Whether you’re trying to bail on your fifth video happy hour of the week or analyzing your boss’ décor on a company-wide conference, most of us have reached peak video chat fatigue.
On social media, many people have been documenting the cringe-worthy moments of our new on-screen lives.
(Zoom did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It’s request for comment.)
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, video chatting can be very valuable when done right, James Jarc, assistant professor at Central Ohio Technical College who specializes in digital media and public speaking, tells CNBC Make It. “That’s one of the biggest problems is that not everybody does it well.”
So, why is video chatting so painful sometimes? Here, communication experts explain how to make the experience better for everyone:
‘There’s a reason why workplaces aren’t filled with mirrors’
Staring at yourself while you talk to other people on a video call is a bizarre sensation, or at the very least can be distracting.
“There’s a reason why workplaces aren’t filled with mirrors,” Gretchen McCulloch, internet linguist and author of “Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language,” tells CNBC Make It. “It would be weird.”
You might find that you’re tempted to make exaggerated expressions or nod to show that you’re paying attention or make up for the fact that you can’t reply in the moment, Jarc says. It takes a lot of energy to deliberately react, which is why video chatting can often feel exhausting, he adds.
“The way that we engage in space communicates a ton about our intentions, our relationships and even our values,” he says. “With video chat, all of that stuff really gets flattened, it gets diluted and often times it gets missed completely.”
Solution: If you can’t stop staring at yourself, cover that area of your screen with a sticky note, McCulloch says. (Some platforms allow you to hide your own video, too.) Or do something with your hands to distract you from paying too much attention to your screen, she says. Take notes, or if it’s a more informal call, you can video chat while you prepare dinner or do another task.
Multiple people can’t talk at once
“One of the things that video chat is really not good at is having multiple conversations going on at once, McCulloch says. Humans naturally tend to segment or have sidebar conversations in a group, she says. “With video chat it’s just not technologically possible,” she says.
Video lags and poor sound quality also make it harder to interject, which is an important part of the communication cycle, Jarc says. For these reasons, it’s important to speak slower than you normally would in real life, to allow people to speak up if they have follow-up questions or comments, he says.
Solution: Large group discussions need some structure. For example, McCulloch suggests having one person who’s responsible for fielding questions and moderating the meeting. If your video platform also has a text “chat” feature, you should use it to avoid awkward interruptions, share information or ask questions. You may want to set up time for smaller break-out chats after a big meeting so people can regroup, she says.
Backdrops can be revealing
There’s a certain voyeurism involved in video chatting, and ogling at people’s home backdrops can be a fun distraction. “Sometimes we want that intimacy,” McCulloch says. If you’re video chatting with your far-flung family members, for instance, you may want to host the call in your living room.
But video chatting also blurs the lines between our social contexts, which can be uncomfortable, Jarc says. Ordinarily we like to compartmentalize our work selves and our home lives. But with video conferences, “you’re inviting your work friends into your home,” he says. “So, there’s a really weird juxtaposition of personal and professional with that.”
Solution: The blanker the backdrop, the better. For people who are sharing spaces with their families who are all working from home, this can be a challenge. But setting a clear space where you take work calls can “do wonders” for your ability to focus and engage with people on the call, Jarc says. Some platforms give you the option to set a virtual background, which might be your best option.
Sometimes meetings can be calls or emails
Lots of people are defaulting to video chats as we figure out how to handle the new normal amid Covid-19. “Are we just forcing people to do this video call because it’s sort of the fad thing that everybody is doing?” Jarc says.
But just because you can video chat doesn’t mean you should. There are a lot of appealing features that come with video chatting that aren’t inherent to the video, such as allowing multiple parties to dial in and the ability to make international calls, McCulloch says. “People sometimes go right to video chat because they’re looking for the other features,” McCulloch says.
Solution: If someone asks for a video chat that you think could be accomplished with a phone call, or a few well-placed prompts in an email, suggest an alternative, Jarc says. “I would challenge business leaders and managers to be purposeful in the way that they choose these tools, and then subsequently use them deliberately to set their teams up for success,” he says.
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