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Research Report: Zoom Fatigue and Distributor Engagement


A recent Herbalife announcement stated that distributors who started during Covid-19 did not meet historic trends for new distributors and that is the reason that Herbalife has dropped in sales in Q1 of 2022. One suggestion that Herbalife felt may be a catalyst for the new distributors is a return to in person meetings. I was surprised by this finding.

Obviously several reasons may account for the drop in sales from new distributors during Covid-19. New Covid distributors may lack entrepreneurship characteristics that their non-Covid distributors had. However, Herbalife may be right when they say that it is a lack of in person meetings is the reason for a lackluster result. One idea that keeps coming across my screen is zoom fatigue. Could it be that the heavy reliance on technology (and lack of in person meetings) has led to more stress associated with technology meetings? Another research study reported that salespeople that now rely on just zoom meetings, spend more money on possible buyers without a return on the ROI.

Make More Close-up Eye Contact

Zoom fatigue was identified early in the pandemic in Feb of 2021. This article gives a summary of what the Stanford researchers found.  Researchers identified four reasons why videoconferencing is more stressful than face-to-face meetings. First, they stated that we make more close-up eye contact in a zoom meeting. In general when we are in a live meeting we make eye contact with the speaker some of the time, not all of the time. We look out the window, take notes, look at others in the room. More importantly as the listener, we have very little eye contact. In zoom, everyone has close-up eye contact with everyone in the room. In essence our personal bubble is non-existent. Everyone is in our personal space. 

What can you do about that intense eye contact? The researchers suggest that you zoom out of the full-screen option to make the faces smaller. You can also use an external keyboard so you can sit farther away from the screen.

See Ourselves

The second reason videoconferencing can be stressful is that you see yourself as well as everyone else. In the face-to-face world, you do not see yourself. It would be ludicrous to have a mirror held up in front of us in a meeting. We know that looking at ourselves we are more critical of our own appearance than of other’s appearance.

The fix here is to hide the self-view. Once there is more than one person on the Zoom meeting you can hover over your picture and the three little dots shows a dropdown with hide self-view as an option. This allows others to see you (which can help you read nonverbal signals) and you not see yourself. You can also do a touch up your appearance and adjust for low light. Although those two features don’t get at the issue that we normally don’t look at ourselves as much as we do now that we are on zoom.  I tried doing the picture touch up and didn’t see any difference. I did find that turning off self helps me stop looking at myself.

Reduces Mobility

When we use In-person and audio phone calls, we move around. In a videoconference we tend to stay quite still so that we remain in the camera’s view. Some research suggests that movement increases cognitive ability. If we can get up and stretch our legs, we do better. We can rededicate to focused listening.

Again here, you might want to move your camera farther away from you to allow you more room for movement. You might make breaks a norm in your group where people can stretch their legs.

Increase in Cognitive Load

In regular face-to-face, we interpret nonverbal communication without much thought. However, in videoconferencing, we can only see the upper body. It is hard to show your nonverbal.  You have to nod your head more or give a thumbs up to show agreement. The nonverbal component takes more cognitive effort.

Again taking breaks from the video content can help reduce the burden. You might also want to look away from the screen altogether.Perhaps jut being aware of zoom fatigue can help you reduce the impact of videoconferencing.

I am not saying we should get rid of videoconferencing. Certainly distributors have always used new technology such as three-way calling. Research by Legalshield found that those who used Zoom did better. We also recently discussed how people like working from home. Certainly when we had no other choices, videoconferencing helped bridge the isolation gap.

It may be time to develop a hybrid approach to direct selling. Time will tell if having some online and some face-to-face will help retention. The future might also be that live events include an online component to keep more people engaged. Direct selling companies that were able to shift to online saw growth during the pandemic.  Now that companies are starting to see some slow down, it is time to reassess how we train and use online meetings. Zoom fatigue may be a reason that some people are having trouble selling and recruiting.

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