ACORN International

            New Orleans        One of the things the pandemic brought way too many of us which still lingers as a factor, if not a force, in our lives and work is Zoom, where too many of us – or maybe it’s just me – have a love-hate relationship.  I’m not saying Zoom isn’t valuable.  With a far-flung staff, it’s a must to exchange information and keep progress moving forward.  For ACORN’s international work from governance meetings to regular checkups, it’s a tool we often use, although interestingly WhatsApp is favored for our African organizers and is often a backup for our Indian and French conversations, while for some reason my biweekly call to the UK is on Facebook, and we’re all OK with that.

But, like so many things in our modern world where businesses and others are trying to convince us that they offer effective substitutes for conversations and face-to-face meetings and communications, Zoom and those like it just aren’t great substitutes for the real deal.  Among those who have been booked into Zoom meetings, who among us hasn’t turned off the camera and gone on about our business?  Sometimes on Zoom, you can even hear the clicking of the keyboards as some of our brothers and sisters surf the web, do emails, or shop their favorite sites.  We tried using Zoom for tenant organizing committees in Atlanta during the pandemic, and even when we got people to participate, the commitments and follow through were nonexistent.  It’s just not a good organizing tool or really a good way to make decisions and plans, even if it works for basic communications.

The Wall Street Journal gave a couple of pages recently to a professor from Finland who offered tips for making online meetings less boring.  My first thought, was “Sure, and I’ve got a bridge across the Mississippi River I’d love to sell you.”  My second thought was, “Well, we all are running or captive to these meetings, so I better take a look and see if I can find something that might work for me.”

There’s one we all use, which is insisting that everyone keep their cameras on, but that doesn’t make the meetings less boring, it just enforces discipline.  The professor didn’t recommend that exactly, but she did recommend figuring out a way not to look at yourself, while others could see you.  She also admitted that when folks were not engaged, her researcher found almost half of the folks started to multitask, as I mentioned earlier.  Her work found that people caught in these Zoom cages pretty quickly become Zoombies, starting to get sleepy after 10 minutes with full-on drowsiness hitting after 30 minutes.  She suggested keeping the meetings small which is probably right, since everyone has to carry weight in a small meeting.

Some of her recommendations like taking breaks just aren’t going to happen.  To be effective, meetings need to be short – period.  She wants people to get information in advance, but that’s important for all meetings, and all of us know it’s not a magic bullet either, since many will get it and not use it.  She wants to warn people about multitasking, but that’s just discipline, not a tip.  She also wants to make it possible to find nonverbal cues, but that’s also utopian.  It’s hard to monitor the hand signals from Zoomers, and impossible to gauge people from their camera lens.

Like I said, Zoom and the rest of these things are here to stay, but it’s a mistake to believe that they are a substitute for the real people dealing with real people directly, especially when it comes to questions and decisions that really matter.