Reading the Signs
About a month ago, I took a road trip for five days. It's been so long, I wasn't sure if my car would balk at extended driving. I spent time with ten vaccinated friends, mostly in one-on-one situations. Each and every visit was rich and rewarding. But boy howdy, was I exhausted when I got home! I haven’t had that much social stimulation in well over a year. Maybe you can relate.
The experience has me wondering what we’ve lost in our communication skills—and not just stamina for conversation. Have we become rusty at reading the micro-cues on someone’s face, that which is not quite so visible on a screen? Do we listen for voice tone like we used to after more than a year hearing vocal distortions caused by microphones and poor bandwidth? Will we remember we can’t turn the volume down on someone who annoys us when we're standing right in front of them? How about noticing that we can’t stop video transmission to give a well-timed eye roll? Then there's the matter of keeping one's mouth shut instead of issuing a rude comment when we no longer have the benefit of a mute button.
No doubt you recall that when we started Zooming, much was written about virtual meeting fatigue. It is tiring, frustrating and potentially unproductive to face a screen of people all day. If you’ve been doing this, you’ve found ways to cope. Returning to a worksite (at least part of the time) may remind you that in-person communication can also be exhausting, frustrating, and sometimes unproductive.
Yet there’s a lot to be gained by being co-located with your colleagues: the ability to ask a question without making an appointment, spontaneously engaging in problem solving, and just shooting the breeze which makes work fun. Often it is more productive to speak in person, especially when there's the danger communication could go awry. But even when we're physically together, we miscommunicate, offend, and unintentionally interrupt someone’s day.
Human dynamics exist regardless of venue although the tricky bits may shift based on the communication mode. As you return to a job site with colleagues, remember what you’ve missed during these months of virtual communication and appreciate your face-to-face conversations. Give yourself (and them) some grace as you get into the swing of being together again. And make sure you savor the wonderful interactions that tend to fall by the wayside when you're online.
As I come out of my Covid shell, there’s much I no longer take for granted. I realize this feeling will fade as we move into whatever becomes the normal of the day (and until things change again). Regardless, I hope to keep a fond memory of this moment of re-emergence to remind me just how much I value the company of my fellow humans.
What has surprised you about yourself as we re-enter social interaction? Please write comments in the box below.
Sending you physically distanced encouragement (but less distanced than before!) and the hope that you’re reuniting with loved ones as we head into summer!