All Zoomed Out? The Pitfalls and Positives of Video Chat

Three months ago, video calls were simply a convenience for hosting meetings when you were away from the office. Only one or two people had to dial in, the rest were all gathered in the meeting room. Three months ago, most of us had never heard of Zoom or the like, let alone knew what a grid view was or why we need it to see everyone. Having to use a video call was a rarer occurrence, used on a ‘needs must’ basis.

Skip to the present and video calls have become ingrained into work culture, with no one in the meeting rooms and everyone dialling in from their respective home offices. People have had to adjust quickly from never using video, to using it daily to keep in touch with colleagues, clients, family and friends. This sudden change has taken considerable time to get used to and the warnings of ‘video chat fatigue’ have already started to set in. 

As more of us are finding out, there are no set rules for making a video call. The lack of formalities allow for ease of conversation, but there is nothing more frustrating than having to focus on not just two or three, but upwards of thirty people all trying to join in the conversation as the clinking of coffee cups, noisy children, nosy pets, and general background noises join the cacophony of people unintentionally talking over one another. We’ve all experienced those ‘sorry, you go first!’ moments as two people try to talk at the same time – followed by a polite, awkward silence before someone finally carries on the conversation.

Combined with the realisation that the image of the tired, messy-haired individual reflected in the right-hand corner is you, then you begin to understand how mentally draining it is to stay focused as you constantly check your appearance and behaviours while trying to remain attentive to the conversations playing out on your screen.

We know that these measures are necessary, but it does not make the changes to our lives any less noticeable. It is important to remind ourselves that there are positives to come out of this situation rather than focusing on the negatives we are being dealt.

Among the list of positives, firms are reporting an increase in productivity among staff working from home, establishing a greater level of trust between executives and employees to do their jobs without being micromanaged. Travel time and costs have been reduced, which is a relief for most of us, who now only have to venture out once, maybe twice a week if necessary. Not just business, but the social aspect is also helping everyone to stay connected at a time where we are at our most isolated.

Despite the drawbacks, there are ways we can improve our online communications and reduce the onset of video call burnout. This can include:

  • Varying communication – not every situation will require a video call. Emails, phone calls, instant messages and project management tools can convey information in less time than it takes to set up a video call. Sometimes a video call is needed, but not always.
  • Establishing a turn-based system – simply raising hands or only turning on your camera when you need to speak can ensure everyone gets heard - but not all at once!
  • Using the mute button – this helps to keep background noise to a minimum, just remember to turn it back on when you a responding to a question.
  • Maintaining a dress code – it helps to be comfortable in your own home, but keeping the routine of wearing your work clothes keeps you in that business mindset and helps meetings feel professional.
  • Ignoring backgrounds – pay no attention to the curtains behind the man! Keep backgrounds neutral as possible and keep your focus away from the cat or child sneaking into the frame. Also try to avoid using digital backgrounds during more formal meetings, as much as we all wish to be calling from the Seychelles or in front of the Eiffel Tower.
  • Keeping it simple – thirty minutes to one hour is all you need to keep meetings to the point and ensure everyone has their say.

Even in a remote setting, it is important to maintain some level of standard.

So are video calls the way forward – or will we be sick of them by the time the lockdown is lifted? With the government’s restrictions still in place for the foreseeable future, video calls will be a big part of our personal and professional lives for some time to come.

When we look back on the Covid-19 pandemic in the future, we will hopefully remember how well we coped, how we reached out to each other, and what we did to make the most of what we had. It will be interesting to see how much our working lives and practices are changed for good by these strange and challenging times.

About the author

Jessica joined RWA in 2018, having graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Film Studies. Prior to this, she worked in a photography studio as a wedding album editor and also attended work experience at a local library.

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