A new study challenges the common belief that fatigue from virtual meetings stems from overloading demands. Instead, the research indicates that sleepiness during such meetings is associated with an underload of stimulation and boredom.
Virtual meetings have skyrocketed since the Covid-19 pandemic and have led to people feeling drained. A 2022 study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior Reports showed that increased use of videoconferencing platforms during the pandemic contributed to a higher level of fatigue. In the last three years, researchers have been exploring the underlying reasons for the reported tiredness.
To understand the cause of the exhaustion, the new study, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, measured heart rate variability during virtual meetings and face-to-face meetings, assessing different types of fatigue experiences among 44 knowledge workers across nearly 400 meetings, a press statement explained.
The study also included a questionnaire to record people’s general attitudes and work engagement. The findings showed that people who were not engaged in their work quickly felt drowsy during virtual meetings.
The results showed that the format of a meeting didn’t have a significant effect on people who were highly engaged and enthusiastic about their work. They could stay active even during virtual meetings. However, people whose work engagement was low and were not very enthusiastic about their work found virtual meetings very tiring, the statement elaborated.
For the participants, it was easier to maintain focus in face-to-face meetings, as the virtual ones have limited cognitive cues and sensory input. “Especially when cameras are off, the participant is left under-stimulated and may start to compensate by multitasking,” lead author Niina Nurmi said in the statement.
The findings also showed that while an appropriate level of stimulation is beneficial for the brain, multitasking during virtual meetings strains it. Only automated tasks, such as walking, can be done properly can help boost energy levels. However, if a person is trying to focus on two things that require cognitive attention simultaneously, they might miss out on important things communicated during the meeting.
Previous studies have suggested some ways to reduce fatigue. For instance, a 2021 study, by the American Psychological Association, suggested that videoconferences could be less exhausting if participants felt some sense of group belonging.