It's Not All Zoom and Gloom

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Atomic strategy partner Steve Hopkins hasn't enjoyed video conferencing but reflects on the human side to it
It's Not All Zoom and Gloom

Steve Hopkins, strategy partner at Atomic London reflects on the ups and downs of working via Zoom during a global pandemic. 

I haven’t enjoyed video conferencing.

Being able to see myself on the screen makes me self-conscious; I’m put off by being able to hear my own voice echoing somewhere down the line; no matter how hard I try not to, I always end up talking over someone else; I find the conversation linear rather than fluid; and I find it utterly impossible to judge tone, body language or to ‘read the room’.

I think we bridge rather than bond when video conferencing, and the two are fundamentally different. Bridging is a superficial form of human interaction, where-as bonding is the cornerstone of human relationships. It’s richer, deeper and can only truly be achieved in person.

In short, I think video conferencing, by its very nature, is at odds with how we build and maintain human relationships.

I haven’t enjoyed it, and should we ever return to some sense of ‘normality’, I won’t miss it. But for one notable exception…

The thing I’ve enjoyed immensely is seeing colleagues having to be parents whilst at the same time being professionals. Having to do a meeting whilst a child attempts to clamber over their keyboard; having to stop mid-flow to temper an infant outburst; or giving a presentation over a background noise of Peppa Pig.

Seeing that in others, and having to deal with it myself, has been fantastic. Not because it’s funny (although it is), or because it provides a welcome distraction to mundanity of meetings, (although it does). But because it gives us access to a side of our colleagues we don’t usually see.

Our parental self is usually kept very separate to our professional self. They both exist but never the twain shall meet – until now. Now they have to coexist in the same room, at the same time, and I think this is good for us individually and for our professional relationships.

On an individual level, there are numerous theories which outline how our personalities and selves change according to the people we’re with. We’re different when interacting with our families, friends, colleagues, strangers and so on, and our stress and anxiety can increase when two or more of those groups are together at the same time. If family and colleagues are together in the same room, I don’t know whether to be parent Steve or colleague Steve. Boohoo.

Remote working has forced us to overcome this issue. We’ve had to become accustomed to, and relaxed about the collision of those two worlds, and we are surely better for it as people.

As for the impact on our working relationships, seeing our colleagues as parents – being exposed to the most caring, loving and nurturing side of their personality – has to be beneficial to us as professionals.

I heard a story the other day that someone in the US had been fired during lockdown because their boss was sick of trying to talk work with them whilst they were at the same time dealing with their young child.

To say this misses the point is an understatement in the extreme. If you only ever see one side of your colleagues – the side they project whilst at work, then you can only ever understand, evaluate and respond to that one side. The more sides of them you see, the more you can understand them as people, what they value and hold dear, why they see the world how they do, and approach tasks the way they do. Differently to you.

During lockdown I was frequently on video calls with a colleague who has a son the same age as mine. During those calls our sons, who were always lurking in the background,  became friends. Once lockdown was eased, we met in a local park so our boys could ride their bikes together.

As a result we’ve gone from being friends at work to friends that happen to work together, and our working relationship will be much stronger as a consequence.

I truly believe that you simply have to appreciate, respect and hold your colleagues in higher regard as professionals, once you understand that the success and contribution of their lives is as much about playing Hungry Hippos and reading Room on the Broom as it is writing strategy documents. Indeed the latter is informed and enhanced by the former.

As we return to more ‘normal’ ways of working, I think we should reflect that reducing the distance between our work selves and our parental selves was a good thing to come out of lockdown, and is something we should aim to maintain as we implement our post Covid-19 working practices.

  

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Atomic London, 7 days ago