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Zoom launches Apps to make meetings more engaging—but experts say video fatigue could get worse

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With the launch of Zoom Apps, the video platform that's become synonymous with remote work (and pandemic life, for that matter) wants to help users chat, brainstorm, play games and even take a mid-day stretch all without having to leave the virtual meeting tool.

The newest features aim to improve the worst parts of a virtual meeting by making real-time collaboration more seamless. For example, users can use Asana to manage tasks, Dropbox Spaces to share files, Dot Collector to brainstorm or SurveyMonkey to poll the meeting room in real-time.

But the platform's expansion comes at a time when worker burnout is as high as ever during the pandemic, complicated by blurred work-life boundaries, meeting overload and, yes, Zoom fatigue.

Impact of Zoom fatigue

Jeremy Bailenson, a professor at Stanford University who's researched Zoom fatigue, says videoconferencing platforms like Zoom are designed "to allow various forms of exhaustion and fatigue — socially, emotionally, and physically," he told CNBC in May.

His research shows some of the main causes of this fatigue are excessive eye gaze, seeing yourself reflected back at you for many hours a day, being tethered to one physical location for extended periods of time and increased difficulty in interpreting non-verbal cues.

Some of these basic concerns aren't addressed and could in fact get worse with tools that keep users in the video app, says Scott Dust, an organizational behavior expert and a professor of management at Miami University in Ohio.

While Dust recognizes some advantages of providing a more integrated user experience, such as not having to click through several browser screens and ensuring everyone's seeing the same presentation at once, he tells CNBC Make It that 16 months into remote work during the pandemic, "employees have become accustomed to using applications outside of Zoom that allow them to collaborate in real time."

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He worries that some meeting hosts may extend or add meetings for the sake of trying out these new features, whether or not they're actually helpful to employees.

The outcome will ultimately depend on the organization's culture and approach to meetings, he says. As with any new workflow, leaders should integrate these tools thoughtfully and make sure they're actually improving the online collaboration experience for the majority of users.

Workday connection and wellness

Some of this week's Zoom Apps integrations are less focused on productivity and more on employee connection, like the party game Heads Up. Others, like WW and Wellness Coach, want to provide workers a break from marathon Zooming with stand and stretch push notifications, private one-on-one wellness coaching, daily meditation sessions and desk-friendly workouts.

Dust says these additional features can be good tools in the short-term to help employers better engage and support their employees. For example, organizations should be thinking about how to help colleagues interact when physical run-ins are no longer possible. A quick ice-breaker at the top of a meeting could be an easy way to do that. Meanwhile, micro-nudges to remind people to get up and move during the day could help people build more sustainable habits.

The bigger picture

But Dust's overarching concern is that organizations take the time to reexamine their culture and how they support their employees in the long-term. A video platform alone won't do that.

"What's more impactful is larger-scale changes in organizational culture," Dust says. One strategy he wants to see more organizations adopt is asynchronous video, where an individual or team can record talking points and share it for others to watch at a later time. Essentially, he says, an effective meeting doesn't have to mean everyone gathers at the same time and place to share information.

Ultimately, "employees really just need more autonomy," Dust adds, citing location flexibility, a more accommodating schedule, fewer work hours and "options to ensure they have better self-care, wellness, and work-family balance."

Check out: Workers could face new burnout symptoms when returning to the office—here’s how employers can help
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