My two weeks are up! Here’s what I learned: Once you’ve gone video, you can’t go back!
Image is based on true events and hand drawn with a #2 pencil
This is true for me at least.
My experiment is (finally) over. For the past two weeks, I switched from video conferencing to audio conferencing. If you’d like a more background on why, check-out my initial blog, “We’re Going Back, Back in Time!”
When my colleague started at Polycom earlier this year, he wrote an article featured on The Huffington Post, “What I Learned after 30 Days of Video Conferencing.” My article, if following that same format, would aptly be named, “You Never Know What You Got ‘Til It’s Gone: What I Realized after 14 Days of Audio-Only Conferencing & Give Me Back My Video. Now.”
Yes it’s a long title, but I feel it’s appropriate.
Not going to lie—the first day of my experiment was rough. I thought going audio-only was going to be as easy as dialing the numbers and turning off my camera, but turns out trying to find a loop-hole to video was a bit tough from my side. My colleagues were using video and I couldn’t ask them to turn off their cameras—I mean, why should we all suffer?
Here are five things I realized when I switched from video to audio:
I felt disengaged and left-out during meetings. While everyone else was enjoying each other’s company and jokes, I was left not really understanding what they were talking about.
“It’s really hard to remember you’re there,” said my manager. “What Jackee’s working on—wait you’re here. I keep forgetting!”
During one call we were going over an old deck and the group started gushing over how cool something was, and with me being on audio-only I had no idea what they were talking about. Sharing and receiving content was a bit tricky since I wasn’t necessarily staring at a screen, and no one bothered to send the content around through email before the meeting because in reality, there was no need to. Polycom has a plethora of ways to share content virtually. (Image source: Polycom)
I was saying things, but was I being heard? Not being able to see anyone’s reaction to content, ideas or suggestions started to take its toll on me. I started to feel like I wasn't a part of the meeting. According to an article on Inc.com, research shows that 60 to 90 percent of communication with others is nonverbal (body language), which stresses the importance of being able to see others.
It took more energy. Audio-only calls took more mental power than I thought to pay attention. Instead of using your eyes, ears and body language to engage in a conversation, you had to refocus your energy on deciphering and absorbing all the information. I had to pay close attention to who was speaking, who chimed in and if they were talking to me. By the end of a 30 minute call, a part of me felt mentally exhausted.
Quick tip: I learned that focusing on an object while someone was speaking helped me keep up with the conversation better. Towards the end of my experiment, I may have gotten bit desperate.
Multitasking was difficult. Yes, multitasking during meetings is a big no-no, but in this case multitasking was as simple as typing on my laptop and taking a sip of coffee.
For a few of my meetings, I decided to use the Polycom VVX 500 sitting at my desk. To be honest, I’ve never used the thing and it was covered in a thick layer of dust. At first, there was something comforting and nostalgic about holding an actual telephone with a windy cord attached, until I had to take notes with my computer.
Here came the awkward phone-between-shoulder-and-head trick. As I’m already spending more mental energy listening to the conversation, I had to spend more physical energy to hold the telephone, type and take a sip of coffee.
& in true millennial fashion, I Snapchatted my struggle.
I was constantly worried about the pitch of my voice, the volume or if I was breathing too hard. (I’ve been on calls where someone on the far end was unknowingly breathing directly into the phone.) I wasn’t sure how to control my voice. I would enter the call with “HEY GUYS. IT’S JACKEE,” then feel self-conscious that my greeting was too loud, and lower my voice to a quiet “i’m here on audio."
Professor of Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA Albert Mehrabian determined that tone of voice is one of the three components that make up successful communications. (Along with the words you use and your body language) The tone of how you're speaking can instigate emotions and possibly put off other participants in the call.
Without video, I couldn't gauge anyone's reactions and had a hard time finding the right volume and tone to consistently speak in.
It’s actually not that bad …as long as you have great audio quality! The actual audio part was not as bad as I thought mostly because all of Polycom’s solutions are HD voice and audio enabled, so it was nothing like your standard telephone call from back in the day.
For our weekly team sync, I decided to dial in through one of our latest solutions, the Polycom RealPresence Trio, one of those ‘peculiar’ devices that sit in the middle of huddle rooms. Since the RealPresence Trio has Bluetooth capability, I paired it my phone to it and played a couple morning jams to get me pumped for the call. There were going to be about 5-8 people on the call, so I had to make sure my ears were mentally prepared for the work they were about to put out.
I left the Trio in the middle of the table and dialed in through my phone and was connected. I didn’t have to worry about reaching across the table to adjust the volume or to mute myself. All that could be done on through my phone—no extra apps needed. Using the Trio for a big team meeting was much more relaxing than my other audio-only days. The quality was amazing, and it was comforting to have something in front of me to focus on while talking to my colleagues.
Here are two more things I learned from my experiment:
If you have video, keep it! But know you audio options too. It can be a life saver. Even though audio isn't my fist choice, it's still a great alternative when video just isn't working. Sometimes you need to take a call in the car (headset of course!), or the remote location you're at doesn't have great WiFi (and noone likes a choppy video).
You don’t need video to do great things, but it definitely helps. A lot. Video makes all the difference. When you’re remote or working with dispersed teams, video helps you be there without physically being there. It helps you be involved, be heard and be understood.
It surprises me that companies out there don’t make video conferencing readily available to their employees like Polycom. I can’t imagine working without video, especially after this experiment!