Do you have a therapist? I do. I am proud of myself that I do. That I can have 50 minutes to myself. To talk about myself. My pain. So I can be my best self. Covid-19 means I have to have those sessions through Zoom. Or at least I did for one session until I asked sheepishly ‘can we just have a call?”. I felt rude, even a little odd asking if we could just talk, that we didn’t have to see each other’s faces. I found it exhausting talking about the pain of losing my beloved Mum just two months ago to a screen with occasional wifi interruption. Having to verbally repeat a traumatic experience is well, just traumatic. But saying ‘I’d rather not do face to face I just want to talk’ felt like I was being insulting and I was nervous asking.

Then I wondered if anyone else felt like this? Not about their therapist but about the fact that we seem to have forgotten that there are other communications channels – more traditional ones like phone and email. In place of physical meetings video is definitely the next best thing – but are some video calls taking place (my therapist for example) where a phone call would also be ok and are people feeling the pressure to be always be screen ready? which I for one may have pushed aside and now feeling slightly awkward about bringing them back in.

I wonder how well this new way of communicating is going for everyone else? Don’t get me wrong I am loving my face time with contacts new and old on screen. 

How to do video well

Had you heard of ‘Zoom’ before? Many hadn’t till lockdown, and if you had heard of Skype, I bet you couldn’t imagine it being used for a trial. And now these video-meeting platforms are commonplace, and trials are using the technology too. Zoom was downloaded 2.13m times around the world on 23 March, the day the lockdown was announced in the UK – up from 56,000 a day two months earlier.

From a communication point of view, compared to a ‘telecon’ it’s obvious that it has many advantages. If you’ve ever been on a 30-person telephone call, you’ll know the visual element helps.

But a meeting still needs a bit of discipline – for video to work, the ‘chair’ needs to, well, chair. I have been in meetings and webinars with time delays and poor sound quality. Oh and the fake backgrounds for some when it looks like they are a floating head. Then not to mention the problems in accurately reading body language, mean that the cues you’d usually pick up on are harder. People talk over one another more and often the chair forgets they are in charge.

Online, chairing skills are more, not less important. As are etiquette points like speaking in turn. Some problems are down to unfamiliarity – but some bad habits are in danger of getting ingrained.

All dressed up

It seems ridiculous to put a suit on, then sit in front of a computer camera with a child’s trampoline in the background. Early trials have recognised this, with judges not insisting on court dress.

But let’s not forget the clients – who, it seems, object to the pets and loungewear that learned friends think is funny or humanising. Some kind of mid-point is needed – a bit of dignity without pomposity. When we can see each other online, it’s important that clients feel ‘seen’ too. Tech novelty shouldn’t be the star of the show.

Was that necessary?

So back to the initial point and whether we have forgotten our friends email and phone (and maybe even whatsapp messaging!). Are you in fact a bit ‘Zoomed out’? A growing number of people I speak to are. Are we in fact a bit too sensitive to the idea that, being at home, we’re not working? A certain kind of person is therefore trying to do things by video call that they would have done by phone or email before.

Oddly, pre-lockdown, people working from home used email and phone to avoid the impression that they weren’t in the office. Video calls, suddenly, seem away to prove you are working, precisely because home is in the background.

Personally I think we can take the pressure off. Not everything needs to be a video call. Email still counts, as do brief phone calls and texts.

Learning to juggle

A lot of us, with schools shut or managing the needs of elderly parents remotely, aren’t just working from home. We’re also doing a lot more than we did before. That means we have boundaries of time and place that need respecting – I’m not suddenly free to communicate any time of the day because I’m working from home, and neither are you.

You need thinking time, and so do I. We always did. This needs more mutual recognition. I suspect etiquettes will develop around this, though right now contacts tell me we are very far from there.

Will we get there – learning to use contact and communication efficiently, respecting personal space without losing touch and will we expand our communications channels back to our original favourites?

Well, we’re professionals, so yes I think we will. I’ve just text a client to ask if I can give him a quick ring. Phew that didn’t feel so bad…