help! Do we have to go to a virtual meeting for small talk?


Oh dear,

How much small talk is appropriate in a video conference? My company seems to have a disagreement between those who open the door by asking everyone on weekends or other things and those who handle the agenda correctly to get the work done as quickly as possible. On the one hand, small talk feels reluctant, but on the other hand, it is a rare opportunity for casual interaction. What is the solution?


The first issue of this column is based on Nostalgia Regarding the magic of conference calls, the following is one of my key management rules: most video conferences should be phone calls, and most phone calls should be emails. I am no longer a manager and in fact no longer have a real job at all, but most of the time being unemployed only strengthens my commitment to this philosophy.

In my previous life, there were about 7 to 10 Zoom meetings a day on average. At night, I am often exhausted and unable to have a normal conversation with my spouse, let alone join many online beverage invitations, trivia, birthday parties, etc., which have become the norm during the pandemic. Zoom fatigue It is true that companies and managers need to do better to prevent video chat from monopolizing employees’ work and life. These days, I may hold a video conference once a week, which is about 2% of my previous total. This reduction alone makes me feel more awake than a few months ago.

During all these meetings, I have witnessed very different methods of chatting (or not chatting) with the meeting coordinator. Many gatherings begin by spending five minutes or more chatting, people’s background, or their weekend activities. (Fortunately, I only encountered an official icebreaker once-asking each of a dozen participants “what are your hobbies during the quarantine?”) At the same time, others adopted a more determined attitude. A former colleague likes to read articles about management theory for fun, and he likes (very good!) to interrupt the meeting when the last person arrives. However, most of us are stuck in the middle of confusion-no real interest in putting small talk on the agenda, but too gentle, even if it is obvious that no one likes small talk, it is impossible to cut off compulsory small talk.

I admit that when the colleague started holding professional meetings with the icebreaker, I tried to suppress rolling my eyes and made some moderate to severe sighs (silence of course!), even in the less structured chattering form . I prefer to spend a few minutes stretching exercises or drinking water or petting my dog, rather than deciding which of my epidemic pursuits actually count as a hobby while listening to the third person in a row complimenting their sourdough. As you can see, in terms of temperament, I am inclined to my colleague, who interrupted the polite remarks to understand why we are all there.

In other words, as you correctly pointed out, Matt, casual interaction has great value. I realize that people who have fewer meetings than me may be more excited to see their colleagues, even on the screen, and less eager to escape. Meeting a colleague in the hallway or kitchen—especially a colleague with whom I usually don’t work closely—is a great benefit of working in an office. In addition to the general warmth, it often triggers conversations and makes our work. better. A more pleasant place to work. Losing this is even more hurt.

However, this is where I am stuck: no matter how brave your efforts are, I think the past 16 months or so have shown us that we Can’t Recreate the magic of casual office conversation online. For various reasons, our pandemic era has become different and more terrifying, and I think we better appreciate it instead of trying to solve unsolvable problems. The social cohesion that stems from spontaneous meeting in the office does not come from people’s hobbies or small chat lists of weekend activities, but from a free and fluid dialogue that only feels natural when facing each other.


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