I’ve been delivering online synchronous training for over 10 years and working almost exclusively remote for the past 3 years. So why am I so exhausted at the end of every work-from-home day for the past 11 months? Other than my kids ALSO being home for the past 11 months, I can point to one other thing that is different - my webcam. Before last March, I didn’t even have a working external webcam. But for the past 11 months, nearly every meeting and training session I’ve been a part of has utilized my camera. And it’s wearing me out.
When I used to facilitate face to face, at any point I might make mutual eye contact with someone for only a few seconds. Engaging for more than a few seconds would be uncomfortable – and exhausting. In the physical classroom, we could stare out the window or look down at our notes without worrying that our peers or the facilitator will think we’re not paying attention because they could see we are physically present.
But in a virtual training, session participants often worry that the only way to demonstrate that they are paying attention is to stare directly into the camera, and this is a key reason for what is being called “Zoom Fatigue.” Staring into someone’s eyes at a distance of mere inches is normally a behavior reserved for close relationships, not your peers or an instructor. One study at Stanford showed that when people are exposed to large virtual faces, they flinch physically, creating a “fight or flight” response that could help explain why we’re so wiped out after a virtual training. Learners might be hesitant to move further away from the screen and risk being viewed as disengaged.
If you’re using webcams to track who is paying attention, you’re doing it wrong. That’s how my son’s fifth grade teacher keeps track of her kids on Google Meet, it’s not how we should be managing adult learners.The virtual classroom has multiple tools that we can use to monitor engagement that honors adult learners, and how they learn. Several tools also exist outside of the virtual platform that can be used to keep learners engaged. Dropbox Paper has the functionality I love to use in meetings and training sessions for accountability. Paper is designed for collaboration. Traditionally, one person in a meeting or training acts as the scribe and takes notes to share with everyone else.
- if everyone in a virtual meeting could have access to the same notes.
- if you left a training session with not only your own notes and commitments to put in place what you learned, but if you were accountable to your classmates for taking action on what you learned as well.
A collaborative tool – even one that exists outside of the virtual meeting platform like Dropbox Paper – can accomplish this. Wouldn’t that be far more likely to result in a behavior change from training than simply switching on a camera?
One of the most effective virtual trainings I was a part of in the past year had several panelists who all presented or took questions at different points in the training. Each panelist’s webcam was very purposefully pinned alongside the presentation when they were the focus. There was no “Brady Bunch” view of the 5 other panelists to distract my attention, or tax my brain, when they weren’t speaking. Our brains are constantly scanning not only the faces on the screen, but their backgrounds as well.
Just like we mute when we’re not speaking, we need to get comfortable with turning off webcams when it’s not purposeful to the learning at hand.