Zoom is Like a New Lover – Thrilling and Idealized

We are so fortunate that we can stay connected via video conferencing these days. This unprecedented time of social distancing would be so much more difficult without this medium. Despite the enormous disaster of COVID-19, for many of us, some semblance of our daily lives has been able to continue.

Via video, we are able to connect with our teams, customers, and clients as well as friends and family, and even our personal trainers, yoga instructors; and if need be, our physicians, veterinarians, and therapists in a way that we would never have considered before. 

We all know that life will not return to what we experienced as “normal” in the past. This disruption will reverberate into the future and our cultural norms may be forever changed. (It is likely to be a long time before shaking hands or hugging will be an acceptable form of greeting.) Some leaders will continue to have teams work remotely and connect with international stakeholders without the inconvenience and expense of travel.

All that said, we need to be cautious about becoming too enamored with using this medium and recognize some of its limitations. All those video calls might not be adding as much value as we think and in fact may be diminishing some communication. Why is this?

  • Watching someone’s face on a video conference lacks the body language aspect of communication. We cannot see someone lean back, cross their arms, bounce their leg or breathe deeply. When they look away, we can’t tell if it’s because their cat just jumped on their desk or if they’ve lost interest in the conversation. When they look down, are they taking notes or playing Angry Birds on their phone?
  • Some research shows that our ability to pick up on emotional nuances actually diminishes when video is added to audio communication! That’s right, diminishes!  The sight of the other person’s face (never mind looking to see what their home office looks like, or let’s admit it, checking out how we look on video) distracts us from what he or she is saying. We miss details and changes in voice/tone that can be crucial to understanding. 
  • We may experience a phenomenon well known in the deaf community called” visual fatigue.” This occurs when a person who has to rely exclusively on vision for communication is depleted when having to do it for hours. My colleagues who are therapists are talking about how exhausting it is to do therapy on video. There is no true eye contact and connecting takes extra energy.
  • We lose a lot when our connections are all based on scheduled meetings. So often the most valuable conversations take place spontaneously when we bump into each other in the hallway or drop by someone’s office after hours.

So as we live through these times and think about how we want to work and live in the future, here are some recommendations: 

  • Use the telephone instead of video sometimes, especially when wanting to connect one on one.
  • Allow 10 – 15 minutes between meetings and don’t use that time to check your e-mail! Walk around the room, stretch, get a drink of water.
  • Keep each video conference to no more than an hour. During that time check in frequently with folks to see if they are engaged, following the content, etc.; take their emotional temperature.
  • Meetings whether virtual or in-person should be for discussion, exchanging ideas, and collaboration. As with any meeting, video conferences should not be used to simply report in. It’s better to report using email. 
  • When life resumes with our ‘new normal’, make sure you meet face to face. There is no substitute that fully meets our human need to be near each other in the flesh.

Right now we are in love with video conferencing and enamored with its many benefits, but we need to be careful not to idealize its benefits such that it replaces our other meaningful ways to communicate and connect with each other.

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