I survived two full training days on Zoom. From 09:30 to 17:30, minus one hour lunch break and minus some short additional breaks. This means about 6,5 hours (or a bit more) of active videoconference training. That’s a lot! At the time of writing this text, meaning two days following the training, my eyes still ache (I am actually writing this text whilst keeping my eyes closed most of the time) and I still have a dull headache that affects my capacity to focus, my level of energy and my inner drive. And this, even after taking a one day break from screens and devices.
Our brains are not made to hang on for so long in a video-conference space, or more to the point, a lengthy extended video-conference training does not make a good match with our learning needs.
Online learning professionals with a background in neurosciences advise scheduling a maximum 3,5 hours of online live training (whilst using a video-conference platform), vary the learning activities, including energizers, as often as possible, and paying special attention to well-being. However, this is not always possible.
Training providers that have been forced to move their courses from the classroom to a live online environment do not always have the resources or the capacity to split a one-day training into two half-days of training. Sometimes the trainers are simply not available and sometimes the participants are not available either. Rescheduling and re-planning can sometimes require extensive effort, especially in these uncertain times, and the prospect of avoiding it with a shift to an online environment seems attractive. Hence the dreadful decision to move the 8+ hour classroom training day to a videoconference platform comes along.
Zoom can drain you
The first full training day that I followed on Zoom during lockdown left me completely exhausted and severely impacted by cognitive fatigue. I was supposed to follow two days online, but in the morning of the second day of training I had to drop out. I was no longer able to continue, my concentration level was almost inexistent, I was no longer able to understand what was being said, I was unable to follow the conversation, I could barely find my words whenever I was supposed to say something, I could not think properly, I had a headache, my eyes ached, and I could no longer bear the « artificially » produced computer sound. Due to all these cognitive symptoms, my emotional state started to decline, which further affected my capacity to be truly present. I remember that I was in the middle of watching a coaching demonstration, struggling to pay attention to what was happening, when the coach asked the coachee the following question: « What do you need right now? ». And this question echoed inside me.
I remember that asking myself the same question: « What do I need right now? » and the answer came abruptly, like a voice that was screaming inside my head:
« Shut it down! Shut this Zoom, once and for all! You need silence! And time to rest and … lots of nature. Stop it, right now! ».
I listened to that voice. I dropped out from the video-conference, being torn between the desire to continue the course and my physical and cognitive inability to do so. And I know I made the best decision for that situation.
Zoom again: How did I cope?
I survived two full training days on Zoom and my levels of productivity, performance and well-being in the training were more or less satisfactory. I was not at my best, I was still being affected by the cognitive fatigue; I have completely missed one or two learning activities as I could not focus; but at least I managed to follow the two days of training, even if it was not in the most optimal way. Overall, I performed well in the group exercises and I felt a lot better than during my first full training day on Zoom.
How did I do it? By using a combination of things that were in my control and others that were in the control of the trainer/ training school. Let’s have a look at them.
Online Zoom training:
- Day 1: start 09:30 & end somewhere between 16:30 – 17:00
- Day 2: start 09:30 & end 17:30
- 1 hour lunch break + 2 x 10-15 minutes break
What helped me to better cope with the Zoom fatigue?
Things IN MY CONTROL:
- Before connecting to Zoom, I made sure I had a walk around my neighbourhood. Having a dog to walk is an extra incentive to move.
- To protect my eyes, I did not look at the screen all the time. I was already suffering from eye fatigue, so I apologised to my peers and trainer. On some occasions, I even switched off the camera, to remove the psychological pressure of “how do I look now/ what image of me is being transmitted and projected right now“.
- On a few occasions I literally closed my eyes and just used my sense of hearing
- On several occasions I cut the sound on my PC in order to rest my ears
- On both days I did eye exercises (moving my eyes in a circle/ zig-zag, spiral, etc) in order to support my sight
- I took extra mini-breaks whenever I felt the need. For instance, I really needed the toilet at one point, so I went. Before taking my break, I announced my peers via the chat that I needed a break, I switched off the camera, the microphone and the sound of the pc and off I went.
- I made sure that during the breaks I moved (walking in the house, stretches and squats and I avoided the use of screens – no phone, no TV, no social media)
- During the lunch break I cooked an easy meal and after lunch I went for a 10 minute brisk walk in my neighbourhood. During the walk I stopped a few times in order to do some deep breathing whilst keeping my eyes closed. I also paid attention to the trees and the leaves and I looked at the sky to rest my eyes.
- I applied peppermint essential oil to my forehead and my temples and I inhaled it a few times in order to feel more awake and boost my focus, and also to help me cope with the headache I was suffering from.
- I ensured I always had water to drink and I regularly drank mint tea. Our brain actually needs a lot of water to function optimally.
- I had he snacks during the mini-breaks that consisted of orange juice, nuts, honey and fruits such as kiwis and apples.
- On the first day I suffering from a massive headache, and beside the peppermint essential oil I also had to take some paracetamol.
- Because I felt tired on both days, in the morning I used three to four drops of « Black Spruce/ Picea Mariana » essential oil, diluted in some vegetable oil. I applied the mix on my back, above my kidneys in the region of the adrenal glands. I have been using essential oils for many years, nevertheless, should you want to try them, make sure you are not allergic to them, not breastfeeding and not epileptic. If in doubt, better get professional advice.
- In the evening, following the training, I avoided the use of devices (no computer, no phone, no tablet) and I did activities that relaxed me
- Following the training I respected my sleep ritual and went to bed at a fairly normal hour, so I could get enough sleep.
- After the two days of training, I chose to have a complete online detox. I only did activities that involved solely my body: cooking, walking, singing, and moving to a rhythm in order to balance the time spent online. A long one hour and a half walk in the forest was a blessing.
Things outside of my control that were in the trainer’s control:
- Several breaks were foreseen, pretty much every hour and a half, in order to help manage the level of energy. I would actually advise to have a break every hour, some breaks longer and some shorter.
- The first day was started with a grounding meditation and the second day was started with an exercise of cardiac coherence which alowed us to land and to ground.
- My peers were muting their microphone whenever they were not speaking and activating it only when they were speaking.
- Before giving the breaks, the trainer advised the participants to move as much as possible and to avoid checking the devices.
- During the breaks, the sound and video were switched off.
- Some of the self-reflecting exercises were done whilst having the camera and the microphone off.
- During the coaching demonstration exercise everyone muted the microphone and switched off their camera, in order to ensure some kind of level of privacy between the coach and the client.
Despite of all the tips and tricks above, consecutive full-day training days on Zoom and even extended video-conference meetings (meetings that last for hours) are not sustainable in the long term. The cognitive fatigue is not only experienced during and at the end of the online training/ online meeting, but also during the days following it. One can feel tired from a Zoom/video conference overuse, even one week after the online event. There is also an effect of accumulation, especially as all our meetings and gatherings (work, leisure and even sports) have now moved to video conferencing platforms or require a screen, meaning that even short spans of video conference or screen activity can add up to the already existing Zoom/video-conference fatigue.