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Zoom fatigue is real and it’s costly

A viral pandemic swept the globe. More people started working from home. Everybody started using Zoom.

Wait, what? Why?

It turns out that using Zoom for all large meetings — or even medium-size meetings — is a terrible, horrible, counterproductive idea.

In theory, it’s great. Everybody can see and hear colleagues at once and you can have “face to face” meetings while everyone is working from their homes.

[ Related: Videoconferencing vendors meet demands with free versions ]

In practice, Zoom fatigue, combined with the amount of time all these Zoom meetings takes, is doing more harm than good.

Zoom fatigue — the feeling of being drained after Zoom meetings — is caused by a wide range of technological and psychological factors:

  • During video calls, latency varies, so conversations can be halting and awkward, causing crosstalk. Studies show that a delay makes others seems less friendly.
  • It may be stressful to see video of yourself while in a meeting.
  • The brain works overtime to make sense of video and audio that’s out of sync
  • Subconsciously, the brain perceives that everyone is looking at you. It’s like a meeting where everyone looks at you, even when other people are talking.
  • Video creates close to eye contact, but not actual eye contact, which can be anxiety-provoking.
  • Seeing many faces at once causes mental overload, because the brain devotes a huge amount of “processing power” to quickly recognize, read and watch a human face, and switching between dozens of faces for several hours a day is massively taxing on the brain.
  • Studies reveal that people focus less on content and more on whether they like a person, when they interact over video.
  • People tend to be less trusting and less understanding over video.
  • People feel pressure to keep eyes glued to the screen, instead of checking or writing notes and doing other natural things for processing information.

Zoom fatigue is real.

[ Related: 5 lessons companies should learn about working at home ]

Why are we doing this, anyway?

The number of daily Zoom users jumped from 10 million in December to over 300 million in April.

When most of this growth happened, Zoom was a slightly more specialized, slightly easier-to-use and significantly less secure platform for videoconferencing than alternatives, yet the herd mentality drove everyone to mindlessly use it.

I’ve been working “remotely” for 16 years, as have millions of people. Professionals who work in offices often meet every day with people who are not physically present. Large companies have multiple locations, and meetings between people in different locations is common. People meet with clients, partners, customers and service providors remotely all the time. This is nothing new. We have remote meetings for years without Zoom overuse and Zoom fatigue.

My working theory as to why we’re all using Zoom so much is this: People who don’t like remote work have been forced to do it, and they’re the ones driving Zoom usage.

Over time, the choice for who works in offices and who works remotely — who works at headquarters and who works in remote branch offices; who is accustomed to meeting with people in real life and who got used to meeting people remotely — is biased in favor of personality types.

In other words, in general and on average, the self-driven introspective introverts have pushed for remote or work-from-home status for themselves and largely got it. Many of us have sacrificed higher pay and status for the privilege to work from home or, as in my case, abroad and traveling.

The extroverts, the gut-feel leaders, the people who need to “read the room” in meetings and feel propelled by having co-workers around them have resisted remote work, and fought for the priveledge of working in the office and, if possible, at headquarters.

An equilibrium existed, where in general both office and remote workers were happy with their workplace status.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted this equilibrium, forcing the office work fans — including the bosses, managers, executives and leaders — to work remotely. They lunged at the thing that seemed like it could come closest to reproducing the benefits of working in an office — the face-to-face meetings, the non-verbal communication, the checking in on subordinates and all the rest.

Great in theory; counterproductive in practice.

OK, so what’s the alternative?

You can listen to podcasts for hours without fatigue or other problems, yet one hour on Zoom leaves you exhausted. Instead of Zoom, just do low-latency audio phone calls instead by default.

I think a good rule of thumb is to keep Zoom calls restricted to four people or fewer and 30 minutes or shorter. And even with four people, do email if you can, phone calls if you must and Zoom only if there’s some really good reason for it.

One problem with phone calls is that if you’re meeting with more than four people, it’s often not clear who’s talking. That’s why we need a way to have what are primarily voice calls where the speaker is identified.

One solution — which I think is a major part of the future of internet communication — is to embrace the avatar. An avatar is a fake version of you, which mimics your facial expressions and body language in real time, but is not a video of you. Avatars reduce latency, identify the speaker, simplify the visual information to process and remove the pressure of being on camera.

Another way to look at avatar-based “videoconferencing” is that it’s basically a conference call where the speaker is identified and the most basic non-verbal communication is conveyed. Also: You get to make eye contact with the avatar, which is less stressful.

A company called recently launched LoomieLive, which lets you create an avatar of yourself, which represents you in video conferences. It conveys your facial expressions in real time, but keeps looking at the “camera” while you get coffee and read your notes. LoomieLive works on Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, Webex, and Microsoft Teams.

There’s also evidence that Apple may embrace avatars for video conferencing. Apple’s WWDC announcement advertises their June 22 virtual conference by showing three Memoji characters sitting in front of MacBook laptops. Memoji’s are the branded avatars that Apple users currently enjoy via Apple Messages.

Normally this would mean nothing. But Apple has a reputation for advertising conferences with cryptic but meaningful symbolism. It would be uncharacteristic of Apple to show Memoji in front of laptops unless they were set to announce support for some version of that scenario.

It seems reasonable to predict that Apple will announce the following:

  1. Face ID for laptops (which could control avatars)
  2. Memoji support on laptops; and — given the Zoom craze
  3. Multi-user meetings that support Memoji

Apple, which is known to be working on augmented reality glasses, has patents that enable 3D avatars to sit around a virtual conference table. People can meet and speak to each other’s avatars, all while making “eye contact.” They call it a bionic virtual meeting room.”

Even Facebook is getting into the act. Facebook is rolling out cartoonish avatars for US users to use in Messenger and in Stories. (They were previously available in the other English speaking countries and Europe.) I think it’s only a matter of time before they add these to group messaging video conferencing.

The big picture is that Zoom overuse isn’t working. Zoom fatigue is killing productivity. It’s a good idea to recognize this at your organization and lead the charge against Zoom overuse. While people are working remotely, favor email, phone calls or avatar-based video calls. Keep all meetings to a minimum.

Let’s all stop feeding the Zoom beast and get back to work.

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How to Decrease Decision Fatigue and Increase Conversions

With so much of our lives spent trying to choose from oversized lists of options, why not make your website simpler? Here’s what you can do to reduce decision fatigue and make your website easier to say “yes” to.

It sort of feels like our lives are nothing more than an endless string of decision-making, doesn’t it? You go to the grocery store and half an aisle is dedicated to olive oil. Or cereal. Or yogurt. Then, you go home and your streaming services give you literally hundreds of options for horror movies. Or documentaries. Or TV shows. And it doesn’t get any better online.

Decision fatigue happens when you put your consumer in the position to choose from an over-abundance of options.

That said, decision fatigue isn’t some minor frustration caused by having too many awesome choices. It can do some major harm to your conversion rate. For instance: Hick’s Law states that with each new option you put before a user, the longer it will take them to process all of their choices

That’s the opposite of what you want to happen on a website. You want visitors to quickly explore, find exactly what they need, and convert. The longer you delay this, the lower your chances will be to convert them at all

Or, you might find that too many choices lead visitors to make poor buying decisions

This happens when there are too many similar-looking options or there’s an excess of information and the customer gives up. They know they need to buy something, so they make a hasty purchase just to “get it over with”. As a result, the company ends up having to deal with more returns and refunds because of unsatisfied customers. And they will cost you. 

Your website already has enough competition to contend with, so why create competition for your visitors’ attention internally?


What Web Designers Can Do to Reduce Design Fatigue

If you or your client want your website to convert, you really need to think about the ways you’re forcing them to stop and wonder: “Which one do I choose?”

Whether your website sells content, services, or products, less is always going to be more in terms of decision-making. And this isn’t about how many products you sell on a website. This is about how you frame every individual decision leading up to conversion. 

Here are some examples of where decision fatigue may take place and how to reduce friction there: 

1. Clear Up the Navigation

With smaller websites and more narrowly-focused businesses, you won’t have to worry about this too much. With big stores, however, the navigation can get you into a lot of trouble if you don’t organize it well.

Here’s what I mean: 


This is the website for ShopRite, a major grocery chain in the U.S.

While I understand that people may come to this website for a variety of purposes, it’s clearly set up as an online ordering system. If that’s your main priority, then the navigation should not be organized in this manner. 

“Shop Aisles” certainly belongs there. But do they need three menus to promote specials and coupons: “Weekly Circular”, “Online Promotions”, and “Save”? What about “Discover”, “Careers”, and “Recipes”? There’s a lot of extra noise here. 

If the data is telling you that the majority of customers come here to shop, give them what they want in a clear and simple fashion. Don’t make them read through other menu labels or click on them to figure out what something labeled “Discover” even means. 

2. Choose One Promotion

Promotional offers and discounts are a great way to entice new visitors to take the plunge and for returning visitors to buy again. But just because they can be effective in increasing sales doesn’t mean you can go overboard with it. 

For instance: 

Bed Bath Beyond

This is what the Bed, Bath & Beyond website looks like at the time of writing. Above the fold, there are promotions for: 

  • “Free shipping on orders over $39”
  • “Reserve online and free pick-up in store”
  • “Up to 50% off select Shark vacuums”
  • “Save $100 on the Artisan Stand Mixer”
  • “Up to 75% off deals for every home in your room”
  • And, depending on where you catch the slider, there are rotating offers there as well. 

Basically, the first impression they want anyone to have is: “Never pay full price with us!” and “We have so many deals, it’s going to be impossible to decide where to get started!”

Even if the offers your website advertises don’t conflict with one another, each one still requires visitors’ attention, which is a problem. When you offer something special, they’re going to take time to read it and make sure they’re not missing out on anything. 

To keep your design from distracting visitors from converting, only include one (or maybe two) promotions on a page.

3. Reduce the Number and Variety of CTAs

This typically isn’t a problem on internal pages of a website where the structure is simpler: 

  • This is the topic;
  • This is the call-to-action.

The home page, however, can be more complicated.

This is a section from the lower part of the Thrive digital agency website:

Thrive Agency

The home page, in general, is way too long. While it’s important to demonstrate authority and leverage customer testimonials when possible, this page is overkill. Then, when visitors get through the bravado, they stumble upon the call-to-action section above where they can: 

  • Get a free proposal;
  • Call someone;
  • Follow them on up to five social media platforms;
  • Contact them through the website;
  • Learn about how the agency gives back.
  • Read more customer reviews.

If you’ve already taken up that much time to convince visitors of your trustworthiness, then it’s time to give them one clear call-to-action. It’s up to you to decide what the priority is and then let the navigation provide other options if the primary CTA isn’t a good fit.

4. Show Only the Most Recent Content

Content marketing is an essential part of most websites. And while it might seem like a good idea to show off how much high-quality content is available all at once, too many options can trigger decision fatigue. 

Just like what happens with this example from the Convince & Convert website:

Convince and Convert

In just this screenshot, you can see six pieces of lookalike content, with four more poking up from the bottom. That’s ten headlines visitors have to read to determine which one or ones is worth clicking on.

You’d be better off using a recent posts slider where only one post shows at a time. Then, the “Blog” link in the navigation or the search bar at the top of the site can help them find more content if they’re interested in exploring.

5. Include Filters and Sort Functionality for Search Results

When it comes to online search, you don’t want to take a page out of Google’s book where the responsibility is on the users to type exactly what they’re looking for and to decide how far they want to dig into the search results pages (which usually isn’t far).

Give your visitors an easy way to filter and sort their search results so that the most relevant options present themselves and everything else is weeded out.

For example, this is the Patina Restaurant Group’s chain of restaurants from around the US:

Patina Restaurant Group

This page has dozens of dining options split up per location. It’s not a great approach to helping diners find the perfect place to eat with so much information being thrown at them.

That said, Patina Restaurant Group does have a solution for the problem. At the top of the page, there’s a custom search filter people can use to sort by location or by occasion:

Patina Filters

In this particular example, it takes the list of 13 Midtown restaurants I was looking at before, down to 2 options.

As you look for ways to narrow down search results for your own users, don’t be afraid to look outside the box and develop filters specific to the things they’re looking for.



I know it might seem like a good idea to give your visitors as many options as they want. It almost seems luxurious, right? But when you ask visitors to make too many decisions, you run the risk of creating friction that doesn’t need to be there.

To reduce decision fatigue, take a look at your website and identify those spots where users have to make a choice.

Do I stop and watch this video… or do I request a free consultation?

Do I look at the 24 phones available… or do I do a side-by-side comparison of the top 3 top-rated phones to see which ones have the features I need?

Do I buy the mattress I came here for… or do I spend 20 minutes reviewing the specs of the one that’s 50% off this week?

Your goal is to design a website that turns visitors into customers. But, more than that, your goal is to design a website that turns visitors into satisfied customers. Make the decision-making process simple and easy so that can happen.


Featured image via DepositPhotos.

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