With a third of humanity now in lockdown, video conferencing is fast becoming the normal way to communicate, whether it’s a business meeting, chatting with friends and family, or attending class.

Today my morning started with a board meeting, twelve people at Google Meet, that took 20 minutes simply get them all properly connected. Then a class on Adobe Connect with 35 students halfway around the world. Add a couple of family chats with Zoom and an event with my publisher, Deusto, on Instagram this afternoon, and my daily life now takes place in front of a screen, with all sorts of issues related to the peculiarities of that communication channel.

How many video conferences do you now find yourself having? As they increase, do you like it, do you find it a reasonable substitute, or have you started to hate it? How many video conferencing tools that you did not know or did not use regularly have you had to install since lockdown was imposed on us?

Now that we’re spending so much time in front of a screen, perhaps we should take advantage to get comfortable with these new tools, and I don’t mean simply “knowing how to use them”, but having reasonably mastered certain routine practices: finding a reasonably lit place; looking at the camera; muting the microphone when not speaking in meetings with several people; sharing the screen when needed; and limiting our use of phatic language — letting our interlocutors know we have heard or understood, and that in video conferences can slow things up. Simply deciding whether or not to use video can become an issue that, if not properly managed, is likely to generate uncomfortable situations or make us seem rude.

In short, online video generates many situations that, without some practice, can be uncomfortable or disagreeable. The proper management of interruptions or small breaks in communication, for example, is something that can be taught, but is only acquired with practice, as is the choice of tool, who initiates communication, or the use of advanced tools such as background blur in Skype or Teams or virtual backgrounds in Zoom, which can rank from being inconsequential, to solving the problem of where to sit to maintain a video call for those of us short on space. Deciding when to record a call, when to use attention tracking or how to manage a problem is something that is fundamentally based on experience. If the current times force us to practice these skills, let’s turn that into something positive: in the end, the coronavirus could end up becoming the stimulus that many traditional businesses needed to make the leap into the digital environment.

By understanding a few basic rules, working from home can be an enormously positive experience, and skipping commuting can prove great benefits not only for productivity, but also for the environment. I’ve been doing this for a long time, especially on days when I don’t have any meeting or classes, and know from experience that, particularly for creative tasks, I work much better from home than in my office, which is simply a place to meet with other people. What will happen when many people start, after the period of confinement, to feel more comfortable using virtual meeting tools? Science says that it takes a little more than two months to turn a practice into a habit: I don’t know if the lockdown will extend that far, but if we take advantage of it to become fluent in the use of these tools, we will be building an asset that will come in handy later.

Microsoft, whose Skype now has over 40 million active users and continues to attract more, has decided to open Teams for private use, trying to compete with Zoom or even with teen star Houseparty, in addition to the plethora of other tools such as Webex, GoToSeminar, Chime, etc. Knowing which one to choose at any given time and what the particularities of its use are is already becoming a fundamental element in our daily lives.

There’s no question that the coronavirus pandemic will see many of these tools take on a much greater role than they did before, because there is nothing like circumstances forcing you to practice using something so that that something ends up becoming a habit. We will look back on lockdown with perspective and while we hope it doesn’t repeat itself, the habits we’ve acquired will remain with us, and we will go on to use them much more freely and habitually in our daily lives. Let’s take this opportunity to familiarize ourselves with them and incorporate them properly into our toolbox.





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