When to talk on the phone instead of video chat for work meetings

  • During the pandemic, colleagues working remotely have turned to video chat apps like Zoom to be able to speak and collaborate more fluidly.
  • But speaking over video isn’t necessary for every meeting, and in some cases a regular audio call can be less stressful and equally productive.
  •  If you’re meeting someone for the first time or holding a job interview, video chat is helpful to form a more personal connection; if it’s only check-in with a boss or long-time coworker, a quick phone call may be more convenient.
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I awoke with a face swollen with sleep. I hobbled downstairs to my computer to start my next exciting day of working from home.

Granted, I’ve always been a slow morning person, but I try to get an early start sometimes. Historically, my puffy, underslept eyes, pajamas, and bedhead have never been a problem. That is, until, my 9 a.m. interviewee asked to make our audio call… a video call. It was definitely an “Oh, s–t” moment, and I felt a tepid sort of shame at the idea of having to expose her to my unenthused morning face and tattered pajama top… Of course, the ridiculous beauty standards propagated by society are harmful, and I agree with Beyoncé that we all wake up flawless… But I just didn’t look professional or feel put-together, and even if I’m not always put-together in an existential sense, I try to at least look it.

Granted, this mildly mortifying moment would not have Texture Spray Machine occurred if I’d thought to clarify beforehand whether the call was to be video or audio only… But all this led me to the underlying question that more of us seem to be pondering in the stay-at-home era: When should a call be video, and when is audio sufficient? In other words, when should we absolutely be Zooming, and when are we good to just “phone it in” with a classic phone call?

When Zoom is necessary

First-time meetings 

When you’re engaging with someone for the first time, Zoom is a superior medium to phone calls. Why? You’ll gain a more complete understanding of a person if you’re able to see and take into account their nonverbal communication — which is very hard (if not impossible) to pick up on over audio only. “So much of our communication is nonverbal. Our gestures, our facial expressions, our tone — all of those things you can pick up over video,” explained Margaret H. Greenberg, executive coach, positive psychology pioneer, and bestselling author of Profit from the Positive. For her work, Greenberg’s used Zoom video conferencing for the last four years.

Job interviews 

When it comes to job interviews, Zoom is the way to go, says Lesley Pyle, founder of HireMyMom.com. “It’s always a good idea to learn about someone as if it were an in-person interview. Right now, Zoom is as close as it gets to in-person contact,” asserted Pyle.

Team collaborations

Zoom is also good for work teams wanting to stay bonded and nurture relationships during the pandemic. These days, it can be so valuable to have face-to-face contact with people you haven’t been able to see in a while, Pyle notes.

When phoning it in does the trick

You already know the drill (and the person) 

Phone calls have been staples of work life for years, and are often sufficient when the parties already have an established relationship. “You already know the person, so you don’t need video to get a feel for who they are,” Pyle said. A phone call is perfect for doing a quick check-in with a colleague.

Showing some love for a working mother 

Many women are juggling family and work in ways they’ve never had to before, states Greenberg. “One minute they’re in a Zoom meeting, playing the role of manager or employee, and the next minute they have to put on a teacher hat, and teach their kids from home.” With all that’s going on now, says Greenberg, it’s especially important to find out how people are feeling and how they are doing. “Pick up the phone, call your friends, colleagues, and coworkers. Don’t pretend that this isn’t happening. Because it does impact the workplace. We can’t separate the workplace and the world.”

Dissecting complex topics 

Phone calls can also be good for discussing especially difficult or complex topics, Greenberg says. Examples include social injustice, COVID-19, and something like asking for a promotion. One reason is because a phone call enables you to do a walk-and-talk. “Sometimes when we’re sitting, we’re putting our bodies in a physical state where we’re stuck. But if we’re walking and talking, our ideas flow more easily and we have more energy,” explained Greenberg.

Phone calls allow you to practice what psychologists call “embodiment.” It’s a fake-it-till-you-feel-it mentality: How does it work? “If you want a raise, ask by phone,” advised Greenberg. “Stand up while you’re doing it to harness a feeling of power, and have bullet points in front of you that you’re referring to.” The phone allows you to do what physically feels good (and empowering!) while you’re talking.

Fighting Zoom fatigue when it’s the only option

Seeing other faces is refreshing… until it’s not. At a certain point it can become exhausting. “For a lot of people, working from home is new. Before, people used to use Zoom maybe once a day, or week. But now, people are experiencing what’s called ‘Zoom fatigue’ as a result of being in these virtual meetings back to back, all day long,” explained Greenberg. “When you’re in a meeting in a real conference room, you’re not looking at yourself. You’re looking at other people and their nonverbals. But on a Zoom call, when we turn on video, we start to get fixated on ourselves and what we look like.”

When your frustration with Zoom hits its peak, you may be thinking: Not only do I have to virtually interact with people, but I have to watch myself virtually interact with people? I’m not in the mood to see faces today… let alone my own!

To help with Zoom fatigue — and stay focused and energized during your calls — click on the three blue dots in the right hand corner of your box and click “Hide self-view.” This way, you can see the other people on the call, but you can’t see yourself — only others can. Because let’s face it, wouldn’t all meetings be better if we could just focus on the important words and thoughts from our colleagues and ourselves?

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