When Work Becomes Your Screen Test

At the end of 2019, Zoom had approximately 10.7 million active users.  And on April 22nd of this year, 300 million people used Zoom.  Not a bad growth rate.

And it’s likely your usage of Zoom / Webex / Teams has increased at a similar rate.  Back in December, maybe you used it just a bit.  These days, it’s likely several times a day.
And that’s the problem.
People are beginning to Zoom out, i.e., they’re beginnig to feel Zoom overload.

A Noble Idea
The idea behind web conference platforms such as Zoom is noble: Bring together people who otherwise can’t be together.
Got people in Vancouver, Des Moines, Nashville, Paris, and New York?  Not a problem.  Bring ’em together.
Got people next door, down the block, or in the town a mile away?  Not a problem.  Bring ’em together.

What seemed good at first (So good to see you!!  How are you all coping with this COVID-19 stuff??) is quickly becoming a frequent requirement of everyday work life.

Instead of back-to-back meetings in the conference room, we’re now having back-to-back meetings via Zoom, Webex, or Teams.  In fact many leaders now find themselves even busier because:
1)  It takes no time now to go from one meeting to the other (no longer is time needed to go to someone else’s office, a different conference room, a different floor, or even grab a cup of coffee in the break room along the way).
2)  It takes zero time to meet with those in London, then those in Nashville, then those in Boulder, and then those in Vancouver.  From one meeting, to the next, to the next, to the next, with a few clicks of the mouse.

And that’s becoming an issue.

Why?

Lights, Camera, Action
Well, in a “regular” meeting (you know, the ones we used to have in January), when you were in a meeting, you could listen, think, reflect, participate, etc. without always being in the spotlight.

Now, courtesy of Zoom and other platforms, assuming you’re using your webcam, you’re “on” all the time in the meeting, even if you’re not speaking.

And questions may abound:
How do I look?  Do I look interested?  Engaged?  Bored?  Too formal?  Too informal?
How’s my shirt, blouse, etc. look?
How’s my background?  Too messy?  Too orderly?  Should I remove that photo from our holidays?
Are the kids quiet?  Do they have enough homework to keep them busy for the next hour?
Where are the pets?
Are my nostrils really that big?

And that’s possibly before you say anything.

Then there’s the screen time.  We’ve replaced looking at our phones….or maybe I should say in addition to looking at our phones, we’re now literally staring at our screens.

Want a fun exercise?  Look at the face of someone who’s in a Zoom session.  And I don’t mean when you’re in the session with them.  I mean, if you have a family member or colleague in a Zoom session (and you’re not), look at their face.  You will certainly see that they are “on”.  I’m not saying they’re being phony (that’s for you to judge).  Just saying that they’re “on”.  They know they’re being viewed by others.

Then look at them after the Zoom session.  Before.  After.  You’ll see a difference.

I appreciate that leaders have bigger issues to deal with re COVID-19, but it’s time to be mindful of how much Zoom-ing we’re putting on our people.

Some Tips to Limit Zoom-out
Here are a few things you can do to limit Zoom-out in your company or organization:
1. Have an agenda.  Enough said.
2. Keep it short or at least short-ish.  I recently heard of a 2-hour Zoom meeting.  Try staring at your wall with an interested and engaged look on your face for 2 hours straight.
3. Don’t use Zoom to review it.  If it can be read in advance, send it in advance.  And ask people to read it in advance.  You can tell them you’re doing so to limit the amount of meeting time (just as we used to do in our “regular” meetings).  Just underscore they shouldn’t show up to the Zoom meeting if they haven’t read it and they’re not prepared (just as we used to do).
4. Engage your team.  Call people out.  In a nice way.  Solicit people’s input.  Just as we did back in the old days in January.
5. Tell your team they can relax.  Tell them they don’t need to always look at the camera or their screen.  They can look away.  And more than once.  Just as we did in the old days.
6. Consider having non-camera meetings every now and then so people don’t always have to be “on”.  If that gives you pause, why are you asking your people to keep their webcams on?  Some might suggest making the webcam optional at times, but that often ends up in, “Hey, Dave.  Why don’t you have your webcam on?  Not dressed yet?”  Better to give everyone a free pass.

It looks like we’ll be in this pandemic and its aftermath for a while.  So be deliberate and judicious with Zoom, Webex, and Teams.  Yes, they’re the new bright, shiny, fun objects we’ve learned to love.  But remember, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Be safe, stay healthy, and lead well.

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