How many hours are you on online calls in a day? For Brian and myself, two people with tech jobs, it can easily top 8 hours in a day. Zoom fatigue is now part of our everyday vocabulary. I’ll just use Zoom as a stand-in term for all online meeting tools. “WebEx In or WebEx Out” doesn’t have the same zing. My hypothesis is that Zoom calls exacerbate and amplify your existing emotions and sense of psychological safety. If you are already feeling unsafe, the lack of ability to read the room amplifies the lack of safety and drains you more. If you are among a like-hearted community, the cognitive load is lessened.
Several Fridays ago, I was on work-related Zoom calls for about 9 hours. I was lucky to have one meeting end early so that I had time to grab a pre-packaged salad from the fridge. I turned off my camera about every 5 minutes so that I could scarf down a mouthful of salad. Yes. Not ideal. When I meet with Brian, there is enough safety that I just say “I’m going to go on mute and eat. Your turn to talk.” Still not ideal, but I can eat at a more leisurely pace. Salads take a long time to eat!
I transitioned directly from those 9 hours of Zoom work calls to a highly engaging, interesting online meetup with Woody Zuill. For those of you that don’t know him, he has helped bring the concept of mob programming to Agilists. A bunch of people sit in front of a computer and solve problems. You can almost see the creativity of the group emerge in a cloud when a team of people mob. It is an amazing state of flow and energy.
Woody is a gifted story teller. He is down to earth and authentic.The artwork on most of his slides comes from his wife, an illustrator of children’s books. Spending time with him is like spending time with a thoughtful uncle who teaches via interesting anecdotes. Being on a Zoom call with him and 14 other people was no drain at all.
At 9:00 that Friday night, I realized that I had spent more than 12 hours on Zoom calls that day. But I ended the day energized and upbeat. What was going on?
First, I ended the day honoring my North Star. I spent the last hour and half of the day being a connector and a catalyst. I was connecting with some people I knew on the call, and others that I didn’t know. That is like walking into a candy story for a ‘connector’. Second, I was able to re-connect with Woody, whom I had met last year at a conference. Third, Woody is a craftsman. He has spent time to learning how use Zoom as a communication medium. He had tons of breakout rooms and no PowerPoint slides.
Fourth, I had the insight that I was missing my conference buddies. What is a conference buddy? Those people that you see once or twice a year (more if you are lucky), but you have an instant connection because you are living the same context, trying to solve the same problems and sharing the same mindset. You have interesting and nuanced conversation about things that would bore most of your friends and family. You may not agree on everything, but you have found your ‘like-hearted’ community. You are inspired.
Agile Best Self Principle #11: The best inspirations and insights emerge from like-hearted communities.
As a connector, my next step with an insight is to figure out what to do with the insight. Do I connect insight with action? Hmmmmmmmm, I’m missing my conference buddies, but I’m able to hop on tons of Zoom calls on a regular basis to connect with peeps all over the world. The natural outcome of those data points is to bring in some intention:
Agile Best Self Principle #6: The most effective way to be your best self is to be mindful and intentional.
It is a pretty small step to take action on this one. I set the intention to fill up my tank by seeking out more meetups and actively re-creating the fabulous and wonderful experiences I have at conferences. I see old friends and make new ones. Many of the best conversations I have had at conferences were at the conference venue’s hotel bar. It should not surprise anyone that the Zoom meeting I set up for tomorrow has a list of wonderful, insightful people I’ve met at conferences along the way. To mimic the hotel bar experience, invitees are explicitly invited to bring friends. I’m not a huge fan of bars, but I am a huge fan of large gatherings of people who want to chat and exchange ideas in a psychologically safe manner. I’m almost wondering if the online hotel bar experiment will be more fulfilling for those who are overwhelmed by much of the noise and chaos of a bar.
Whether you should Zoom In or Zoom Out is predicated on the concept of safety and context. Zooming Out refers to times when you can opt out of active online engagement – meetings where others can drive the conversation or where you don’t feel like sharing. Sometimes is is better to listen anyway. Zooming In refers to intentional times to use Zoom as a tool to connect, collaborate and meet some of the human interaction needs we all have. If you approach Zoom calls intentionally, you can end the day excited and energized.
Copyright © 2021 Michaele Gardner and Brian Hackerson