Video Conferencing and When to Avoid It

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Personally, I avoid video conferencing whenever I can. My wife does Zoom calls all day and is exhausted from it. I do one or two a week and hate them. Zoom has replaced meetings, but these digital replacements are not the same as meeting in the boardroom. You feel like you have to constantly look at your screen, maybe just making sure you don’t look weird.

When you are looking at the faces on the screen you aren’t looking at the camera, so you don’t have eye contact. It becomes a false image of truth. It keeps people from really being themselves because they are unable to make quality eye contact and establish that real connection.

As The Gambler taught us, “Know when to hold’em, know when to fold‘em.” Sometimes you need a Zoom call, but most of the time you probably don’t. An old school phone conference call, Slack message, chat, email, or text may be more appropriate; there are so many methods to communicate these days, but for some reason we’ve depended too much on Zoom in this season of COVID.

Part of this is because we want to see peoples’ faces; we want to read their expressions, because we think we’ll connect more from it. Often that’s true, but with Zoom? It’s often not. First of all, there is a mistaken perception that we are gifted at reading expressions. We all think we’re better than we actually are! Malcolm Gladwell wrote a whole book about how bad we are at reading other people’s faces, titled Talking with Strangers. The book explains that we have a way of reading the faces of others, but in many ways it is unique to us. Study after study shows we all interpret different expressions differently, and we all can be fooled by good liars or misunderstand sincere attempts at connection.

There are lots of other ways to connect with less misinterpretation. I put my bluetooth in my ear and walk around my office while I talk or listen with a team. This way, I’m not trapped in a chair with my back straight and face forward; I can simply listen and engage, and for me personally, I can be so much more present. That works for me.

Of course, some people love Zoom calls! You can’t talk over one another, you tend to wrap it up faster (which makes you more efficient), and there’s often less pressure. Some teams have worked better with Zoom than with a traditional meeting back at the office.

The real question is simply: what works for you? And what works for your team?

Part of being a great leader is meeting people where they are, not where you wish they were. If people are uncomfortable with Zoom, honor that. If it’s causing annoyance, anxiety, or confusion, why are you using it? Simpler may be better.