“Can you hear me?”, you ask your colleague as you look at the loading circle, lag spiked. — Sounds familiar?

Well, this is something most of us have probably experienced during the last year, during the pandemic. Online meetings, as the new norm, have completely changed the feeling of having meetings, connecting with your colleagues, and clients. We remember the times when face-to-face meetings, in person, were the most usual thing, as we take a look at how the virtual meetings have shaped us.

You wake up in the morning, have breakfast, drink a cup of coffee, and you sit at your computer. The first meeting is in a couple of minutes, but you are already prepared and ready, just making sure that you connect to the call on time. You go through meetings as if they were sales calls, one after the other, by literally clicking the next call link, joining the room for a daily standup, etc. It all feels so soulless when you can break it down to watching pixelated images of people and listening to cracky audio.

But, it may be more efficient. The company still gets its bit of code, projects are still completed and rendered for clients to see. Given how it still “gets things done”, the virtual replacement of real-life communication with your colleagues, clients, superiors, and other acquaintances is probably going to outlast the pandemic. Boundaries that were once there, are shattered.

However, new ones are imposed. The experience of having meetings has completely changed. It can never be more than one person speaking, in a call, or else nobody will be heard. The chance of bumping into someone while going to a meeting is lost. Chit-chat with colleagues, work-related topics, and discussions about projects are taken down to a bare minimum — enough to get the information you require.

Conferences are few, as opposed to the past. You could’ve counted on a couple of them a year, going through different booths, networking, learning about the new trends, and even enjoying the “vacation” side of it. Today, they’re all online.

As expected, many have boarded this boat, as more and more start-ups come up with creative solutions to improving the experience of having a meeting online. Gather.town is a great example as it will help us break down what is missing in virtual meetings and the efforts to bring it back. On Gather.town, attendees enter a virtual world set up as an office. You create a character that you control around the map, moving using your keyboard. As you come closer to other participants, their audio sharpens, and their video comes up. You’ve bumped into a colleague on your way to a meeting, virtually! It’s just one of many examples of trying to bring back the simple experiences of sharing a working space with others. Kumospace and Pluto are honorable mentions that you could be interested in.

Let’s take a moment to think about what these meetings are like compared to “traditional”. In a normal meeting, you look at the new closet in the boss’s office, you write down a note, you have eye contact with the person you’re talking to, not everyone. In a video call, whoever is in the call is watching everyone else directly in the eyes for the whole duration of the call, feeling as if they’re in front of a crowd, giving a presentation on a stage. Depending on the camera setup that they’re using, all of the participants’ faces are enlarged, right there in your face. As if you’re having an intimate conversation with all of them at once, during the entire duration of the call!

Oh, who’s that there? — It’s you, the preview of your face, watching you watch others, and it tires you, seeing yourself during these meetings as if you had a mirror in front.

Meeting new clients for the first time is different, as well. Sales calls have completely changed, sellers have been stripped away of the ability to use their charm to close deals. When you share your screen to show a presentation, your video goes away. Body language is out of the game. Only two of our senses are involved, and communication has become bleak. Virtual reality is yet to be introduced to this purpose, however. Imagine waking up on a Monday, putting on your VR headset, and joining a conference room with all your colleagues there…

But one thing is certain, humans are bound to adapt and evolve. We’ll certainly find ways to improve what is currently being done. The effort is on all of us, to make sure that we don’t just look at the changes that are happening, but also try and have an effect, a say in it all.

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