Matthew Lawrence Christy
UXD/HCI Student / Game Designer

UX Research Methods: Do People Experience "Zoom Fatigue"?

Learning Quantitative/Qualitative Data, Data Collection Methodologies, Data Extraction and Coding, and Data Analysis.

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As a group we chose a research question and the appropriate research methods.

We wanted to focus on something current and relatable. In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the world leaned on teleconferencing to communicate. We wanted to learn if the usage of such teleconferencing applications had an affect on people after prolonged usage; a phenomenon called "Zoom fatigue."

Our Research Process

Defining a Potential Problem

The purpose of the study was to identify the prolonged effect of Zoom use on daily users and identify any potential usability issues a Zoom user might face while using the videoconferencing platform. 

Anticipated Finding

Prolonged Zoom use is associated with negative feelings. 

Tools

  • Survey Monkey (Diary)

  • Google Forms (Consent)

Team

  • 4 HCI/UXD Graduate Students

Methodologies

  • Diary Study

  • Post Diary Interview

Timeline

  • Overall: Two Weeks

  • Discovery: One Week

  • Data Analysis: Three Days

  • Compile and Present Findings: Four days

Research Execution
Google Forms was used to obtain Participant Consent.

Google Forms was used to obtain Participant Consent.

Consent

With any research study, obtaining participant consent is the first step. Participants should be aware of the purpose of the study, any risks, any incentives, and must also be given the opportunity to leave the study at any time.

Survey Monkey was used for participants' daily diaries.

Survey Monkey was used for participants' daily diaries.

The Daily Diaries

We chose only four questions because we wanted the diary to be easy to fill out. Participants were to fill them out at the end of the day for three days, and we did not want the diary to be an "extra burdensome action item" for them. We also thought it was essential to collect some initial data before finalizing our interview questions. Three of the Diary Study questions were answered with a series of Emoticon Responses and a single open-ended answer question. 

Open-ended interview: Body

Open-ended interview: Body

Post Diary Interviews

Each participant was asked to participate in a thirty minute interview after completing their three day diaries. The interview protocol was open-ended, allowing users to speak freely. It was comprised of four sections: Interview, warm-up, body, and cool-down. During the body of the interview, we relied on probing follow-up questions for the participants if responses were vague or unclear.

Data Analysis: What We Found Out

Diary entries revealed that participants mostly felt "🙂 - At Ease" before using Zoom on the first day and participants that recorded shorter hours of Zoom use (between 1-3 hours) on average felt "😁 - Cheerful" at the end of the day and even described their Zoom experience as "good" or "effective." However, participants the recorded longer hours of Zoom use (between 6-8 hours) on average felt "😞 - Tired" at the end of the day and described their Zoom experience as "exhausting" and "draining."

UX Research Methods: Do People Experience "Zoom Fatigue"?

Data Analysis: Other Insights

Here we highlighted some insights from the diary study that we synthesized from the facts above. On average, female participants in the study spent 4-6 hours more on Zoom than male participants, which could be because of their customer-facing roles in tech. Another key insight we discovered was that participants who reported a negative feeling the previous day reported the same feeling the following day before using Zoom.

Findings

1. In most cases, Zoom isn't the only teleconferencing software being used.

Most of the participants also use a mix of video conferencing technologies such as Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Google Meet, and Skype, which is primarily determined based on "application." One participant, an attorney in the Pacific Northwest, has to juggle multiple teleconferencing packages due to each jurisdiction (county, court, etc.) choosing to conduct matters on a specific platform:  

"Yes, so not all the court systems have adopted Zoom"… "They use it (Microsoft Teams) because it's cheap and free with Windows. Like that's what it comes down to, you can have unlimited calls or meetings…" 

Another participant utilizes different platforms based on need: Google Meetings for internal company meetings (on G-Suite), whereas they tend to use Zoom for more one-on-one communication or informal meetings with co-workers. The mixed usage of Zoom and other video conferencing packages aside, the interviews did yield some themes that could be associated with a phenomenon known as "Zoom Fatigue." In short, "Zoom Fatigue" is the physical or emotional (mental) exhaustion that a person may feel after video conferencing sessions.

2. Constant attention on awareness is emotionally exhausting.

One striking theme is that there is a level of stress about having a "perfect" session, causing participants to concentrate on a higher level of awareness regarding their surroundings. In reviewing the four participants' transcripts, they were very concerned with their backgrounds, ensuring they're on mute, ensuring their video is on or off when appropriate, and displaying the correct information on screen if sharing their screen. Two participants found it unsettling to have to look at themselves constantly. One participant had concerns regarding knowing if they were on mute or not, as they felt that it was not prominently displayed: 

"Yeah, I think just showing (mute status) on the screen, like somewhere a little more prominently, when it's up there all the time."... "Because otherwise, unless you move the cursor down and the taskbar shows up, you don't see it."

While another participant seems to be constantly worried if they're on mute or not:

"… I actually say I get so nervous. If I'm off mute, I always get so nervous I get like, I always think that I'm off mute when I'm not.

One of the participants' employers has even made it a point to give feedback regarding their employee's teleconferencing backgrounds:

"And I always am looking at my background because we've been chastised at work for not having a perfect background. So, you always have to, because we work with, I work with, like more executive-level people that are really particular."

One of our participants was more of a perfectionist and has developed their own "rig" using hardware, video production software (OBS), multiple cameras and microphones, and Zoom features to ensure their sessions are near flawless while being effective in communication, collaboration, and presentation in their specific line of work. Despite their advanced setup, they still have to remain present and conscious with their delivery: 

"...especially if I'm on or if I'm needed where people need to look at me in court. I have a very particular decorum. Like I'm drinking coffee in front of you right now, I would never do this in court."

What's interesting about this last quote is that the participant has to be aware of the comforts of their home while working over a Zoom session. Participants also found having to constantly look at or observe themselves during teleconferences was a contributing factor: 

"...my brain is so tired of monitoring myself. Like, that's something I never had to do is watch myself talking to people about really important things."

"...I find myself looking at myself all the time. Like I don't want to be doing something that's weird or wrong or goofy…"

This constant awareness and "perfect delivery" scenario introduce stress and fatigue. Having to constantly worry about video or audio status, knowing if the mic is on, if the correct screen is being shared, if the background is "good enough," and maintaining a level of decorum or appearance has to be at a higher focus than if the meeting was face-to-face. This focus, almost leading to possible paranoia, could potentially take away from attention to and quality of their work. This is speculation; more research for this specific scenario would need to be conducted to prove or disprove that hypothesis, but interesting to consider nevertheless. 

3. Being sedentary causes physical fatigue. 

All participants reported experiencing physical fatigue due to being sedentary and viewing a screen for long periods. While this is true for many professions, the action of not being able to get up and move and feeling tied to a desk can be exhausting for many. Typically, in-person meetings involve standing, moving, and pointing, especially during presentations. Even so, when meetings are done in-person, employees typically stand to go back to their work areas and have other opportunities to move about the office during the day. Below are some similar comments from participants regarding their physical activity during the day: 

"... it's physically tiring to just sit constantly with your legs, in the same position you can't really move much…"

"I think it's more of like a physical fatigue, just, you know, you like, a person can only spend so many times in so many hours in front of a screen."

"But sometimes I want to run because I haven't been physical all day, and I just need to get it out of my body."

"... you're like sitting on the same chair, and your back will definitely hurt after a certain time…"

One participant stated that a feature that might help combat this would be physical activity reminders, similar to how wearables (such as the Apple Watch) remind you to stand up or move around. Physical exhaustion wasn't the only common theme as emotional (mental) exhaustion occurred as well. 

Conclusion

Based on the interviews and the diary study conducted for this research, it can be concluded that the general sentiment about video teleconferencing and Zoom was positive. Zoom was able to efficiently help people with their daily meetings and tasks when remote work was required. However, prolonged use of Zoom seemed to have led to the phenomenon known as "Zoom Fatigue." Participants that spend an average of six to seven hours on Zoom daily were physically and emotionally fatigued. Participants that used it for an average of two to three hours found it less fatiguing. As previously stated, one participant suggested that maybe the inclusion of a feature that would send out reminders to go for a walk, take a break, have a meal, etc., after using Zoom for a specific time limit would help reduce the extent of exhaustion. This may be something to consider. It can also be concluded that the fatigue resulted from an increase in screen time and desk-bound work style as opposed to being fatigued by the actual application. While the application allowed working from anywhere, it restricted the nature of relationships amongst work colleagues.