I really do hate to add my voice to the old farts and workaholic CEOs who think people have to go back to the office.
I want you to be commute and dress-code free, like me!
But if are going to try to maintain our professional networks over Zoom, we have to start behaving better on Zoom meetings. Because the way many of us are behaving now, is unconscionable.
Here’s how most Zoom meetings of more than three or four people go these days:
The convener talks at the beginning, and everyone listens politely, when they show up on time.
Then the convener calls on someone to talk, or asks a question, and someone starts talking. And everyone else starts checking their email, shamelessly.
Then someone else starts talking, and the person who was just talking realizes with alarm that she or he hasn’t check email, the whole time he or she was talking! And so that’s what he or she does.
So that, an hour later, the entire meeting has been: People taking turns talking, while everyone not talking checks emails, or answers them.
The email checkers think they are getting away with this, because they’re only checking for a minute—just “multitasking.” And because everyone else is probably listening. But everyone else isn’t.
And the whole communication kabuki is accepted, because we are all so busy and harried, after all. It would be rude to the point of abusive for anyone to say on a Zoom call, “Excuse me, this is an important point, could everyone stop emailing for a moment?”
Years ago, I was once pitching an idea to my boss, in person—who in fairness, was training for a marathon and wiped out in the afternoons—when he fell asleep, right across the conference table.
I feel the same way when I’m on a Zoom call, talking to a dozen people who are writing emails. In fact, I feel a dozen times worse!
And lately, I’ve noticed, on non-essential Zoom group calls—e.g., calls that I did not myself convene, and where my presence doesn’t seem to me absolutely essential—I’m doing the same goddamn thing!
It’s so easy to fall into. But it’s nonsense. And if we can’t discipline ourselves to give a Zoom meeting our undivided attention and stop behaving like G-rated versions of Jeffrey Toobin, we should question why we have agreed to the call in the first place.
Was it just to show our face for an hour to be a good sport—with the added bonus of hearing ourselves talk a little?
If so, we shouldn’t have bothered. We should have emailed our regrets (during another Zoom call, while someone else was talking).
Honestly, this isn’t a lecture on Zoom etiquette, I’m afraid.
It’s a lecture on giving a shit about the human beings we work with, and treating them like they are real people—and insisting on being treated like real people by them.
That’s bare-minimum human decency.
And it really does seem to me that the only way to achieve it, is to reconnect with all these people in person, and let them reconnect with us, and to remember we are not Zoom avatars.
As much of a time-consuming pain in the ass as that will inevitably be, it’s necessary, because it will force us to reconnect—not just with others, but with ourselves.