• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

This Email Could Have Been a Meeting

Enjoying actual human presence again.

June 10, 2021
 
 

This week I had two (count ’em!) actual in-person meetings. They were my first since March 2020, and I’m almost giddy from the interaction.

The first was with the staff in my office. We set aside a few hours and met in a conference room to go over some ways to improve office operations. The second was a meeting of the museum board on which I serve; that one had about 10 people in the room. It went for a couple of hours.

The other meetings have been either Zoom or, if one-on-one, phone.

I had forgotten just how much better smallish in-person meetings can be. I could see facial expressions! Body language! Nonverbal cues! And with no issues of choppy internet, people could time their statements to minimize talking over each other. (Even after more than a year, that remains a real problem on Zoom.) Wry asides rely on timing for their effectiveness; the split-second delay over streaming video wreaks havoc on them. In person, they work much better. In the case of the staff meeting, the muffins and fruit helped, too.

There’s also something to be said for the relative lack of distractions.

Admittedly, there are times in Zoom meetings when I’m grateful for the names under each face; for whatever reason, my ability to put faces with names is uneven. Some people I can meet once and it’s locked in; others, for reasons unknown, I can get wrong repeatedly. Zoom prevents that, which is handy. And sometimes the chat function in Zoom works like high-tech note passing, which can be helpful.

Zoom can also help with large group meetings. With in-person large group meetings, sometimes it’s hard to hear in the back, or it’s difficult to see the PowerPoint, or you can’t break in at the right time. With groups from disparate geographic areas, you usually have to allow some late entrants, which eats into the meeting time. Zoom alleviates some of that. With screen sharing, everyone can see the screen. Everyone can adjust the volume on their laptops as they see fit. With chat, breaking in is easier. And if everyone can join from wherever, then travel time isn’t an issue.

Still, after almost a year and a half of being (almost) entirely remote, spending time with three-dimensional people working on common projects was exhilarating. It has been too long.

At this point, I feel like complaining that an email could have been a meeting.

Yes, I know, the novelty will wear off. But for now, bring on the meetings!

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