In this crazy new environment that we find ourselves in, Zoom, Facetime and other video conferencing tools are go-to tools to communicate and connect. Spending the lion's share of your day staring at a computer screen at colleagues’ faces three feet away can be exhausting. Video meetings force you to focus more intently on conversations to absorb information. During a face-to-face meeting, you can pause or easily ask questions. On a video call, asking a question requires either using the chat feature or unmuting your microphone to interrupt the presenter or speaker.
Maintaining focus can be challenging, especially if you do not have a private space where you are working. The difficulty is compounded if your family is sheltering in place with you, and you are also responsible for homeschooling.
Video calls also require you to pay attention by staring directly at the camera. Requiring a constant gaze is uncomfortable and draining. When meeting face-to-face, you can turn your head to look out the window or to make eye contact with a coworker. On a video call if you turn your head, it looks like you are not paying attention. Plus, there is a window of yourself that brings to light every expression and facial feature and how they might be interpreted.
Making Video Calls More Manageable
Don’t multitask. Put your phone on silent mode, close tabs on your computer and avoid the temptation to check email or go online while on a call. There most likely is nothing that will come via email or other messaging that will command your immediate attention until after the call. Plus, the quality and effectiveness of your communication will likely be much better if you are not typing while trying to listen to someone speaking.
Give your eyes a break. If you are on a long video call, step away from the screen for several seconds. You can listen without staring directly at the camera. Looking away does not mean you begin to multitask. It’s an opportunity to rest your eyes. Also, if you are in charge of a video meeting, try to limit the time to no more than 45 or 50 minutes and, if possible, avoid consecutive video meetings without creating time to walk around the dining room table or grab another cup of coffee.
Hide yourself from view. Research shows that on video calls, most people focus on themselves. Try to limit distractions. If you are on a call with fellow team members, you will see different rooms in their homes. You may want to see the books on their shelf or china in their cabinets. These are distractions that take away from your ability to focus. Instead, encourage all team members to use a similar background or agree that if they are not talking, they should turn off their video.
Determine who is essential to be on the call. For those who are not, make participation optional. You can discourage participants from talking over one another by setting an agenda that identifies when each person is to speak. The agenda also establishes expectations for participants and lets them know their assigned roles.
Determine if email or phone can accomplish the same goals. For one-on-one meetings at the end of a day of video meetings, you may be able to achieve your desired goals through a regular phone call as opposed to a video call.
Determine if video is appropriate. In this time of sheltering in place, don’t automatically revert to video as a default. Conversations which generally would be held by phone should remain by phone. If someone sends a Zoom or Facetime link without a preset appointment, it’s okay to request a phone call instead.