How much small talk is the right amount in a video meeting? My company is fairly evenly split between people who open up asking everyone about their weekends or something, and people who get right on the agenda in an effort to finish as quickly as possible. On the one hand, small talk feels forced, but on the other, it’s a rare opportunity to casually interact. What is the solution?
The first installment of this column opened with a reminder about the magic of conference calls, followed by one of my key management rules: Most video conferences should be phone calls, and most phone calls should be email. I’m no longer a manager, and in fact I no longer have a real job, but being mostly unemployed has strengthened my commitment to this philosophy.
In my old life, there were somewhere on the order of seven to 10 Zoom meetings in an average day. By evening, I was routinely too tired to have a normal conversation with my spouse, not attending the many invitations for online drinks and trivia and visits to birthday parties, and then became the norm during the pandemic. . Zoom fatigue is real, and companies and managers need to do a better job of preventing video chat from monopolizing the work lives of employees. These days, I can have one video meeting a week, which is about 2 percent of my previous total, and that lack alone has made me feel smarter than in months.
During all those meetings, I saw wildly different approaches to chit-chat (or not) meeting with the facilitators. Many gatherings began with five or more minutes spent on small talk about the weather, people’s backgrounds, or yes, their weekend activities. (Only once, mercifully, did I encounter a formal icebreaker — asking each of the dozen or so participants “What hobby have you picked up during the quarantine?”) Meanwhile, the others took a firm hand. A former colleague, the kind of man who reads articles about management theory for fun, was a fan of intervening (well!) to move the meeting forward the moment the last person arrived. Most of us, however, had fallen somewhere in the middle – there was no real interest in making small talk on the agenda, but cutting out the inevitable small talk even when it was clear that no one was enjoying it. humble for
I will confess that I tried to suppress an eye roll when that co-worker opened a professional meeting with an icebreaker, and let out some moderate to heavy sighs (while silent, of course!), even That even in a less-structured form of chatter. I prefer to spend a few minutes pulling or drinking or petting my dog rather than deciding which of my epidurals really counts as a hobby, while constantly letting the third person know about their sourdough starter. sing praises. As you can see, by nature, I lean towards my colleague, who cut off the pleasantness to get to the reason we were all there.
That said, Matt, as you rightly point out, there is great value in casual conversation. I realize that people who have fewer meetings than I do before may be more excited to see their colleagues, if only on-screen, and less desperate to escape. Running into a coworker—especially one with whom I didn’t usually work closely—was a huge benefit of working in an office, in the hallway or kitchen, and often led to conversations that were in addition to the usual warm feelings. Which made our job better for us to be a more pleasant place of job. Losing only adds to the humiliation of injury.
Here I am stuck, though: no matter how brave your efforts, I think the last 16 months have shown us that we can not do Re-create the magic of casual office conversation online. Our pandemic era has been different and more terrifying for all kinds of reasons, and I think we’re better off appreciating that rather than trying to solve an unsolved problem. The social cohesion that grows from spontaneous encounters at the office doesn’t come from a checklist of chatter about people’s hobbies or weekend activities, but from the kind of free-flowing conversation that only feels organic when it’s in person. happens from.