Zoom, Zoom, Meet, Meet, and Trust, Well?

July 24, 2020

We evolved to be social creatures—long, long before Zoom or MS Teams existed. That is why, as Canada’s CBC declares, “Video Chats Short Circuit a Brain Function Essential for Trust—and That’s Bad for Business.” Journalist Don Pittis writes:

“Canadian research on ‘computer-mediated communication,’ begun long before the current lockdown, shows video chat is an inadequate substitute for real-life interaction. The real thing, dependent on non-verbal cues, is extraordinarily more effective in creating rapport and getting ideas across. Not only that, but the familiarity and trust we currently feel with coworkers during the lockdown’s remote calls rests on connections remembered from back when we sat at a nearby desk or met for lunch. As the lockdown stretches out and the mix of colleagues changes, it may be almost impossible to establish healthy trusting working relationships using remote video chat tools alone. That’s bad for business, said organizational behavior specialist Mahdi Roghanizad from Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Business. The reason: getting a good reading on your fellow workers has been repeatedly shown to be essential for business efficiency, reaching common goals and establishing trust. It is why teams that worked remotely even before the pandemic lockdown always met periodically in person. The latest research shows human-to-human bonding is like a kind of intuitive magic.”

Researchers suggest several reasons for this “magic,” including pheromones, body language, and in-person eye contact. Some have found it is harder to detect when someone is lying across video. One social scientist, the University of Waterloo’s Frances Westley, likens video chat to talking with someone wearing sunglasses—it is less satisfying, and can even sap our energy.

For all these reasons, Pittis suspects the supposed work-from-home “revolution” may not last, as many had predicted. Businesses may find it more productive to summon workers back to the office once the danger is gone. In the meantime, Westley suggests, we should reinforce connections with the occasional (socially distanced, mask-augmented) in-person conversation.

Cynthia Murrell, July 24, 2020

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