Why do video conferencing drain us psychologically?
The coronavirus crisis has hit organizations hard. These have been forced to force telework, except in essential cases, to avoid the cessation of activity. This new format has sent thousands of Spaniards to their homes and has forced them to adapt a new workspace in their homes that has to be shared with the rest of the inhabitants of the house. And technology has come to the rescue, doing it so well that it is even feasible to hold meetings via videoconference, obtaining results, a priori, similar to those derived from a face-to-face meeting. Is this really so? Some experts are warning that the use of tools to hold video conferences increases the stress levels of the participants.
Complications of the absence of nonverbal communication
It would be tempting to think that a meeting held with a video camera may be the ideal substitute for a face-to-face meeting, but the truth is that the human body deciphers them in a completely different way, depending on the conclusions Gianpiero Petriglieri, professor at INSEAD and Marissa Shuffler, professor at Clemson University have reached them. These experts refer to the communication keys that are lost in a videoconference, such as the tone of voice, part of the facial expressions and the physical gestures. By not being so obvious in a video conference, the participant is forced to pay more attention and in the conclusion, especially if the meeting has many participants, it can be exhausting.
“Non-verbal language is the first ingredient in oral communication,” Yago de la Cierva, professor of People Management in Organizations at IESE, explains to EL PAÍS. “It is equivalent to more than two thirds of what you want to share: it gives you the interpretation and the meaning.” In a meeting held by videoconference it is very limited, and on the other hand, “we have two dimensions instead of three; and because we are usually sitting still and controlling the space is very important ”, according to this expert. The absence of this third dimension is what would ultimately trigger psychological overstrain.
“When one of the communication components is absent or limited -as is the case in videoconferences-, sender and receiver are forced to invest more attention and more effort to express themselves and understand each other correctly”, explains Ignacia Arruabarrena, Associate Professor of the Department of Social Psychology of the University of the Basque Country. This wear is worse “if there are more people involved in the videoconference,” according to Arruabarrena.
Awkward silences and the psychological fatigue of quarantine
But it would not be fair to attribute stress to videoconferencing, but rather the confinement itself produces apathy and also the change in the environment for those who telework. The obligation to be confined at home fosters “a state of profound distraction in which we all find ourselves in this pandemic,” according to De la Cierva. “We are restless, with a tremendous attention deficit that makes us flutter from one thing to another because we can’t concentrate.” This situation means that in the middle of a videoconference and in the respective homes the attendees tend to get lost by consulting their mobile or social networks. “In the end, we get less because we are distracted.”
Another circumstance that inevitably stresses videoconferences are silences: in a face-to-face meeting, these are managed naturally and without having to force anything; The same does not happen with meetings with a camera in front, in which only the faces of the participants are seen. Anyone who has attended a conference of these characteristics knows well that interventions do not flow naturally unless there is a moderator who gives the floor; the usual thing is to step on each other, or on the contrary, fill shifts with uncomfortable silences.
And if all this were not enough, videoconferences have another added difficulty that, paradoxically, should make things easier: audiovisual. “The television image needs manipulation to reflect the truth,” explains De la Cierva. “If we want to be natural we have to act a little; if we want our face to be normal, we have to put on makeup; if we want our voice to be heard better, we have to raise or lower the tone in a somewhat artificial way ”. All of this “requires effort that causes tension in those who are not used to it. Ultimately, we run out before ”.
Video conferencing is here to stay
They are not, of course, a new tool, but the unexpected emergence of tools for video meetings does not seem to be temporary. Among them, Zoom is reaping a large part of the prominence in the market, going from ten to 300 million daily participants in a few months (this month alone, the user base has grown by 50%). Derek Pando, the company’s head of Marketing, advocates good planning before calling a video conference: “A good rule of thumb before scheduling a meeting is to consider whether it’s worth the time you are going to invest: a quick email, a message a chat or a 30-second call can be enough to get your message across and it’s not as demanding as a meeting with a video call ”.
The manager also suggests, where possible, be strict in the use of locations. “If you connect with your friends or family in the kitchen, instead of at the desk where you work, you will create a more relaxed atmosphere and avoid the feeling that you are on another work call,” he explains. The success of these platforms has motivated giants like Facebook to hasten their entry into the market with Rooms, at first, and later allowing video calls of up to eight users on WhatsApp.