The pleasures and pitfalls of two months of video conferencing: It’s good, it’s bad. Anything could go wrong and will. It is confronting and very different.
Okay, its been two months of lockdown and I’ve been doing my best to keep work going. It’s been a non-stop carousel of staying at home, working at home, and going to an empty office, and returning back home again. A pattern that looks like it will continue for some time to come. Of course, I realise being able to retreat to the office is an opportunity not afforded to many. And a change of routine and business challenges is as bad as it has got so far. I do count my blessings.
Spending time in the office does feel like a luxury these days. It provides a welcome change of scene, and an obvious way of separating work and home life. Something that has been under pressure. But I must admit at other times it felt sad, lonely, and frustrating.
One salvation has been the time spent online in video calls. It genuinely is amazing to see colleagues, friends and clients on video. It is good for the soul, reminds me we are all in this together, and we can help each other with shared problems, ideas and plans. That said, I do miss the travelling, it gives me my thinking and creative time. I also crave the tangible human connection I have with real people, in real rooms, in real meetings.
I have written before about the advantages of this emerging technology and how it has yet to mature into what we need and deserve. Here I continue with the theme, with a personal reflection on my experiences so far.
Last time, I feared this reliance on video conferencing was here to stay. I felt reluctant about it. Two months on and I realise and accept it is becoming the long-term norm. This way of working is absolutely going to be a permanent feature of future working, training, meetings and communication. So, let’s make it work, but first let’s be honest about it. It is far from perfect, far from being the ideal solution, and whilst it has benefits it falls far short technologically, socially and professionally.
I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself recently having gained a foundation in Zoom and Teams. I had learned how to understand a conversation when in reality I had only heard every other word. Finally, the tech was feeling like it was something I could use, rather than it being in control of me. Then, can you believe it, a client asked to meet on Webex? Now, I’m okay with change, I thrive on bespoke, I value individuality. But could someone, somewhere decide what we should use and make sure everyone uses it, and can use it? I’ve found trying to get more than four clients together on the same platform to be almost impossible. Some can use Zoom, some can’t use Teams, others prefer Skype. And this isn’t even consistent within the same organisation. Consistency would help everyone.
I’m usually the organiser of the call, often the chairperson, or the main presenter, and having to do all of that and manage the IT is a big challenge. Well I think it is, for me, anyway. The worst bit is logging on early, to make sure the tech is working that day. On occasion finding it isn’t and having to deploy the back-up arrangements right at the last minute. And then waiting, in fear-and-dread that no one else is going to be able to make the tech work, or they just aren’t going to attend. Of course, they usually do. I guess it’s just like that half an hour before your party when your anxiety starts telling you no one is coming, because they don’t like you!
I admit I do like a well-run meeting. I make no apologies for that. One that has a clear aim and purpose, follows the rituals and routines of meetings, and starts and finishes on time. So, the beginning of video meetings is a stretch and a challenge for me. I have learned to allow for at least 10 minutes at the beginning to allow for tech, late arrivals, and un-chaired settling-in discussions before the meeting proper starts. It also gives everyone time to scrutinise each other’s backgrounds and settings, and what they reveal. Let’s be honest, we all do it. The learning here is, everyone should be aware of what chosen environments tell others on the call.
You will know I am a time enthusiast. And so, we must use the saved time to do more. But not more of the same. I want us to do the things we have previously found difficult to achieve, or what we want and should be doing. I am thinking of creative, team-focused, forward planning or innovative things, or simply tidy up! This way we can be proactive and better meet our natural preferred working styles.
Or maybe, to spend the saved time at the hairdressers or barbers. Because let’s face it, all this time I have spent looking at my image on screen has led to three conclusions. I miss my barber, and I have put on lockdown weight! Both things that need addressing in ways that lighting and a flattering camera angle cannot solve. I have also, like never before, been exposed to a mirror reflection of my own body language. Something we don’t usually see, and this has led me to learn more about my behaviour cues and leaks, and has helped make some improvements.
I have also learned that something that hasn’t happened before will undoubtedly happen and impact on the meeting. The list is endless: funny unexplained noises, loss of sound, loss of vision, fire alarms, beeping sounds, building work, door bells, deliveries, pets jumping up, children needing attention, and partners popping their heads around the door in various states of dress. I wonder what will happen on the next one?