The term “a new normal” is bandied about quite a bit nowadays. While it can make for some clever memes its actual meaning remains in flux. We are all adapting to new situations when it comes to our work environment. Not the least of which is in how we communicate with each other.
For example, the simple art of meetings has taken on a whole new form. Instead of slouching in our chairs around the conference room table we are slouching in our chairs around the kitchen table. This has changed both how we act and interact.
Have you noticed…
- The term “business casual” has taken on an entirely new meaning. While the more formal or traditional ways of dressing for success have been on the decline in recent years, it has taken a serious turn towards the casual over the last few months. How many of us would have thought that wearing a baseball caps during a meeting would have been met with a shrug? Or that sweatpants would have become our “go-to” attire? Sure, if the meeting involves a client we are likely to adopt a more business appropriate mode of dress…at least for what the camera can see.
- Speaking of which, how weird is it staring at your screen and having multiple conversations? Our co-workers can now scrutinize our living spaces. We actually have to think about what is in the background (and wonder what is on Fred’s bookshelf).
- The other strange part of camera communications is what we look at. We stare at the screen because that feels like the polite thing to do. However, our laptop camera is ever so slightly offset so it appears like we are looking away from the screen. So many times I have wanted to say: “Psst, I’m over here”. But that would be rude.
- And don’t get me started on distractions! We have all become much more tolerant about what out co-meeters (is that even a term?) have to deal with. The barking dog is met with a chuckle. The toddler who barges in is cute. Background noises or frozen screens are now just a part of the workday experience.
- The natural art of conversation flow has been cast aside. Trying to have a coherent back-and-forth on a twelve person Zoom meeting is all but impossible. How many times do you have to stop yourself and say: “No, you go”? We lack those subtle visual cues we get when we are in person that tell us when to speak and when to listen. Sure, raising your hand is a possible solution but that can get tedious.
- Speaking of visual cues…what are you looking at? In a formerly normal meeting we would gaze around the room, look at our note pads or just blankly stare ahead. Now, we are focused on everyone’s face. What a story that is! Have you ever noticed how much other people scratch their noses or play with their hair? It’s enough to make you feel self-conscious.
- Then there is the mute button and the “camera off” button. Only a few months ago, did you ever think the most common phrase you’d utter in a meeting is “you’re on mute”, or that you could actually sit in a meeting, close your eyes and take a nap, and no one would know because they can’t see you?
- Finally, the whole concept of time is becoming irrelevant. Besides needing a reminder of what day it is we are more accepting of when people show up. Some log in five minutes early, others wait until showtime and there are a select few that are just late or completely forgot the meeting time. None of this matters since we end up spending the first part of the meeting catching up because we crave human contact.
For years to come sociologists will be studying the effects of remote meetings on workplace productivity, morale, behavior and a host of other factors. But for now – we all just soldier on.
What changes have you made to your communication habits? Please share in the comment section below.