virtual meetings
A new study suggests virtual meetings affect our brain and heart health. Pexels

Scientists have warned against using virtual meeting platforms like Zoom and Google Meet beyond a normal limit.

Virtual communication has become an inseparable part of our lives in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies offering these video conferencing platforms like Google and Zoom Video Communications, which laid off 15 per cent of its staff earlier this year, have played vital roles in transforming how people work, learn and connect socially.

However, recent scientific studies have warned us of the potential negative effects of extended use of the abovementioned platforms on our mental and physical health.

How do virtual meetings take a toll on our health?

Researchers from the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria conducted a study, which highlights the impact of virtual meetings on the human brain and heart. The study has been published in Nature.

As per the study, video conferencing tools are more likely to make you feel extremely tired compared to face-to-face events. In October, a study conducted by a team of Austrian researchers measured the brain and heart activity of 35 university students, who were attending a 50-minute lecture, by attaching electrodes to their head and chest.

The purpose of the study was to explore videoconference fatigue (VCF) from a neurophysiological perspective and understand how it impacts the human brain. Based on the neurophysiological data, which involved scanning the brains and hearts of the students, revealed that those who participated in the 50-minute video conferencing session showed major changes in the nervous system.

The participants displayed increased brain activity, which is a sign of fatigue. Aside from this, the individuals exhibited reduced attention, which could be due to the intense cognitive demands of video conferencing.

Citing the changes in heart rate and variability measures, the study suggests video conferencing causes physiological strain on the heart. The students also claimed they felt drowsy, tired, fatigued and more fed up during videoconferencing compared to the face-to-face meetings. They reported their mood worsened as well.

The researchers argue it is imperative for people to understand how extensive video conferencing affects their brains and bodies. In fact, they encouraged people and organisations to replace video conferencing with other ways to communicate.

Rene Riedl, who is one of the study authors and professor at the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria said: "Based on our research results, we recommend a break after 30 minutes, because we found that with 50 minutes of videoconferencing, significant changes in physiological and subjective fatigue could be observed."

How to address these concerns?

Experts have recommended practical measures that companies and individuals should follow. These measures comprise both physical and mental aspects and promote well-being. According to experts, individuals should:

  • Take regular breaks.
  • Prevent eye strain by following the 20-20-20 rule. The rule suggests an individual should take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes when using digital screens.
  • It is important that your virtual meeting space is ergonomically designed for comfort. Alternatively, you can consider other settings such as a cafe or a coworking space.
  • You can manage stress by adopting mindfulness practices.
  • Switch to a hybrid communication model that strikes a perfect balance between virtual and in-person interactions.
  • Minimise screen time by setting realistic meeting durations.
  • Organisations should provide training and raise awareness about the potential health impacts of excessive video conferencing.

These measures can help individuals and organisations to develop a healthier and more sustainable virtual communication environment. It is also worth noting that it is unrealistic to expect individuals and organisations to abstain from the use of videoconferencing tools completely.

So it is safe to say that the future study of measures to reduce the fatigue and stress potential of videoconferencing will be important. In the meantime, companies are sparing no effort to improve their virtual meeting platforms. For instance, Google recently added a hand gesture detection feature on Google Meet.