Do you recognize that feeling? You have been in video calls all day and at the end of the day you are exhausted. Online meetings seem to produce more weariness than live meetings. How is that possible?
I think it is because people are social animals. We are geniuses in reading others because concentrating on others is how groups survive. When we meet someone in person we read them – sometimes consciously but more often unconsciously – by their facial expressions and body language; we hear the smallest wavering in their voices and see the smalles twitching of their eyes. In an online meeting we see and hear only a picanniny part of what we perceive in a live meeting. Our organism is working very hard to compensate that lack of perception and that makes video calls tiresome.
Does that mean that online meetings don’t make sense? Not at all. They are fine for transactional purposes, for example decisions to be made or work in progress to be shared. So part of the meetings that were held live and for which people had to travel can and will be conducted online, also after the current restrictions will be lifted. Business travel can be reduced by a lot.
But online meetings can never fulfill a more transformational purpose. When you as a CEO really want to get a feel for your direct report who is not living up to your expectations, when you need to decide about the composition of a management team with your supervisory board, when you want to get deeper into a sensitive topic. For those things and more we need to see, hear, feel and smell each other as complete human beings and that is impossible online.