Meeting on Zoom during the pandemic has changed how we meet. The question is, how permanent will these changes be?
Here, I’m talking about meetings with colleagues at your institution. Regular meetings. Not academic conferences. Although the pandemic has likely changed those as well.
Will higher ed people revert to our pre-pandemic ways of meeting? Or will the changes in how we meet be more durable?
11 Ways Meeting on Zoom During the Pandemic Has Changed How We Meet
1. The Mute Button—Overt Signaling of Listening and Desire to Speak
Zoom meeting culture seems to have evolved to defaulting to mic muting. If you are not talking, you are expected to go on mute.
Muting can provide a visual signal to everyone else in the meeting that you are listening. A related advantage to muting is that when you go off mute, it signals that you want to say something.
I think that this visual signal of listening—and wanting to speak—has improved conversations. There is, I would hypothesize, less interrupting.
And it may be easier for quiet people to insert themselves into a conversation. The person who goes off mute first has priority to speak next.
2. The Proliferation of Back-to-Back-to-Back Meetings
Virtual meetings are scheduled one after the other. There is no buffer time left to travel between meetings. We jump from one Zoom to another.
The rise of the back-to-back-to-back Zoom meeting has some negative consequences. Frequently, we struggle to get out of one Zoom meeting to get to the next. It is not uncommon to have latecomers to a virtual meeting, with apologies that the last Zoom ran over.
Having no buffer in between meetings is also exhausting. We need to instantly switch to the next topic, the next discussion, the next meeting.
3. The Replacement of Informal Conversations With Scheduled Meetings
Scheduled meetings are one way to share information. We can also exchange information by email, Slack or other digital means. Or we can have informal conversations.
The pandemic has largely killed the informal campus chat. Maybe we will get it back when more of us come to campus. But not everyone will be returning to working full-time on campus. Many will be working remotely, and many more will be working some days at home each week.
As informal chats are harder to come by, scheduled meetings increase. We are constantly scheduling Zoom meetings through our email/calendaring systems. I use Outlook. You maybe use Gmail. As we can see our colleagues’ free/busy schedules through these systems, scheduling Zoom meetings becomes easier.
This is not all bad. Fewer informal drop-in conversations maybe mean fewer interruptions. Theoretically, we can block off our calendars—and get something done. How many of us block off enough time to get all of our work done during “normal” work hours?
4. The In-Meeting One-to-One Backchannel
With Zoom, we can use the chat function to chat to either the entire group or to individuals. The one-to-one chat function has normalized the small meeting backchannel. If there are more than two people in a meeting, there is a good chance that two of them are chatting.
In some ways, a built-in Zoom chat backchannel is productive for meetings. Chatting lets colleagues get on the same page. We can encourage each other. We can vent.
If and when we go back to face-to-face and mixed in-person/virtual meetings, in-meeting backchanneling will be more difficult. How the loss of one-to-one chatting in meetings will change meeting productivity is an open question.
5. The Accidental Backchannel Message to Everyone
The flip side of the one-to-one chat in Zoom is the accidental chat to the wrong person or the entire group. Have you done this? I have. And I've witnessed some embarrassing mis-chats.
6. The Elimination of Physical Meeting-Room Scarcity
The combination of the pandemic and universal Zoom seems to have increased the number of meetings that we all attend. There must be some data on this change. Has Microsoft or Google published anything?
One big reason we have more Zoom meetings than physical meetings is that there is no limit on virtual space. There are only so many physical rooms on campus where we can meet. Getting a room is often a challenge. With Zoom, there are no limits on meeting rooms.
How will we adjust to meeting-room scarcity once we are (mostly) back on campus?
How many of those meeting rooms will be set up for high-quality hybrid meetings, with some folks in person and others online?
7. More People in Meetings Owing to the Elimination of Room-Size Constraints
Zoom meetings might be more inclusive than face-to-face meetings. Why? Inviting more people to a virtual meeting is easier than a physical meeting. There is no constraint on the size of the room or the table in the room where people sit.
Again, this seems like an empirical question. Have our campus meetings gotten larger as they have become virtual? Are more people being invited to conversations? And has an increase in meeting size resulted in greater meeting diversity?
8. Maybe Women Are Getting Talked Over Less?
The idea that women get talked over less in Zoom meetings than in face-to-face meetings came from my wife. Her experience has been that women can gain and hold the floor better in Zoom than in person.
The mute button helps, as interrupting a person while speaking requires the two-step process of unmuting and then interrupting.
What do you think?
9. Screen Sharing as a Regular Aspect of Meeting
By now, we mostly all know how to share our screens in Zoom. (Although the process is still seldom smooth.)
In face-to-face meetings, sharing our screens is more of a challenge. It is never seamless to switch presenters. There is the juggling of dongles. Wireless presenting works sometimes, but seldom without some planning and testing.
What will happen when we can no longer easily share the spreadsheets and decks on our computers with colleagues in in-person meetings?
10. Easily Breaking Into Subgroups During a Meeting (Breakout Rooms)
I estimate that 10 percent of Zoom meetings account for 90 percent of breakout rooms. Or maybe only 10 percent of Zoom users are comfortable planning for and managing breakouts.
No matter—breakout rooms are a thing. When used properly, a Zoom meeting with breakouts can be highly effective.
Will we move breakout room practices back to face-to-face meetings? Where will the people “breaking out” go? How much extra time for breaking out will we need to plan for?
11. Changing Expectations to Join Meetings
The final way the shift to meeting on Zoom during the pandemic has changed meeting culture is expectations around missing a meeting. We can still participate in a meeting with Zoom, even if we can’t physically be on campus.
The result has been colleagues jumping on Zoom meetings who would not have been able to participate in pre-pandemic times.
With Zoom, we have colleagues participating in meetings while traveling (zooming in from a car, airport lounge, or hotel room).
We also see colleagues zooming in when they are too sick to come to campus but feeling well enough to meet—or zooming in when the kids are ill, or the plumber is at the house.
Too many of you zoom in from vacation.
How else has pandemic Zoom changed academic meeting culture?