‘Zoom fatigue’ hits as lack of human interaction causes loneliness and isolation

World conference later this year to dissect Covid-19’s impact on human interaction and mental health

A conference to be held in SA later this year will address how to deal with lack of human interactions during the Covid-19 pandemic
A conference to be held in SA later this year will address how to deal with lack of human interactions during the Covid-19 pandemic
Image: 123RF/fizkes

Lack of human interaction during the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about isolation and loneliness for many, particularly those who are working from home and staying at home to avoid public spaces and crowds.

It is against this backdrop that SA will, towards the end of this year, host a conference that will bring together world experts in the field of human and social interaction to address how humans, despite the restrictions of lockdowns, can find a meaningful way to interact with one another and how they can deal with their fears and insecurities during this time of uncertainty.

The conference will be hosted by Imago Africa, a community of Imago practitioners, in partnership with North West University and the Family and Marriage Society of SA (Famsa), will be held virtually between September 30 and October 3. It will be based around the science of human connections, which deals with how the natural and social sciences tell us who we are as human beings, what prevents individuals from relating to one another and how this interpersonal crisis of connection can lead to civic disengagement. 

There is also strong evidence that the loss of social connection and meaningful relationships can lead to serious mental health problems.

Key topics to be discussed at the conference include how to deal with interpersonal conflict in intimate relationships, integrating body, mind and relational connection, collective trauma and healing in post-apartheid SA and relational research methods and latest developments in relational dynamics.

One of the country’s business executives, Mark Barnes, has warned that the lack of human interactions during the pandemic and the fatigue of virtual meetings and working from home is starting to take a toll on many South Africa and is negatively affecting efficiency and productivity for some.

Barnes, founder of the investment firm Purple Group and former CEO of the SA Post Office, said with somewhat glacial progress in the vaccine rollout, citizens are having to do what they can to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

This means more virtual meetings and what many local and international experts and commentators are calling “Zoom fatigue”.

“It’s been one of the biggest gripes among employees in organisations across the world. In countries where most citizens have been vaccinated against the virus, the move back to the office is well on its way,” he said. 

Zoom fatigue is only one of the problems to come with working from home. Efficiency, productivity and social cues are also taking a hit.

Barnes said while working from home had many benefits, including not sitting in traffic daily, there are also several disadvantages, “notably that as social beings, people can no longer interact meaningfully”.

He said there is a definite shift in ways of working, including working longer hours.

“You’re constantly in demand and working longer hours than ever before. This is an invasive alternative to social interaction. We are in back-to-back meetings, there’s no time for lunch, no drinks after work or gathering for coffee.”

Barnes said it’s difficult to connect in the new virtual office space: “You can’t see social cues like hand gestures or read body language. These are all important critical parts of communication within organisations.

“Talking to a flat screen is nowhere near as interactive as seeing people in a room and getting a feel for the room one-on-one. The sum of screens is not the sum of individuals,” said Barnes, debunking the perception that employees showing up virtually “are as engaged as meeting and collaborating in person”.

Barnes was critical of the generalised view that technology is improving ways of working and positively enabling the new work from home trend.

“We think technology is making our lives easier but there is a two-way invasiveness about technology. We are not using technology: technology is using us.” 

While the hybrid model is often suggested as an option, he said there are challenges with this model too as offices are often deserted during the pandemic.

“The current quiet of the office is disarming and unsettling. People are in defined spaces, and we are aware of our space and the distance between us. Those things are not pleasant. We are naturally social beings. We like being with each other, shaking hands, kissing, saying howzit. We are missing that.”  

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