Video calls have become critical to surviving the pandemic at work and in life. Zoom's exponential increase in users is but one example of the mainstay video calls now are in our lives. Daily users have grown from 10 million in December 2019 to over 300 million this month.

While video calls have made the adjustment to sheltering in place and working from home more bearable, many have quickly exhausted of them. Most assume that the "shallowness" of remote communication vis-à-vis in-person meetings is the cause, but the director of Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab believes the opposite is the case.

Jeremy Bailenson explains that Zoom and other video-conferencing applications cause you to experience non-verbal overload by turning meetings into long stretches of what researchers call "constant gaze." Constant gaze--when individuals looking directly into each other's eyes--is good for maintaining attention, but it makes you feel uncomfortable because you're not used to doing it for so long or with those you don't know well.

Video calls are undoubtedly important to doing business remotely, but you don't need to replace all in-person interactions with video calls. The following recommendations can help you reduce your time on Zoom and its peers if you and your colleagues are finding it exhausting:

Do meetings with these characteristics with only audio.

Video calls are particularly effective when you're trying to build relationships, solve complicated issues, or have interpersonally difficult conversations. In contrast, consider sticking with audio when meetings have some or more of the following characteristics:

  • The meeting is with individuals you already know well
  • Meeting topics are simple
  • The meeting doesn't involve any charged or emotional topics
  • You meet with this individual or individuals regularly

In larger meetings, only turn on the presenter's video.

In meetings with more than three people and more presentation than discussion, you don't need to see everyone's face the whole time. Consider encouraging those listening to turn off their videos. If presentations end and you transition to a discussion or question and answer segment, then you can turn everyone's videos back on. Be sure to confirm this approach with the presenters since they may find it helpful to see people's reactions to their presentations in real-time.

Do only introductions and closings on video.

Video calls help build relationships by connecting you to others' faces and surroundings. This helps prevent isolation among a remote workforce, but it doesn't mean that whole meetings need to be done via video. Even in the office, many meetings start with a short time for connection and end with some conversation about next steps. These can be good times to promote relationship-building while breaking from video during the core, middle part of the meeting.

Buy external cameras and position them further away.

Part of the challenge of Zoom and its peers is that they employ the cameras mounted on your laptop just inches from your face. You can back away from your computer during a call, but that may make it difficult for you to continue using your computer to take notes for example. Instead, you can purchase an external camera that plugs into your laptop and can be set up both further from your face and on an angle, so others aren't experiencing your constant gaze.

You and your teams may be perfectly content with the dramatic increase in video calls, but if you manage a team and you haven't already, it's worth checking. Team members may be experiencing discomfort or exhaustion without attributing it to the increase in video calls. In particular, you may want to check in privately with junior or minority members of the team because the discomfort caused by video calls may be more pronounced for them.

Video calls and other technologies have made it possible to shift rapidly to remote work, but you need to monitor the effect of the dramatic increase in their usage and adjust along the way. Here's one way to right-size the time you spend on video calls until more advanced technologies solve the challenge of constant gaze.