Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/30/2020: Zoomed Out”

Zoom

Once again I am horribly behind in posting deserving Comments of the Day, or even announcing them. I apologize for this; there are many reasons, but no excuses. This COTD , authored by Null Pointer, is three weeks old, and there are some unposted ones that are older still. Fortunately, the topic is ever-green, at least as long as Shut-Down Hell is upon us: the curse of Zoom.

Here is Null Pointer’s Comment Of The Day on the post, “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/30/2020: Zoomed Out”

I’ve never joined a zoom meeting because zoom is verboten at the company I work for due to security threats. I’ve spent plenty of time in Microsoft Teams/Skype meetings, however, and it is far more exhausting than in person meetings.

Typical online meeting playing out:

First five minutes: Spent asking the 2 of 15 expected participants who joined if the remaining people who are supposed to join are planning to join, and messaging/emailing the relevant parties to inquire if they are joining.

Next five minutes: Spent being ignored.

Next five minutes: Someone explains whatever points the meeting was created to make and/or ask the questions the meeting was created to ask.

Next five minutes: Spent cut off by the people who didn’t join on time finally joining and asking what you are talking about. During this period many of the joiners will drop off/rejoin/drop off/rejoin multiple times due to technical issues and/or to join another meeting. They will fail to listen to what was explained/asked. Someone will repeat whatever points the meeting was created to make and/or ask the questions the meeting was created to ask, again, to everyone who doesn’t know what’s going on.

Next five minutes: The handful of people who have been on the call the whole time explain they are not the right people to answer these questions/explain whatever issue is going on, and someone not present needs to join/rejoin to handle this problem. That person won’t be available for 6 months due to the current glut of online meetings. During this period many of the joiners will drop off/rejoin/drop off/rejoin multiple times due to technical issues and/or to join another meeting. They will fail to listen to what was explained/asked. Someone will repeat whatever points the meeting was created to make and/or ask the questions the meeting was created to ask, again, to everyone who doesn’t know what’s going on.

Next 5 minutes: The actually necessary person joins, and asks why the meeting is being held. During this period many of the joiners will drop off/rejoin/drop off/rejoin multiple times due to technical issues and/or to join another meeting. They will fail to listen to what was explained/asked. Someone will repeat whatever points the meeting was created to make and/or ask the questions the meeting was created to ask, again, to everyone who doesn’t know what’s going on. The necessary person will say they know the answer/explanation, but don’t have time to explain right now because the meeting is running over schedule and they have another meeting scheduled starting 5 minutes ago. They will need all the originally scheduled attendees to attend a future call to handle the problem/answer the question.

The next “available” time for all the required participants is 2 weeks in the future, by which time the whole process has been forgotten and needs to be started over.

Nothing gets done, and the glut of online meetings stacks up in a recursive loop that puts all answers/solutions off to a point somewhere around the infinity point in the future.

12 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/30/2020: Zoomed Out”

  1. Reminds me of the old definition of a committee: “A committee is a group of people who individually can do nothing getting together and deciding that nothing can be done.”

  2. Recent Stanford research confirms my attitude (yes, confirmation bias). First, meetings lower productivity. Second, the ideal number of people for a productive meeting is 7 +/- 2. This applies in spades to “virtual meetings” (my personal observation, at least as reliable as high-cost studies).
    “There are many ways to make a meeting more productive, but according to recent research out of Stanford University, the most productive meetings have “seven, plus or minus two.” In other words, between five and nine people. Any more attendees and the quality of contribution declines; any fewer and you run the risk of groupthink. “
    Virtual meetings should be run the way GW Bush ran Cabinet meetings and I ran staff meetings of my senior execs: at the designated time (perhaps plus 3 or so minutes to accommodate the unforeseeable) the door is shut and nobody else is allowed in; or the virtual meeting administrator does not accept any more entrants.

  3. When I first read this post I had flashbacks to those audio equivalent conference calls. Nothing has changed except our ability to see those on the other end of the line focusing on everything other than the task at hand.

  4. Yep, that just described every workplace Teams/WebEx meeting since this began.

    Except that a big part of the beginning of the meeting is asking how everyone is and hearing everyone’s pandemic complaints.

    Then repeat the Comment of the Day scenario.

  5. It sounds like you folks need to get your technology/internet sorted.

    We recently ran the annual state conference for our denomination, admittedly the Presbyterian Church in Queensland could be regarded as a ‘Boutique’ denomination with about eighty delegates, with a mixed physical/zoom format. I’m not saying there weren’t some issues, but they were so minor that we may never have a purely physical meeting again.

    Good management, good, custom written, software that made the myriad of documents we were referencing available at the right time with a single click, good control, and a good national internet infrastructure made the whole thing a great successes.

    Yes, Zoom was the linking software.

    It can be done successfully.

    FYI: Queensland is about 25% greater area than Alaska, just as remote and isolated at it’s extremities, and about six and a half times the population. About eighty percent of the population live within three hundred kilometres of the South East corner. I don’t!

    I would think that running an interactive seminar that was spread over more than half a dozen locations would be the stuff of recurring nightmares!

  6. Frankly, this doesn’t sound that much worse than many of our in-person meetings at my workplace. The issues described by Null Pointer are endemic in poor meeting management. Meetings require discipline, which include

    * Proper identification of required attendees
    * Meeting agenda, including time allotted to each item
    * Sufficient notification of meeting time (i.e. not 10 minutes before the meeting)
    * Starting and ending meetings on time
    * Rigorous adherence to meeting agenda

    There also needs to be management buy-in to ensuring that required personnel do attend, contribute, and stay on task.

    It is sad, but there are entire books written on how to properly handle meetings. We’ve even propagated a few of them at my work-place, to little effect. Sadly, I like the online meetings (we prefer Webex) because I don’t use my camera, and for those meetings that I’m a required attendee with NOTHING to contribute to the meeting, I get other work done while everyone else muddles through the meeting topics.

    • I think the courtesies and etiquette of in person meetings vanish with web meetings. People worry less about wasting other people’s time when they are not physically present. Also, room capacity is an issue for in person meetings. Web meetings have no such issue.
      There is a casual flippancy about scheduling a ton of unnecessary participants.

      Also, people are bored and tired of being stuck at home alone, so they schedule meetings just to socialize.

      It is the same problems as in person meetings, but magnified and exacerbated by technological barriers.

  7. During a recent, dysfunctional Zoom meeting, the presenter kept walking away from the camera and microphone. The participants were left watching a microphone on a stand while people typed ‘what is going on?’ and ‘what was the last thing he said?’. I commented, “Just remember, most of the virtual education going on right now is just this productive.” The big point was that the ‘virtual’ aspect of the meeting was unnecessary. All the participants were located within 200 yards of each other at the time and all the participants had been teaching students in person the entire semester. The only reason to make the meeting ‘virtual’ was to virtue signal about coronavirus concerns.

  8. I am not happy at all with how Teams works. I have used Zoom a few times, but only for one-on-one meetings. So far, so good with Zoom.

    Teams has a Chat feature. People in the meeting can talk to each other. What they say shows up on a Chat screen that any and all meeting participants can read and scroll through. Cool, except…there can be all kinds of chatting going on, while someone not in the chatting is in control of the main view, and usually is presenting something that everyone in the meeting OUGHT to SHUT UP and pay attention to. So for the user, it becomes a challenge of attention span and time management – whom to pay attention to, and when? The chatterers, or the presenter? Either way, something’s going to be missed. Something important. Something that the whole group cannot afford a single participant’s missing.

    So, I don’t recommend that schoolteachers use Teams, if they don’t want their students to be talking to each other and not paying attention during class time. I got my butt paddled for talking out of turn in class, when I was in school. The corporal punishment worked, somehow, eventually – what a miracle of luck!

    But what irks me to meeting-abandoning RAGE is how the Chat feature continues. It continues to display – on the monitor of one who has left the meeting – ALL the after-meeting chatting associated with the ended meeting, even after a meeting has ended and regardless of whether the user is not part of the chat. I hate that feature – not because it is detrimental to the chatters – quite the opposite; subsets of the meeting population NEED to follow-up with each other, typically. The problem is with the attendee who is “done” with the meeting part, and now, wants to move along in life with, say, other actions related to following-up on the meeting, NOT related to the ongoing chatting, by working ALONE, WITHOUT chatting with anyone or knowing about ongoing chatting by others who attended the now ended meeting. I have experienced spans of minutes – no, HALF-HOURS – of distracting pop-ups of chatting going on, on matters unrelated to what I am working on and focused on. I can’t shut off that crap; it obscures part of my view. The distraction and view-blocking kills my productivity. My time is too expensive to be “hostaged” like that.

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