When I was first introduced to Zoom by my fellow executive coach, Jim Kelly, a few years ago, the concept of Zoom fatigue would have seemed laughable. At the time, I was just amazed at how well it enabled Jim and me to stay connected as professional colleagues and friends. I felt like part of an exclusive club — no one else I knew was using videoconferencing very much, let alone Zoom.
Fast forward to 2020. There’s no doubt that Zoom has been an incredibly valuable tool since March, enabling many of us to do our work remotely as well as stay in touch with friends and family. But we’ve come to realize that using Zoom is really hard work.
I’m an extrovert. I love connecting with people — everyone from strangers to old friends. But I quickly learned that it takes a lot of energy to put myself out there through the screen of my laptop. I can do four hour-long, real-life, face-to-face meetings in a row and not break a sweat. But four Zoom meetings? I’ll feel cross-eyed with exhaustion at the end of that.
The science behind Zoom fatigue
Turns out I’m not alone. Nick Epley, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, has been doing research on Zoom and other communication tools. He has found that interacting on-screen requires really focused attention. And the inevitable tech glitches add frustration to the process.
What about written communications — email or texting? As I have written before, they are tricky. The likelihood of misunderstanding is very high because it’s so hard to gauge each other’s tone. Emails are OK for routine conversations, but if there’s any conflict or strong emotion involved, those conversations often derail very quickly.
The solution: It’s in your hand
So Zoom is exhausting and text communications are treacherous. What’s left? Here’s a bizarre idea: What about using the telephone? It turns out it’s a remarkably effective communication tool. Although you don’t see the visual cues, hearing people’s voices (volume, pace, intonation) is hugely informative for understanding and connecting with others.
Epley’s research also found that people enjoyed their phone conversations more than text exchanges. Even people who were hesitant to use the phone ended up preferring it to email. And in case you’re wondering if this is a generational thing, Epley did his research on college-age subjects. So it’s not only old-fashioned Boomers who find the phone to be a preferable communication tool.
Finding your digital voice
In coaching, I often talk with executives about finding and developing their “voice.” It’s an important part of leadership presence and impact. If you can’t talk in person, then using the phone seems to be your most powerful channel to get your message across. As Epley writes, “The phone may be one of the only pieces of 20th- century technology that is still worth using.”
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