Pick Up the Phone!

Zoom fatigue is real. So, for the last few weeks we’ve been experimenting more with phone calls. Here's what we've learned.
Photo by
David Sawyer
March 28, 2020
3 min

At Converge, we love Zoom. We use it all the time. We recommend it to others. And yet Zoom fatigue is real.

Why the fatigue? Fundamentally because we are trying to decode the body language of the other folks on the screen and although we seem to have all the visual information we need to understand what is going on at all levels of communication, we actually don’t.

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Think about it — we’re locked in one place, nailed to the screen. We have little direct eye contact with anyone, everyone’s screen is showing a slightly different pattern of faces, we’re scanning, and we rarely, if ever, know who’s looking directly at us. Or vice versa. Speaker view? Gallery view? Muted? Unmuted? Phone? Computer? In a car with kids in the back seat?

Meanwhile we’re likely looking at our own screen image as well, to ensure our posture is good or our face is conveying the expression we want. We’re listening, looking, trying to understand, connect emotionally, and sometimes decide critical issues together. It’s a strange kind of sensory overload, isn’t it?

It’s good to get a visual, certainly. Especially when you’ve never met in person or online before. But what we’ve discovered rather unexpectedly is that meaningful phone calls can facilitate unusually profound connections.

So, for the last couple of weeks we’ve been experimenting more with phone calls. Deep dive phone calls. I’ve asked each of my colleagues, after our conversations, how the phone call option worked for them. And they each said it was, in fact, very meaningful to connect by phone. Somehow, without the digital distractions, we connected more deeply.

Why? By not having to track all the visual cues, we can have richer conversations. By removing one of the senses — sight, the most powerful one — we can really listen to what the other person has to say. Sense them. Hear them. Listen more deeply to them. Speak more directly from the heart. To their heart.

On the phone, furthermore, we can be in our backyard, out in nature, pacing around the house, sitting in our favorite chair, taking a hike. We can grab a glass of water, get our child some orange juice, and generally feel more at home in our own skin and place.

I’m a visual guy, make no mistake. Strangely though, I’ve learned to connect more profoundly with colleagues and friends without having to stay glued to their screen image. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I “see” them through their words, their tone and pacing of voice, their pauses, the back and forth. It grants me the freedom to connect more with the spirit of a person, rather than rely on the visual imagery that is so hard to read accurately.

Let’s be clear. This works best one on one, and yes, it’s hard to do this with more than 3–5 people. But facilitated well, it can work in larger groups too. Tools like Zoom and Maestro Conference allow for small breakout groups, including for audio-only conversations.

I’m not a social scientist — I have no pretensions or research to back this up. But it’s powerful to sit on my back deck, watching the wind move the bamboo, pace around the house, moved by nothing else but the voice and energy of the one I’m speaking to. Less distraction = more connection.

We won’t stop using video for many of our meetings at Converge. Screen share, chat function, virtual whiteboards, small groups, we dig it. But there’s something about a heart to heart phone conversation that resonates with us too. Zoom fatigue? Pick up the phone!

David Sawyer

David Sawyer (aka "Sawyer") has played key roles in a variety of fields: education reform, national service, social entrepreneurship, venture philanthropy and environmental stewardship. He specializes in networks, strategy, design, and systems thinking. Prior to cofounding Converge he helped launch the Americorps program, received The Servant Leader Award from the National Youth Leadership Council, and served as the first Executive Director of Social Venture Partners Portland. He was also a strategy consultant with Monitor Institute, and has worked with mission centered organizations and businesses, both small and large, to address complex social and environmental challenges. He lives in Portland, Oregon.