Does anyone else feel like a one-man call centre? Video calls have kept us working remotely in difficult times. They’ve allowed for complex discussions to happen across continents and time zones, and in some ways they represent a futuristic reality we once dreamed of. So why do we find video calls so exhausting, and what can we do about it?
We’ve all experienced the audio delay, the malfunctioning webcam, the child-shaped interruption or the face frozen at an unfortunate moment. While most of these issues seem to have gradually reduced over time, there’s still something about the whole experience that’s just… draining. What’s the difference between this and a real-life meeting?
Believe it or not, we’re quite easily distracted by our own face. Whether this is because we think of ourselves as exceedingly attractive, or we’re concerned by having spinach in our teeth from lunch isn’t important – we’re all guilty of this for a number of reasons. The camera gives a sense of performance, which inevitably induces anxiety and can be rather stressful for long periods.
Additionally, experts suggest that the lack of face-to-face contact means reading non-verbal cues, which include tone and pitch of voice, facial expressions and body language require more energy to pick up on. This disconnect means we can’t ease into a conversation as we usually would, and silences or delays feel more awkward.
Video quizzes may have seemed fun at first, but we all grew tired within a few weeks when we realised he platform just doesn’t allow for the kind of contact we thrive on. In an interview with the BBC, Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Insead, makes a very valid point about our social contexts, and how our previously existing associations have been disrupted by conducting all manner of calls in one place:
“Imagine if you go to a bar, and in the same bar you talk with your professors, meet your parents or date someone, isn’t it weird? That’s what we’re doing now.”
Quite. We’re all existing in our own ‘zones’, and we don’t have a chance to switch hats in the same way. Catch ups begin to feel as much like an obligation as a meeting because the experience feels very similar.
What can we do?
All the signs suggest limiting video calls to those which are completely necessary. Make sure you’re not filling your calendar with back-to-back calls which serve no clearly established purpose.
I’m a firm believer in using the appropriate technology for the desired outcome. Many meetings could be skipped and replaced with each participant sharing clear notes and documents over an instant messaging service, for example. Equally, I’m a big fan of walking while discussing ideas, as the movement helps me think more effectively. The added bonus may be 10 minutes outside, which we could all benefit from.
For those essential meetings, enabling camera should be optional, and there should be a company-wide understanding that video doesn’t need to be switched on throughout each call. If this isn’t possible, try turning off your own camera view. It’ll allow you to focus more on the conversation, giving you more capacity to engage and contribute.
In terms of social calls, why not remove the technology entirely and try writing a letter instead? In pandemic times we can all do with the personal touch.
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