September 25, 2020

Is Zoom Your Kryptonite? Here's the antidote.

Jared McKinney
Head of Growth

It seems like almost everyone is feeling it.  Articles about how to combat Zoom fatigue started getting published as early as March of 2020.  To add insult to injury, Harvard Business School found in a recent study that since social distancing began, the number of meetings has actually increased by 13% with the majority of them being video conferences on platforms like Zoom.  

Trying to help

Many articles and posts have been written with suggestions on how to reduce Zoom fatigue.  They all follow a similar format.  First, they cite the problems like sitting in front of the same screen, gazing at others while talking as if you were sitting 3 feet from them, connection issues, and the awkward silence and pauses due to lag.  Then they typically list suggestions like:

“Get clear on goals”

“Be selective with the invite list”

“Use an agenda”

“Build in breaks”

“Switch to phone calls or email”

“Infuse culture”

“Turn off the camera”

“Schedule quiet hours”

“Avoid back-to-back meetings”

“Speed it up”

“Reduce the time box”

While well-intentioned, these suggestions don’t really help.  They just attempt to reduce symptoms, not cure the underlying disease.  Many of the above suggestions are just ways to reduce the time spent in meetings, but is that really the answer?

SAP has recently created an internal initiative to limit meetings to 25 or 50-minute increments to stop the back-to-back parade of meetings throughout the day.  If this is possible, what does it suggest about the length or content of meetings in the first place?  Are they flexible? If so, why?  If not, what is left undone? Why is this able to be done now and not in the past?  Why not 15-minute meetings?  Or, better yet, 5-minute meetings?  If we can just magically shave time off of meetings, why not get ruthless?  That should solve the problem, right?


We just need to talk

The reality is we need to talk to move work forward.  At the heart of all important business communication is a conversation.  Conversation is what moves work forward.  

The average executive sits in 28 hours of meetings a week.  It’s not because they can’t find anything better to do.  They spend that amount of time in meetings because they know you need to talk through things to make decisions, consider options, get buy-in, and create alignment.  Even if they feel that meetings generally aren’t a productive use of time, there’s no other option.

Since most of that talking now has to be done over Zoom, it has greatly exaggerated the symptoms when compared to the good ol’ days.  The underlying disease still exists–that meetings are inefficient.  Even though scheduling a meeting is a simple construct to facilitate talking, it introduces a multitude of other inefficiencies.

- Stopping what you’re doing (interrupting flow)
- Getting in the same place
- Waiting for others to arrive
- Small talk
- The meandering of the conversation
- People that don’t need to be there
- People missing that should be there
- People that don’t let others talk
- Magically filling the entire time block

We typically aren’t bothered by these things because there’s not much we can do about them.  And since we just have to face this reality any time we want to talk with our team members, the only way to around it is to somehow talk less.

The answer is not in talking less.  It’s in talking different.  

Talking different

Meetings are a product of the constraints of a physical world.  Because we don’t have mental telepathy or the ability to throw our voice long distances, we need to get into the same place to talk.  And because talking is a synchronous activity, it requires you to be in the same place at the same time.

What if instead of using technology to mimic our physical world, we used it to break free from it?  Video conferencing is a prime example of using technology in a way that mimics our physical world.  This is why companies like Zoom go to great lengths to do things like cancel out background noise, reduce lag, and improve video quality.  Some even let you change your background so it ‘feels’ like you’re all in the same room together.  This would be like trying to make email as much like writing a letter as possible.

Technology should make us better, not worse.  It should extend our ability.  It should give us an unfair advantage over mere mortals in the physical world.  It should challenge constraints and convention, not conform to them.  

If we believe this is true, we need to take a new stab at the problem.  Technology is enabling the world around us to become more and more on-demand.  With it, our expectations have begun to change  We expect the world around us to bend to our needs, not the other way around.  Rides show up when we want them.  Food appears with the tap of a button.  Why not conversation?

What if you didn’t have to ‘meet’ to talk?

Your New Superpowers

Conversations are turn-based, meaning you talk, then I talk, and so on.  The constraints of the physical world require these turns to be taken synchronously (at the same time/place). Technology doesn’t have to play by those rules.

Using technology, we can allow you to take your turn asynchronously by recording a video that’s available to your partner when they are ready.  Historically this was only possible with written communication (letters, email, text, chat).  Now it’s possible with verbal communication. Engaging in an asynchronous conversation allows a bunch of superpowers that aren’t possible in a synchronous conversation.

Faster than a speeding bullet.  The average person speaks at only about 150 words per minute, but can comprehend speech up to 400 words per minute.  What if you could 2x the world around you?

Stop time.  By breaking up turns, you are given a new luxury–the time to think.  Educational research shows that any time we can wait even just 3 seconds, the quality of our response dramatically improves.  How many times have you said the wrong thing because you were on the spot?

Even the playing field.  Everyone has an equal opportunity to hit the record button.  The most verbal or vocal no longer have their home-court advantage.

Be omnipresent.  Because conversation is no longer interruptive and doesn’t need to scheduled, you can batch them.  Imagine being able to talk to twenty customers in the same amount of time it took you to have a meeting with one.

At Volley, we’re using technology to create a better way to talk.  If you’re interested in having an asynchronous conversation or gaining these superpowers, download Volley and invite your team today.

Jared McKinney

More growth than hack.

About the Author

As a marketer, I like doing old things in new ways—copywriting, SEO, email—to achieve outsized results on modest budgets. I've scaled marketing programs at 8,9 and 10-figure tech companies and managed teams from inception to IPO.

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