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Only connect

31st March 2020

Not many of us will have got through the ten days or so of WFH, without doing a video call – either for work, or socially.

Last week I did a Zoom book group and a Zoom retirement party. I’ve heard of Zoom beer tastings and team drinks, family celebrations and Zoom yoga classes.

It’s odd being at once so connected and yet not. You can see and hear people easily enough, but it’s sometimes difficult to keep the chat flowing, especially if there’s a lot of people on the call.

Due to the sheer numbers of people using video conferencing in the last couple of weeks, the network sometimes struggles and sound quality can be patchy and the usual conversational cues (eg not speaking over each other) can be trickier to manage.

Inevitably one or two voices tend to dominate big group calls.

Our home now echoes with the sound of people speaking on different devices in various rooms and the tinny responses; my husband on work conference calls, my son on his X box, talking to friends.

I’ve found smaller calls, either one to one, or with no more than four participants, more enjoyable and easier.

A headset also makes a huge difference to sound quality though it doesn’t help you look more glamorous.

And there are all sorts of new things to fret about, from the lighting and the background to make up and wardrobe etiquette.

Is it always best to do your face, as you would if you were going (out) to work? Should you make sure you’re fully dressed (no PJs on the bottom half)?

But video calls are just one of the plethora of new demands on our time as we navigate WFH and social distancing.

WhatsApp groups for colleagues, teams, neighbours and friends have mushroomed, seemingly overnight. 

Then there’s Messenger and text and mobile calls, and Facebook and Twitter and emails and Instagram and the news to keep on top of.

It’s all a bit exhausting.

My phone tells me that my screen time is up 71% compared to the week before.

Personally, I’m looking forward to working from an office again in the not too distant future. And the background buzz of office chat over the desk dividers. Never again will I take my desk, my work chair and the physical company of colleagues, for granted.

WFH is fine – it’s manageable – but it’s harder I think, to be creative when you’re not together physically.

Those quick, informal chats, don’t happen.

But if there’s one good thing that’s come out of all this it’s that perhaps we’ve all realised that virtual meetings are almost as easy as the real thing, and certainly save on travel time and carbon emissions.

So in future, we may all do a lot more video conferencing from our offices – and business travel, whether by plane, train or car will increasingly be regarded as unnecessary.

This can only be a good thing for the climate emergency.

So while everyone really wants things to get ‘back to normal’ relatively soon, I hope the things we’ve learned about communication in the past few weeks will stay with us and become good habits in the future.