Much has been written about how work has changed since the start of the pandemic. We’ve all read plenty about adjusting to virtual communication and how work hours have become undefined. Even the workweek has shifted (note that I’m writing this on a Saturday).
I have observed social clues from clients and peers in this “new normal,” and I’ve started to think about how communication will be different when (and if) we go back to in-person meetings and workspaces.
Here are a few predictions:
OVERSHARING AND UNDER-PRODUCING
During the first few months back together there will be an abundance of oversharing, equating to less productivity.
This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, as we’ve heard repeatedly how people and teams are much more productive when working from home because of fewer office distractions. Once these distractions are reintroduced, we’ll have to entertain them again. We’ll quickly learn that seeing people virtually is not the same as a face-to-face meeting.
I have noticed there isn’t much small talk in virtual meetings, both one-on-one and in groups. I think there are two reasons for this:
It’s harder to read nonverbal cues. No matter how great your internet connection, there will always be a slight delay. This delay in reaction time causes our brains to constantly analyze and process the lag, and it is exhausting. Science has confirmed that we are more tired after a day of virtual meetings.
We can see ourselves. Because we are hyper-aware of how we look and what we are saying, we say less. When we are in person, communication is like jazz—there’s so much back and forth and improvising and getting cues from the other person. When we are virtual, it is more like listening to scratched vinyl.
As we begin to meet new people and see coworkers again, we will all come together having a shared experience. This is one of several unique things about a global pandemic. While tragic, it is a shared experience. Besides being alive, there are few instances where everyone has a shared experience. We will want to speak about this experience together—the new hobbies we’ve developed, the losses we have suffered, the myriad home remodeling projects we’ve tackled, etc. While sharing these is important, you’ll need to be mindful of the fact that some of your work time will be compromised.
MEETINGS WILL BE SHORTER AND MORE EFFICIENT
After being inundated with back-to-back virtual meetings and experiencing the exhaustion that comes with them, we have figured out how to suffer less and make meetings as short as possible. Some of us have learned how to get to the point faster, share information more quickly, and become more prepared for meetings. It’s my prediction that we’ll take some of these learned behaviors and apply them to in-person meetings, thus economizing our time by preparing better and faster.
I recently spoke with a client who mentioned that her company has a one-week conference/training session every year. While planning for 2022, they’ve decided the training session will now be only three days. When I asked her why, she explained that the pandemic has taught them they can turn a lot of meetings into training videos to disperse beforehand, allowing time for other pressing issues at the conference.
My hope is we will be able to share information much faster by continuing to utilize our newly learned adaptive skills and save in-person meetings for the more important discussions that need to happen “live.”
PUBLIC SPEAKING WILL BE EASIER
I’ve saved my boldest prediction for last. Some of you may be thinking, What? Public speaking will never be easy, and that is true. It can be hard, but it’s surprisingly much more difficult speaking to 500 people over Zoom than it is on a stage.
Speaking from a stage in front of an audience is easier because it allows for immediate feedback—you will be able to see who you’re talking to and how they are responding in real time. You will know who is absorbing your words and reacting to your message. No need to scroll through pages and pages of people whose reaction may have happened up to 10 seconds earlier due to lag time. It will also be easier because if your tech fails or your PowerPoint does not want to cooperate, you can improvise and make up for it in the moment.
I once taught an in-person program that I initially thought relied on PowerPoint. When we couldn’t get the visuals to work, it wasn’t a problem because I was able to interact with the audience and explain the message without the slides. Had we been virtual, it would have been so much harder to keep the audience’s attention since virtual meetings rely so much on the visual aspect.
Virtual meetings are also harder to listen to. You do not always know who is speaking or asking a question, and it’s very easy to talk over each other. But in person, you know who is asking a question and you can hear where the sound is coming from. Also, when you’re speaking or presenting in person you can tell if you’re being heard.
Another reason public speaking will be easier? You can’t watch yourself. You will monitor yourself less. Unless there is a giant mirror in the back of the room, the experience of constantly seeing yourself and judging what you look like will be obsolete.
Whether or not my predictions come true, I hope this silver lining of applying all we’ve learned during our year of working from home is a renaissance for effective communication, both virtual and in person, for all of us.