Zoom calls, Google Hangouts, FaceTime. Drinks on Houseparty later? Hey, whatever happened to Skype anyway?
The pandemic lockdown has pushed us into more screen time than ever before. We use our phones to do all the old normal things–texting, using social media, checking the news, playing games. Now we’ve engaged as many devices as possible to do our jobs, meet with colleagues and clients, check on our parents, teach our kids, follow along with a chef to make dinner, join a yoga class, and see our friends. Children are zooming with their teachers and livestreaming art classes. Grandparents have gin and tonics at five on the FaceTime.
With the separation of work and home now gone, many employees are finding the need to be virtually available at all hours, ready to “jump on a zoom call” at any point. Fortunately, WFH attire means we can now all dress like Mark Zuckerberg all day, every day. Meanwhile, social lives and after-work hours have moved from the pub to the screen as well, which is not nearly as relaxing or natural.
As The Times of London points out, “…it turns you and your partner into breakfast TV hosts (have you noticed?), squeezed up against each other on the sofa and doing that nodding thing when the other one is talking.”
Those with any introverted tendencies whatsoever must beware of apps such as Houseparty, where simply opening it could put you face-to-face with your BFF, your ex, or your client, depending how naïvely sociable you were feeling when you signed up.
The reality for most people is that it’s all a bit much. “We just can’t keep it up, can we?” asks Shane Watson, of The Times, addressing the sheer volume of virtual life. “We’re not used to this much social interaction and we need a break.” Fellow columnist India Knight recently broached the topic of “How to wriggle out of a Zoom call invitation when everyone knows you’re in.”
‘Zoom fatigue’ is what National Geographic calls the experience, in an article by Julia Sklar, exploring the impact of video calls. “The unprecedented explosion of their use in response to the pandemic has launched an unofficial social experiment, showing at a population scale, what’s always been true: virtual interactions can be extremely hard on the brain.” Tough on the psyche too, when trying to have a meaningful discussion from the confines of a small digital box, without the aid of body language, mutual eye contact or social cues .
Where we used to worry about work-life balance, now we must protect our real-life balance. Of course, it helps if everyone from the boss on down is consistent at setting screen limits and separating “work” from “home” during these WFH times. Connecting with an HR consultant can help set up a company policy that allows everyone to stay connected without burning the pixels at both ends.