Video conferencing is fundamentally changing how we behave and interact.
As this train wreck of a year careens to a close, we at Reach3 and Rival wanted to reflect on some of the biggest things that have changed. It’s been an interesting year “here,” and after an exhausting year of remote work, we came together for one last Zoom happy hour in the form of our holiday party spanning time zones across the globe. (Shout out to our CRO Jacquie casually enjoying a Corona—beer, not virus—at 9 AM in Sydney.)
Beyond our own Zoom highs and lows though, we wanted to see how peoples’ work attitudes and behaviors have shifted or changed this year after spending an “unprecedented” 🙄 amount of time on video conferences. As Zoom removes time limits on free accounts for the holidays, it leaves us wondering how people really feel about it, so we took a look back at the year in review of Zoom and video calls.
Earlier this fall, we conducted a research study examining shifting user behaviors and attitudes around video conferencing. Using Rival’s market research platform and leveraging our conversational, mobile messaging-based approach, we engaged 521 Americans in October 2020 to uncover the good, the bad and the downright awkward when it comes to video chats in the age of COVID-19.
Gimme the bad news first…
Zoom fatigue is very real, and 45% of workers we surveyed agreed that video conferencing feels overwhelming or exhausting. 46% are simply “over it.”
But besides the typical dread of anticipating what stupid Zoom background your coworker (re: me) is going to show up with next, video conferencing has fundamentally changed how we behave and interact. 70% of those who use video calls for work say they’ve picked up at least one video conferencing habit, and 44% say they’re habitually doing things that aren’t so innocent.
Of those who say they’ve picked up a habit, almost half are regularly multitasking (45%) on video calls.
In addition, 22% of us are habitually looking at ourselves instead of others on the call.
Even worse, 14% routinely sneak off to the bathroom while on the call, 8% aren’t wearing pants, 7% are lying about how bad their internet actually is to get out of a call, and 6% are joining Jacquie by drinking when they're not supposed to. Still, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen on a Zoom call this year…
With all these bad habits forming, is video conferencing actually working for us?
Communication on video calls has certainly been different and often frustrating or uncomfortable. Beyond the frequent, “No, you go,” or “You’re on mute,” or “Can you see my screen?,” 59% also agree that when there's a pause in the conversation, the silence is super awkward.
As one woman summed up our 2020 emotions, “After being interrupted, I just want to say “Shut UP!” a lot of times. Some people just keep talking on and on and on and won’t shut up… I guess they think everyone is really interested or they just like to be the center of attention.”
And the way we talk virtually has begun seeping into the way we interact in person.
In our study, 57% of workers say that video conferencing absolutely or kind of changed the way we talk with others in person, and 32% find it weird to interact with people in real life now because they’re used to video conferencing. Even when we eventually get back to the office, get ready for your insufferable water cooler banter to get even more insufferable than you remember.
57% of workers say video conferencing changed the way we talk with others in person
We heard from hundreds of people who pointed out all sorts of slight nuances in how we communicate now. They discussed changes in just about every part of how we communicate from our pacing, speed, body language, eye contact, formality, pauses, nonverbal cues, vulnerability, talking over / interrupting each other, to even things we didn’t consider initially like the ability to prepare what you’re going to say before a Zoom call or the ability to send a private chat to your coworker and gossip about someone in the meeting (which is unfortunately much harder in an in-person meeting). Our conversational approach opened up a lot of rich qualitative feedback about the power of conversation.
“I’ve just gotten out of the habit of talking to people. I’ve definitely gotten worse at making eye contact since March,” one woman noted.
“I almost feel awkward when I’m face-to-face with someone because you don’t have anything blocking you," shared another participant. "It’s making me feel much more vulnerable. I almost have to relearn how to have a normal conversation with someone."
Some Good News:
So, not only are we tired of calls, but also we’re becoming weirder at doing the talking things now. But despite all the terrible parts about our Zoom calls, video conferencing has still powered us through 2020.
77% say meetings are more productive when they can see their peers
Zoom conferences are like Justin Bieber. You love to hate it, but every once in a while, they surprise you with something great. (And you may still secretly like it, as evidenced by the unexpected amount of Beliebers cheering on not one, but two Bieber Christmas carols at our holiday party).
Despite our love-hate relationship with Zoom, 77% actually say meetings are more productive when they can see their peers. Surprisingly, 52% say they would still rather keep their videos on.
When we asked workers to pick gifs that represent how they feel, the most popular (30%) gif was Carlton dancing.
So even after all the trouble with muting and videos gone wrong, video conferencing still allows us to connect with others. It’s easy to look at how video conferencing pales in comparison to the more natural flow of in-person communication, however if we stop comparing video chats to real-life meetups, we may be able to find those instances of uniquely hilarious moments that can only exist through the webcam.
So as we close out this year, we asked people to share some of the funniest and best things to happen on their Zoom calls. Among the dozens of interrupting cats and kids, respondents mentioned unexpected farts, getting caught gossiping on a hot mic while not on mute, and a surprising/disturbing amount of accidental nudity.
For example, some respondents told us of the uniquely awkward positions they were caught in that could only happen on a video chat:
“My roommate had dropped one of her contacts while sitting at the table next to me while I was on a video call. She started to look on the rug and then was crawling by my chair and then popped up over my knee and gave my colleague the impression that something else more interesting was going on. They won’t believe me and they just won’t let me live it down.”
“One time I was on FaceTime with my cousin and truthfully I don’t like her I just put up with her because I don’t want to start family drama, but while I was on FaceTime I pretended I was frozen but I forgot my TV was on in the back so that it a bit awkward”
“I was on a video conference call with my boss and colleagues when he suddenly broke wind without any warning. Maybe he thought we couldn't hear it but it took everything in my power not to laugh, and neither did any of my colleagues, but you could see it in their eyes that they knew what had happened.”
“One time during a video call, my boyfriend walked in said he loved me. I said “love you too” and a member of my class said ‘love you too’ to me”
The blend of work seeping into home life has been difficult, but it’s these little moments that remind us that we’re still humans all just trying to figure this out. These kinds of unexpected but endearing interruptions may lighten the mood when work life and video calls feel too formal. It’s these very spontaneous moments and little joys on video calls that are keeping us close and connected. It certainly has kept us feeling within Reach.