforms are two-dimensional online spaces where each person (represented by an avatar) can move about freely. Yes, almost like at a “real” party.
Some proximity chats platforms are already incorporating spatial audio, too, to create a more immersive experience. Check out a list of them here.