Stanford Research Explains and Helps Prevent Zoom Fatigue

Originally published at: Stanford Research Explains and Helps Prevent Zoom Fatigue - TidBITS

Do you find it tiring to spend a lot of time on video calls? You’re not alone—pretty much everyone does. A Stanford University researcher has now figured out exactly why… and what you can do about it.

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If it is permitted by your organization, consider not using video.

Where I work, we’ve been using Microsoft Teams for remote meetings for several years. We rarely turn on video. Most calls are audio only, with the presenter sharing his screen or a PowerPoint presentation. This allows us to focus on the content and not on personal appearances.

Of course, this may not always be permitted (e.g. a classroom environment), in which case, the tips presented in the article sounds like a great idea.

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I’m really looking forward to trying the tips from Stanford, though I’m lucky in that I don’t have to have that many video calls. That said, I think video is way overused. It’s obviously powerful and necessary in a lot of cases, but on many calls, particularly when the number of people is relatively low, the stream of primary importance is audio. Whenever I’m having an audio-only call, I pace, do mindless things like folding laundry or weeding the garden, or just watch the birds visiting the birdfeeder. All of which help me focus more on what’s being said.

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Bandwidth limits video on NASA Teams calls (NASA has banned, barred and disabled Zoom like many US federal agencies). Often attendees are asked to turn off video on Teams. On big calls with over 100 attendees, agency IT asks us to turn off agency VPN, saying that constrains bandwidth even more. This is a dire directive: normally we cannot log in to NASA servers without using VPN, and we must restart VPN if a connection exceeds 24 hours.

In light of this research, it may have been a good thing for bandwidth issues to decrease use of video in NASA Teams meetings.@ace Adam I’d be interested in your findings on using these tips from the Stanford research. Please keep communicating … as you’ve done so well for over 30 years.

P.S.
Welcome back, sponsor Rogue Amoeba. While I’m not an audio person, their tech has always been top capability and quality … a rare combo. Also I’ve always loved that their founder’s title is “CEO and Lackey”.

:partying_face:

EDIT: In fairness, I should say that bandwidth is a limiter for NASA because of all the people working from home with their variable quality internet connections. But I still think NASA’s servers bear responsibility as well – if an internet user can stream Netflix, shouldn’t that be enough to stream Teams or Zoom? The question is real: I would welcome responses.

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I love it when I hear that some MS product is being pushed for “security reasons”. :laughing:

At my wife’s work they like to act super paranoid about security (large medical device company handling lots of patient data → HIPPA). But half the company is using some ancient version of IE on the oldest Windows release they can still get updates for.

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Back in the olden days when I worked for GM/Opel we did a lot of phone conferences. Nobody ever asked about “phone conference fatigue”. There were only 2 rules:

  • Be always on mute so that yawning can’t be heard.
  • Be able to react to your name even when mostly asleep.
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Sounds like the skills my father tried to teach us to survive ‘polite’ company. Be able to:

Yawn with your mouth shut
Sleep with your eyes open

Avoiding video calls is the one good thing about having a really slow connection. Gee, I’d like to, but it’s simply not possible…

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It’s not quite comparable, since Teams or Zoom will require upstream bandwidth as well, whereas Netflix only needs downstream, and that’s usually a much larger pipe. I also don’t know how Teams would be provisioned for an organisation like NASA—would it be large enough to have an on-premises Teams server, or is it all really Microsoft’s cloud?

Of course, there’s an argument to made that NASA should be thinking hard about low-bandwidth communications given the distance to places like Mars. :slight_smile:

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NASA comprises Headquarters at Washington DC and 10 major field centers. Each field center, including Marshall Space Flight Center where I work, has its own infrastructure for Teams and many other server-based applications. This is so each center and headquarters is self-sufficient for “within center” major Teams meetings or other cloud-based and server-based functions. All infrastructure from field centers is rolled up to administrative oversight at NASA Headquarters itself.

Disclaimer: I am a major technology geek going back decades learning from Adam and Tonya Engst: therefore I understand a lot of issues. However I certainly do not speak for NASA in any official sense; I’m just sharing what I perceive based on what I’ve learned from capable IT people.

On low bandwidth applications, just look up what the communications capabilities were with the Apollo missions! I’ll bet you it was something like three baud. :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

Even today, the deep space network used by NASA among others operates on S band and Ka band frequencies. The transmission capability remains at analog modems, especially because signal quality decays as the square of distance between communications transceivers! I do not have numbers, but anyone who looks it up will laugh at them. This excludes satellite TV and internet because you’re not operating at interplanetary distances.

And remember that the power budget for a transceiver is even more stringent then communications. Top engineers at Goddard and JPL make good salaries for any given satellite or probe to balance power vs communications. Many such operate(d) with power a fraction of that of a standard lightbulb. Remember that in space, you’re physically limited in the small power sources you can bring with you.

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Microsoft’s Office365 business services (which Teams is a part of) may be hosted by Microsoft’s cloud servers, or they may be hosted by the customer’s corporate data center. I’ve worked at companies that chose to host their own instances of Microsoft’s servers (Exchange, SharePoint, etc.) and at companies that chose to use Microsoft’s cloud servers.

As a user, you shouldn’t notice a difference, because the Microsoft cloud URLs redirect to your corporate servers when you login using a corporate user ID, but this is of course, only theory. Server and network availability and capacity is never identical and they vary throughout the day.

I hope nobody is trying to conference in from Mars. :slight_smile:

The bandwidth may or may not be an issue, but the latency will kill you. Round-trip times between 8 and 48 minutes, depending on how the Earth and Mars orbits align.

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Microsoft has now done some research into what happens in your brain when doing too much videoconferencing. Hint: you get stressed out. :slight_smile: