Feeling sleepy during virtual meetings could be the result of not being stimulated enough or not feeling engaged in the work, researchers have found.

While previous studies suggested that online meeting fatigue could be attributed to mental overload, a new study has indicated otherwise.

Researchers from Aalto University in Finland measured the heart rates of 44 workers during almost 400 meetings – and the results surprised them.

Study lead Assistant Professor Niina Nurmi said: “I expected to find that people get stressed in remote meetings. But the result was the opposite – especially those who were not engaged in their work quickly became drowsy during remote meetings.”

The team worked with researchers at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, where studies of stress and recovery are conducted using heart rate monitors.

They shadowed each worker for two days, combining physiological methods with ethnographic research, to put the causes of human physiological responses under the spotlight.

Participants also completed a questionnaire to evaluate their attitude to, and engagement with, their work.

Assistant Professor Nurmi commented: “The format of a meeting had little effect on people who were highly engaged and enthusiastic about their work. They were able to stay active even during virtual meetings.

“On the other hand, workers whose work engagement was low and who were not very enthusiastic about their work found virtual meetings very tiring.”

The researchers also looked at the impact of multitasking, which is more likely to occur during online meetings because it is easier to stay focussed during face-to-face meetings as there are more cognitive cues.

Assistant Professor Nurmi explained: “Especially when cameras are off, the participant is left under-stimulated and may start to compensate by multitasking.”

This, she says, is difficult to do during an online meeting unless it involves a highly automated task such as walking.

“Walking and other automated activities can boost your energy levels and help you to concentrate on the meeting. But if you’re trying to focus on two things that require cognitive attention simultaneously, you can’t hear if something important is happening in the meeting. Alternatively, you have to constantly switch between tasks. It’s really taxing for the brain,” Assistant Professor Nurmi said.

The study has been published in Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

Get our free newsletters

Stay up to date with the latest news, research and breakthroughs.

You May Also Like

Conversation about doctors’ appointments occurring virtually rumbles on

More than half of GP appointments are still being delivered remotely in…

Twice daily dairy intakes could reduce type 2 diabetes risk

Eating cheese, yoghurt or eggs twice a day could help lower the…

Top diabetes professor drafts risk assessment document for frontline COVID-19 staff

The health and wellbeing of frontline NHS staff has been prioritised among…