Stanford University Professor Jeremy Bailenson joins the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss the impact of 'zoom fatigue' on the remote workforce.
SEANA SMITH: Let's talk Zoom fatigue. It may be a feeling that you have felt over the last several months. Well, there's a new Stanford study out that finds that Zoom meetings are actually causing more stress than in-person meetings. And we want to talk more about this with Jeremy Bailenson. He is the Stanford University Thomas More Storke professor of communication and also founding director of Stanford University's virtual human interaction lab.
Professor, it's great to have you on the program. A very interesting study that you just released and really bringing into focus this term that I think many of our viewers can probably relate to over the last several months when we talk about Zoom fatigue. I guess, my first question is, what's causing it? What's behind all the stress when it comes to Zoom?
JEREMY BAILENSON: Look, first of all, thank you for having me on. It's great to be with you. Zoom, first of all, is an amazing tool. It's kept us productive. It's kept us having some social lives. The software works all the time. And it's free. So before we go onto the fatigue, I do want to just say thank you to Zoom for making such great software. The challenge is the interface has features about it that do things that we don't do in the real world.
And what we've isolated is four main causes of Zoom fatigue, and I'll start with the first. The first one is about seeing yourself in the mirror all the time. So imagine in your physical place of work, somebody was following you around with a handheld mirror. And everyone you talk to, every decision you made, you were forced to look at a mirror image of yourself for the entire day. I mean, that's bonkers. Nobody would do this. Yet, on Zoom and other video platforms, the default setting is having the self view on.
And what psychological research as early on as the 1970s has shown is that when you're forced to see a mirror image of yourself or a real-time camera feed, that you actually scrutinize yourself and evaluate yourself, which leads to negative affect and stress. And so, the first problem with the interface is that it's causing us to look at a mirror all day long, and this is not good for our minds and our wellbeing.
ADAM SHAPIRO: I got to remind you, I used to work at Fox, so that mirror analogy, that was there years before Zoom. But forgive my bad humor.
JEREMY BAILENSON: You know--
ADAM SHAPIRO: What do we do with this information?
JEREMY BAILENSON: --people like to see-- when people look in dance studios, you know, they've got mirrors all around them. Some people have had--
ADAM SHAPIRO: What do we do with this information? Because we're not going to go back. I mean, I'm doing it right now. I can see myself, and I'm not picking my nose as much as I used to perhaps. But I can see myself. It gets boring.
JEREMY BAILENSON: Yeah, so the best piece of advice I can give to our viewers is, right-click your self image on Zoom. There's a function called Hide Self View. And what that does is others can still see you, but you're not forced to look at yourself. It's a really easy fix.
SEANA SMITH: Professor, have you spoken to Zoom all about these findings? Or have you had any conversation just in terms of whether or not they are aware of this issue?
JEREMY BAILENSON: I've had some preliminary conversations, but we haven't sat down to really talk it over. But I'm looking forward to that because, again, I agree with you. We are not going back to this 9:00 to 5:00 commute every single day for knowledge workers. And just a few fixes on the interface is going to make this flow a lot better.
And so, the second cause of Zoom fatigue is the extreme closeness of faces and eyes. And so I want you to think about being in an elevator. In an elevator, people are forced to get close by you. They have to violate your personal space. What do you do? You look down, or you look at your phone. Same thing for subway. Imagine you're riding a subway, and every single person on the subway car turned their bodies and stared at you for the entire subway ride, how uncomfortable you'd feel.
The default for Zoom is this grid. All the faces are staring at you. And if you really stop to think about that, if you're a listener in a meeting, no one's staring at you. What Zoom has done is effectively caused listeners to have the same anxiety of speech as speakers because your face is staring at you for the entire day long, even if you're not the center of the meeting. And this causes arousal, it causes the fight or flight reflex to kick in, and it causes us to have stress.
ADAM SHAPIRO: How much of this is just the invasion of the office into our homes? I mean, many of us work from home, but this now requires us to live at work. And that, in and of itself, is fatigue producing.
JEREMY BAILENSON: That is fatigue producing, but there's nothing I can do about that. So if you read this piece, you'll learn that I'm trying to come up with solutions. And I like the fact that we're not burning fossil fuel and flying all over the world for meetings. We're going to be forced to live in our home, so-- to work in our homes. So I am focusing on solutions.
So for the close up faces, with everybody staring at you, what viewers at home can do is if you go to the top right of your screen, there's a button with a square in it that will cause the Zoom window, instead of being full screen, it'll shrink down. And I've actually started taking all of my Zoom meetings by making the window be about one-eighth the side of the screen, instead of the whole screen. Now you don't have these huge faces staring at you.
SEANA SMITH: Is it affecting men and women the same? Are you seeing maybe one sex affected more than the other?
JEREMY BAILENSON: So there's a lot of research, especially on the viewing one's self image, that shows that this affects women more than it affects men. We are currently running three or four large studies. We're currently at about 10,000 users who have gone through our ZEF scale. So viewers, please go to your search engine, and type in the Stanford ZEF scale. Z-E-F. It's free. It's free for you to do. And you can do the Zoom questionnaire and see about your own Zoom fatigue.
And about the gender question, we are looking at the difference between men and women. And we're seeing some differences that I'm not prepared to talk about specifically yet. But there's a lot of reason to suspect that this is affecting women more than men.
SEANA SMITH: You certainly have given us a lot to think about this afternoon. Professor Jeremy Bailenson, thanks so much for giving us your time.