Eric, the president of the largest division in a global retail firm, was managing the daunting task of taking his organization virtual. The sudden shift brought on by a global pandemic meant many of his teams didn’t have the right technology to work at home. He was wrestling with health, labor, technical and ethical issues in keeping some but not all employees at work.

His coach set up a video call to talk through these challenges, and Eric balked. He didn’t even have a video camera on his own computer. The coach switched up to FaceTime so Eric could do the meeting on his mobile phone. At the end of a productive problem-solving conversation, with great emotion, Eric thanked the coach for making it a face-to-face conversation. “It made a huge difference, not only in what we got accomplished, but how I feel.”    

Why Are We So Bad at This Video Thing?!

As we move suddenly and without preparation to work at home, there are people who do this effortlessly, and others who see it as a logistical nightmare. Learning the art of the video meeting just doesn’t feel that important. It’s one more “to-do” on a list that is too long. Why should we bother?

Underlying that question is deep down, an admission. “I’ve never done it.” And how can you be great at something you’ve never done? Give yourself a break! 

It’s interesting that it’s 2020, and so many of us haven’t embraced video meetings for business. Many companies have invested in state-of-the-art technology. It’s on our computers, and in our conference rooms. The dirty little secret is those fancy conference room setups are gathering dust. You might have had a tutorial on setting up video meetings but that was six months and 2,314 meetings ago. And, there are no technical folks around to help. What do you do?

Cue the chorus: “Let’s just get on the phone.”  

“We Don’t Need to See Each Other, We Already Know Each Other!” and Other Excuses

Another excuse for defaulting to email or the phone is that we “already know each other.” It doesn’t feel important to be face-to-face, especially because it is kind of a hassle. Getting on the phone may seem like the superior solution, that is, until you dial in and everything goes jiggy.    

“Is everybody on?” “Let me text Drew.” “Daniel, you’re on mute.” “I’m sorry, go ahead Natalie.” “I think Azita was supposed to join us.” “Did everyone get the agenda?” “I’m not in front of my computer.” “Sorry I have an incoming call on my home phone.” “Okay we can’t wait for Drew, let’s get started.”  “Wait, I’m here.”

Another deterrent to video is the whole professional image thing. Dressing from the waist up, yes, it’s a little easier, but you still must get up out of bed, or off the couch, look in the mirror comb your hair, get some lipstick, and then actually look at yourself. “Wow, I didn’t realize I had such bags under my eyes.” “This sweatshirt is probably not the look I want to go for.” “I wonder if I should put on earrings.” “I’ve never let my team see me without makeup.”  (Here’s an article with tips on looking good for a video meeting.)

The mother of all excuses is the issue of multi-tasking. Video exposes that! “Probably not cool to boil water for pasta while talking with the boss.”  “Wonder if they’ll be able to tell I’m writing an email if I’ on mute.”  “Hope they don’t hear the slider squeak when I let the dog out.” 

Given the Hassle, Why Bother with Video?

Face-to-face communication is the gold standard in all communication, especially business. It’s why we get on a plane to fly to Asia for a meeting or drive into the city and spend lunch money to park in a garage for an hour. It’s why our companies spend big to set up customer events. It’s how business gets done. Since we don’t know how long we will be practicing social distancing and working virtually, let’s look a little more closely at research that answers the question, “why bother?”

Research on Why it Matters

It turns out that face to face, we are more persuasive. Researchers at Cornell and Western Universities had 45 participants each approach 10 strangers to complete a brief survey. All participants made the exact same request following the exact same script. However, half of the participants made their requests over email, while the other half asked face-to-face. Face-to-face requests were 34 times more successful.

Other studies have affirmed that the amount of relevant information we get face-to-face is exponential. Human beings are built to read and interpret non-verbal signals. We were hard-wired from the Neanderthal days to assess threat, to distinguish friend from foe, fight or flee. Without a visual, our brains struggle to process information, and that in and of itself becomes a huge distraction. We’re never certain on the phone whether that guy is really smiling because he likes the deal or turning to his colleague across the desk and holding up a big “thumbs down”.     

It’s Coming Anyway

Even when we are back together, there will be travel restrictions, reduced meeting budgets, and a reluctance to gather people together. Video will not replace in person meetings. However, it will inevitably become a greater part of our professional lives.            

Interestingly, virtual work has grown slowly. In 2015, 3.9 million U.S. people were working remotely. That only increased only to 4.7 million, or 3.4% of the population, in 2019. A smattering of companies in the US are 100% remote, most of them startups. However, half of Millennials say they would prefer to work remotely at least some of the time. This may be the moment in time when they, and other generations, get their wish.

Another driving factor that will move us toward virtual is that we’re just getting used to doing more things digitally and remotely. Even the most conservative of industries (think banking) have made the transition. We think nothing now of taking a picture of a check and making the deposit with our phones. As technology gets easier it will all be a way of life. For example, the pandemic will promote telemedicine. Online shopping will keep growing. All because it makes life easier. Video will never replace the in-person meeting. It will simply become an easy, viable option.

Let’s Figure This Out

The best way to connect for work is on a computer with a camera feature. If you have it, install any service like Zoom, Slack, Skype or others. If you can’t do that, like Eric, you can use applications on your mobile phone. 

If you have ever FaceTimed the grandchildren, or video chatted with a spouse to show the choices in the detergent aisle, you can use your phone in business to make the visual connection. The more you use it the easier it gets. Once you know where to click, click, click, it’s second nature.   

The case for video communication is being made now, whether we are ready or not. Embracing it is a mindset. Is it worth the effort? Yes, if you want to bridge social distance, make a stronger connection, read emotions reduce the clutter in your inbox and avoid the nightmare of the conference call.    

These are uncertain times. If you need someone in your corner, give us a call anytime. 

781-235-8239   info@bates-communications.com

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