Zoom - Cui Bono?
At the end of an online workshop last week, we asked participants (who’d been thinking about interpersonal power dynamics) for their closing thoughts and questions. One guy said, “I’m going to spend some time thinking about why I like the Zoom world better than the real one.” Earlier, he’d talked about how in past face to face meetings, because of the nature of his role, he’d often been the ‘least powerful’ person in the room, and that he’d FELT that inequality. But in the virtual meeting world it was different, much less palpable.
He’s not the first person to mention this and how the absence of certain symbols and rituals in the virtual workplace can have a democratising effect. For example, if there’s no table, no one can sit at the head of it, nor can others position themselves within whispering distance or in their eye line. In the case of men in particular, the work ‘uniform’ of suit, shirt and tie are potent unconscious signals of professional status and power and have the effect of muting any outward expression of individual personality or backstory, making them less approachable en masse. But in the working-from-home world we see real people (their kids, dogs, terrible book choices and lockdown hair). Now people can’t rely on their in-the-room presence in the same way, and that may make way for others to shine.
Many of my coaching clients have mused on the experience of the virtual meeting. I noticed extraverts (in the MBTI sense) describe being more withdrawn than usual and contributing less, whilst some introverts feel liberated and enabled. Face to face, extraverts, energised by the encounter with people, things and ideas, and often thinking out loud, will excitedly jump in, talk faster, be louder and generally hog the air time. Meetings were made for extraverts.
But the time may have come for those with an introverted preference. The chat facility in Zoom or Teams can be a good way to get the chair’s attention without having to butt in verbally. And the whole get-people’s-attention-and-unmute-yourself process is so cumbersome that by the time the extraverts have considered it, the moment of excitement has probably passed, but for the introvert THERE IS PRECIOUS PREPARATION TIME before speaking up. And as my sister-in-law (also introverted) noted, the relief at not having to show up in advance of a meeting and make excruciating small talk over the substandard tea and coffee is immense.
Meanwhile, don’t get me started on the health and wellbeing (never mind productivity) horror that is back-to-back online meetings and the importing of bad meeting habits into the virtual world. That’s another blog for another day.