Humans are social animals. Your virtual team meetings just will not cut it. Sorry.
How social? Well, very social… but in a fickle way.
If you have time, you can undertake this experiment. Grab a piece of paper and write on it the names of all the people in your life that mean something special to you. We’re talking about individuals that if you heard that they had died it would be devastating news. It might take some time, but I doubt, if you are completely honest, that you will get above 200-250 names. Even if you don’t write the list of names and you just do it in your head, I bet few of you think of the person you sat next to in Junior School or the next door neighbour you had two moves ago. Many of you won’t include the names of the people you worked alongside three or four jobs ago, even if you worked closely with them for years.
There’s even a name for this. It’s called Dunbar’s Number. (He puts your figure at 150, but I’m assuming that you are extra-specially sociable.)
Now think about the distancing of the past few months. The anti-social distancing, if you like. Even if you consider yourself an introvert, like your own company and have quietly relished not having to interact with your work colleagues outside of a Zoom call, chances are that you are missing out on the benefits of working in a team in a multitude of ways and the bonds that hold your workplace together have become weaker.
You might not think so. From conversations we have had, many people are doing back-to-back virtual calls, but the ubiquitous video call is no substitute for actual face-to-face conversation in the real world. We have all grown up subconsciously “reading” each other for meaning - from tiny little cues and micro-expressions, from where you look, how often you blink, crinkles around the eyes… even the position of your feet. Aside from the distractions of the room that you are in, the lure of “just checking my emails while I listen”, and the very human tendency to check out how you look in the small image in the corner of the screen, rather than make “eye contact” - camera contact - with the person to whom you are talking (come on, own up, we’ve all done it…) it’s just not the same.
We’ve been talking to a lot of our contacts recently about the growth of this virtual culture. Many of them admit to either not joining online conferences or joining and having it on “in the background”. Again, this is learnt behaviour – we have all grown up with a similar attitude to our televisions. We can easily zone-in and zone-out of the news, or a film, or a documentary and your brain will readily swap the buffer of the TV screen for that of your computer.
Moving on from the challenges of the medium (and “Zoom culture” is a true medium, in that it is neither rare nor well done!), working in your own home office mini-silo is disruptive and deleterious to creativity. In a radio interview on the Emma Barnett Show on BBC Radio 5 Live on September 22nd 2020, Carolyn Fairburn, Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry spoke of the damage long-term isolation can do to creativity and innovation – you can’t plan the future of your business sitting on your sofa.
This brings us to a kind of impasse. On one hand, while the virus is out of control people do not want to meet, but the technology that obviates travel and face-to-face meetings isn’t always fit for purpose, particularly when you want to come up with new ways of working in the future that are better than those of the past. Our contention is that if you want to be more creative, find ways to interact creatively.
Office interactions are varied; stimuli are subtle and prevalent; unexpected things happen that pique your interest and spark ideas and conversations. They are not a TV show with a face on a screen that talks and shows slides for an hour. If you wouldn’t watch it on your TV at home, why should anyone engage with it on your computer?
And before you think you’ve cracked it, the answer is not another Zoom quiz. Engaging people is not discovering that they don’t know the title of the first song played on Radio 1 or that they can’t name the sixteen regional offices operated by your firm. It’s harder than that.
We’re still sick of boring meetings, and we still think you should be too. Especially if you’re attending from your sofa.
If you need help shaking things up, check out our suite of team building exercises for your virtual and face-to-face meetings here.