Working Remotely During COVID-19? Be Aware of Zoom Burnout

In these unusual days of Covid-19, I am grateful that there is a technology that allows us to connect, check in and still be productive. However, as a long-time user of this technology, let me raise a few concerns that may be helpful for you to be aware of.

By Garth Williams, CBAC Associate Executive Minister and Director of Leadership Development

Over the last five years, I have worked primarily out of my home office with the occasional commute into our denominational offices for in-person real life meetings. Because of this, most of my meetings have been done online using Zoom, with the occasional FaceTime.

Those who have been used to engaging with people primarily face to face (like our pastors) are now engaging with people in a whole new online context, using apps like Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams. In these unusual days of COVID-19, I am grateful that there is a technology that allows us to connect, check in and still be productive. However, as a long-time user of this technology, let me raise a few concerns that may be helpful for you to be aware of.

If you are finding yourself more tired than before, welcome to Zoom burnout. It’s a real thing.

I first discovered that when I was in online meetings there was a temptation to think “This is great! I can get more meetings done in a day because I’m not wasting time driving or walking!”

Although that was true, I learned that those driving or walking breaks allowed my mind to decompress and rejuvenate. Back to back virtual meetings became exhausting because like an overworked hard drive it never stopped spinning.

The second thing I noticed was that I was more exhausted after a 45 minute online interaction than I was in a two-hour face to face session.

I discovered that as my brain was working harder to eliminate the virtual distance a screen makes, I wanted to “normalize” the interaction; and as my brain compensated to do this, it worked harder.

Thirdly, by now you realize that those times in your face to face meetings when you’d catch yourself checking email or shoe shopping were nothing in comparison to the distractions available to you while on Zoom calls.

Although there are a number of concerns about this item, I’ll stick to how it drains our energy. Have lots of apps or browser tabs open while on Zoom? This can actually increase resource usage on your computer and drains the batteries.

You may think that you’re being more productive, but you’re not—the more things open on the screen will deplete our energies much like leaving the radio and lights on in a car that isn’t running. The brain’s battery will drain faster.

In our current context, these learnings are compounded as the “stay at home” mandate has created new expectations.

Congregants have greater relational needs these days and have may more time to reach out to their pastors which creates a new level being on demand. Congregants now have more time to view the offerings of other local churches and are asking “Pastor why can’t we do the same as…”.

At the same time our pastors are directing their energy to the new learning how to use Facebook Live, Youtube and deciding whether they should sit or stand when preaching or teaching.

So now more than ever, we need to think about intentional boundaries. Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Set a maximum daily time amount to engage in online meetings, seminars or webinars and decline the other invitations.
  • If your meeting or conversation can be done by a phone call, take that option; it’s far less taxing then a video chat.
  • After a Zoom meeting take a 5-15-minute break, walk around your house, make a coffee/tea and find something to help decompress. I keep a fiction novel handy and read a few pages or a chapter. Be careful not to watch the news, check email or Facebook – those are not particularly healthy decompression activities.
  • Limit your distractions while on the meeting. If you are able to limit the number of meeting hours than you can delve into the distractions at a later time.
  • Be gracious to yourself. You are working harder than ever and you are more tired than ever.
  • Be gracious to yourself. Don’t measure yourself against others’ capacity or skillsets or video production. More than ever, it’s important to know who you are and stay true to yourself.

Recommended Reading

Zoom Burnout Is Real – Angela Lashbrook

Screen Time and the Brain – Debra Bradley Ruder (Harvard Medical School)


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