why video conferencing sucks, how to fend off a time-wasting colleague, and more

Over at QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I take a look at several interesting work-related stories in the news right now: why video conferencing kind of sucks, a great piece from HBR about how to fend off a time-wasting colleague, and more. You can read it here.

{ 60 comments… read them below }

  1. ali*

    I’ll take a (good) video conference over a phone call an day – because I lipread, and struggle to hear when it’s just the audio. If I can see faces at all it helps dramatically in what I can understand. The caveat is it has to be good video conference software and not the ones where there is a delay between the sound and the video.

    1. LQ*

      I didn’t realize how much I relied on lipreading until I said to someone with out thinking, “I can’t hear you when you stand there because I can’t see your face”.

      I do gaming over video conference and it took a while even for something social and casual to warm up, but it does help for that because there is a bit of comradarie.

      1. JessaB*

        Totally, I went to a large convention (think San Diego Comic Con large) and finally got a t-shirt that said on the back, “I speechread, please talk to my face not my back,” because I was sick of being called rude for having no idea that the unintelligible noise behind me was speech being directed at me.

        I also have an emergency paper in my purse and a thing on my phone that basically says “I’m deaf, if you expect me to understand you do not take my glasses away.”

        I love video conferencing too.

    2. Kyrielle*

      …and now when I am in a video conference that’s not showing enormous powerpoint slides (rather than the people), I will try to face the camera consistently when speaking. Thank you!

      1. LQ*

        I do this myself but someone with a hand in front of the face while on camera is so hard to hear. It muffles the sound AND you can’t lipread!

    3. Kara Zor-El*

      This. I’m hard of hearing, and can’t understand anything without lip reading, so phone calls are right out. Video conferencing is honestly the best thing that’s happened to my professional life — I can interact and engage with remote colleagues! But yes, the quality has to be there.

      1. ali*

        exactly! I really can’t do phone calls, but I can do video calls. It helps so much. I’m getting a cochlear implant at the end of the month, so we’ll see how that ends up changing things…

    4. Ife*

      This is a good point. I spend a lot of effort in conference calls trying to understand people who have a bad phone connection or who have a really thick accent. It probably would help if I could see their face!

    5. Kimberlee, Esq*

      There was also something on HBR a few… months? … ago about how we build interpersonal trust most in in-person comms, then best in video conferences, then phones, then writing. That seeing faces is important, especially for remote teams. I’ll have to see if I can dig that up!

    6. Koko*

      Same here! Especially when you’re one of only a few remote people. They will forget you’re there on an audio conference, and it’s very difficult to figure out when you can jump in without cutting someone off, and you can’t tell when people in the conference room are making faces or gestures in response to ideas, sometimes you can’t tell who’s talking…

  2. BarManager*

    I’d be interested to hear thoughts or get links to more resources on pushing for more remote time. My job is a little different in that I am a manager in a hospitality setting so some work must be done on sight, such as when I’m on the floor, inventorying, menu creation, etc. but otherwise I would be SO MUCH MORE productive at home. We have an open office that is also a thoroughfare and two functioning computers that we have to trade off on. One of them is the GM’s and when she’s in the office, she doesn’t share. I bring my own laptop in and sit in a corner or wear headphones but it does not help – still constant interruption. Tuesday I tried to finalize my audit to send off to accounting (i.e. Work in Excel) and in an hour, I was interrupted 22times. What. The. Hell. This is people coming up and waving at me or tapping me on the shoulder. I have fairly severe ADHD for which I take medication and it’s generally well managed but I don’t think anyone could reasonably work like this. I had asked about some remote time when I began and my GM (my direct boss) told me it was important to “make the office my own.” Even just six hours of flex time to work from home a week would make a massive difference in my work output. Help!

    1. BarManager*

      And I do have concerns about my “output ” in general. Due to the constant distractions and things coming up that are ’emergencies’ every day, I really struggle to have time to build systems and communicate with my team. I took the position over from someone who did a poor job at the position in general, so I am building from scratch on top of fixing their errors and the HUGE rifts they put in the team to begin with. I alone am responsible for about 300k in inventory and oversee a team of ~25 but I have no time to really teach/train or communicate with them hands on, draft training materials, write reviews, organize my inventory, speak or bargain with reps, etc. These things fall by the wayside every day because of all the piddly little things I can’t put distance between myself and. Any insight is greatly appreciated.

      1. Kyrielle*

        I don’t think anyone could work well in the environment you describe. 22 interruptions in an hour – or about every *three minutes*? That’s ludicrous.

        On the other hand, it’s possible your ADHD might allow you to request accommodation (such as working from home)? I don’t know if the having-to-disclose it part is worth it for that, though.

      2. LQ*

        What can you delegate?
        Can you have someone who is an expert on a thing draft materials? Is there any possibilities of team leads? Organizing inventory sounds like something delegatable? As does working with reps? What are the piddly things? Can you empower people to do more on their own? That itself might help repair some rifts as well.

      3. AnonyMeow*

        I have an employee who will be working remotely for a month this summer. Upper management was skeptical to say the least when she requested the arrangement, but I lobbied for her because 1) she has been doing a great job, 2) her job doesn’t require her to be in any specific location, and 3) her job results in hard numbers that can be easily measured (i.e., if there’s a problem, we’ll notice and can address it, even if she is not in the same office as we are). I think when all 3 are in place, it’s easier to lobby for a remote work arrangement.

        You sound like you are worried about #1 due to constant interruption, so I would take the approach of working remotely on an experimental basis. Parts of your job fall into #2 and #3 (negotiating with reps, writing training materials, etc. don’t require you to be at the office, and you can quantify the results pretty easily). I’d propose a remote work “experiment,” with the focus being that you want to test the different arrangement to see if remote work will improve the results you produce.

        1. BarManager*

          Thank you! These are good things to think about. Thank you for recounting your experience lobbying for your report! I had a conversation with my GM and the owners yesterday a bit, it happened organically and not related to this discussion and told them how much I was struggling. The funny thing was my GM even said “well maybe sometimes work from home?” and it took all I had not to shout for joy! I’m going to draft up a list of some tasks that can done from home and get her input/approval. Baby steps, baby steps.

    2. BRR*

      There are multiple studies that all say working from home can improve productivity. From what I have learned from this site is that if the person/people who can approve WFH don’t support it, it’s not likely to happen. You could ask to try it a couple of times and show what happens when there aren’t interruptions. You could also try to ask for it for certain projects.

    3. the gold digger*

      I haven’t been able to get past two functioning computers that we have to trade off on. One of them is the GM’s and when she’s in the office, she doesn’t share. I bring my own laptop.

      Do they also require you to bring your own toilet paper?

  3. Katie F*

    I think I probably have a ‘remote’ personality – I work in a great location with coworkers i truly adore, but I have definitely noticed I am way more productive when I work from home than when I’m in the office. It may just be the lack of distractions, but even when I head into the office and sequester myself and don’t really talk to anyone, I’m still not as productive as I am on my work-from-home days.

    Luckily, my boss doesn’t mind us working-from-home. When I’m buried in big projects, I tend to take what I call a “mental health day” where I just stay home and work because it’s way easier for me to power through all the overdue to-dos there than it is at the office.

    I think my ideal would be to come into the office Monday and Friday and work from home in the middle of the week. That way I woudn’t miss out on updated information or collaboration (all our meetings are M or F, usually), but I would still have that solid alone-time to get things done.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I’d probably be more productive working remotely if I had the setup I have at my office–a dock, two monitors, etc. on my desk. At home, it’s the small, hard-to-see single laptop screen only on a tray on the sofa.

      Also, the office can get very loud, while at home I can control the noise level. And play music loudly. And sing along if I like. And cook a nice melty cheese sandwich for lunch instead of packing a cold one. :)

  4. Rat Racer*

    Hear hear on the futility of video conferencing! I was supposed to be at one today but decided to work from home in PJs and dial in instead. Juice not worth squeeze of getting dressed, fighting traffic, having to ask for the “visitor key” every time I have to use the bathroom…

  5. Lauren*

    I absolutely know I have a “remote” personality. The ideal for me would be working at home most of the time with perhaps a few hours one day a week in the office. I love to work hard but I don’t like being around others that much, and the “alone” time would make me even more productive because I don’t have to interact with others, which takes effort on my part so I don’t seem rude. It’s exhausting and can be depressing. Alone, however, and I burst into song (not literally).

      1. NoWhiteFlag*

        This, so much this. I worked remotely at my former job and sometimes I would dance too.

        1. LBK*

          Being able to sing while I work is definitely one of my top 10 perks of telecommuting.

  6. Searching*

    I was just laid off from a job where I’d been working from home full-time for more than 10 years (more than half of my total tenure with the company). I loved it, and I’m already dreading that my next gig is unlikely to come with that benefit.

    [And yes, I was very happy we did not do video-conferencing, especially during those 6 and 7 am (and often later) conference calls that I did in my PJs!]

    1. starsaphire*

      You would be amazed at how professional a blazer over a nightgown can look…

      …uh, so I’m told, that is… :D

      1. Noah*

        Haha! I have totally rolled out of bed and put on a professional shirt and no pants for a video call. I was on the west coast and they wanted to have a call at 8am eastern time. That was as good as they were going to get that early in the day.

  7. Jennifer*

    I absolutely love the stock photo of the woman glaring on this. Except for her eye color she looks almost dead on like someone I know IRL. I just sent her the link saying, “Did you pose for this?”

    1. videogameprincess*

      lol yeah. She must look really nice in real life but I can’t help but get the feeling that she’s going to turn me to stone if I look at her too long.

      But your friend is very pretty, really.

      1. Jennifer*

        The sad thing is her response was something along the lines of “I look like that?! Behead me now!” No! It’s not that bad! You just aren’t inclined to take crap!

        I was all, hey, I like it when you give me that look (what she described as the “are you f—ing kidding me” look). It deeply amuses me, somehow.

  8. Violet_04*

    I’m lucky because my cubicle is in an empty area of the office. There’s no one nearby and it’s very quiet. I get the “remote” feel while still being in the office. I work from home sometimes, but I tend to get distracted easier and wander into the kitchen too often for snacks.

    There’s a video conference room at work, but I’ve never used it. I’m on conference calls the majority of the day and there is always someone sharing something on their computer. Sometimes, I need to look up something on my computer to share with the people on the call. Video conferencing wouldn’t work will in this situation because everyone would just be staring at the computers.

  9. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

    I used to work from home at my job and while I hated the job, I figured “at least I get to work from home.” And then they took that away. So now I have to go into the office to a job I hate and there’s no modifiers to that.

    1. Newish Reader*

      Actually, the modifier to that could be “at least I have a job.” But then again, at what cost?

      1. Jennifer*

        At least I’m not homeless and starving?

        Low bars to clear….then again in this day and age, you gotta be grateful for that, at least.

  10. Bekx*

    We use Webex for our meetings and one time someone asked a really stupid question and the presenter must have forgotten she was on video because she rolled her eyes and made a face. I mean, I was doing the same exact thing, but luckily I don’t have a web cam!

    1. Violet_04*

      Oh, I could see doing that myself! Sometimes I roll my eyes without even realizing I do it. Luckily, my husband pointed it out to me once so I try to be aware of it. Currently my biggest fear is saying something unprofessional and not realizing I’m on mute.

    2. Elizabeth West*


      We don’t usually appear on camera in our WebEx session. It’s always some huge PowerPoint or something. I hate them because I can’t hear anything–they always seem to happen on days when everyone is in their cube and is non-stop talking.

  11. Menacia*

    We have a conference room that has a camera on the table which is either covered up with a cup put over it, or disconnected completely, because people are paranoid about it even when it’s not on!

  12. The Cosmic Avenger*

    “The social benefits of in-person meetings—the strengthened sense of camaraderie—are entirely absent from video calls”.

    Well sure, meeting in-person is preferable, all other factors aside. But have you ever tried to comment during a busy phone conference? It can be almost impossible to be heard, especially if there are people talking in a room using a speakerphone. When we videoconference in one remote person at a meeting, they felt much more involved and it was much easier to see their reaction to what was being said, and to see if they had something they wanted to say. But we also put their image up on a big TV screen, so no tiny postage stamp video issue for us. :)

  13. Abby*

    I gotta say that there are definitely people who take the face-to-face meeting enthusiasm a bit too far. My college days were riddled with 20-30 minute group meetings with agendas that could have been easily accomplished via video conference (e.g. let’s assign tasks for who covers what in this group presentation). It seems my husband has a similar experience with his graduate program– except for him, it’s a 30-minute commute to campus each way, so these short, informal meetings can an unnecessary time sink.

  14. RVA Cat*

    Note that you should also do this to avoid the opposite problem, where Petyr charms the pants off everybody in the interview, then you find out he’s a serial backstabber….

  15. Squibbles*

    Any tips on how to deal with a time-wasting coworker who lectures you when you tell him you need to get back to work? I work with guy who loves to chat, show videos, etc., and when I tell him I’m busy or I need to get back to what I’m doing, he gives me a very condescending lecture about how it’s okay to take breaks, and I’ll burn out if I don’t, and life isn’t all about work, etc etc, and thus wastes more of my time. When he launches into a lecture I try to cut it short or just say “Okay, I’m going now,” and sometimes that works, but other times he’s followed me to my office to further chastise me.

    1. Duncan*

      “Yes, and if I spend more time on breaks than work, I’ll be fired. I know how to manage my time, thanks. Now I really have to go.”

    2. Jaydee*

      Maybe a simple and cheery “Oh, don’t worry about me, I do take plenty of breaks. In fact that’s why I really need to get back to work now.”

      It sounds like he is really projecting his own insecurities on you. He sees your “got to get back to work!” as a commentary on how often he is off task and is trying to justify being off task.

      Subtly reinforcing his underlying premise that breaks are important to avoid burn-out and whatnot suggests that you aren’t judging him as a time-waster (even if you are) and may be enough for him to let his guard down and not have to defend himself to you.

    3. Jennifer*

      “This is my fifth break of the day and it’s only 10:30. I gotta do some work sometime.”

  16. Sy*

    My proudest moment when video conferencing was forgetting that my screen was shared and typing ‘ugh stuck in a meeting’ to a coworker asking me where I was.

    I also am very pale and have found that my face just looks like a weird blob when I’m on video chat. This leads to me putting on makeup when I’m working from home which is pretty odd. I definitely get self conscious and I know that my coworkers are seeing my face on a giant wide screen.

    1. ljs_lj*

      I’ve had the ‘pale blob’ problem on Skype interviews – make up helps but doesn’t completely solve the problem for me. And my hair is very thin, so depending on the lighting I sometimes look balding instead of having a wild head of curls.

  17. Ilf*

    Video conferencing can mean just a bunch of people on their laptops sharing their cameras, but it can also be a few people in a conference room talking to a few people in another conference room halfway across the world. Good luck replacing the second with a phone conference and actually making out something of that conversation. And just think of the cost of in person meetings! Webex is a decent alternative, but not when several participants are in the same room without headsets.
    Also, there are some visual cues that someone wants to speak, completely lost in a phone conference. Can’t count the times when on a phone call, everybody started talking at the same time, then everybody stopped, then everybody started talking again. Less of this in a VC.

  18. SusanIvanova*

    Video conferences suck but phone conferences suck more. We had team members all over the world, and maybe because we had met them in person and we had the meetings every week, there was no body language awkwardness.

    We also had phone conferences with a different remote team, which were frustrating as hell because when we’d ask if they had any questions, they’d always answer “no questions”. The whole point of the meeting was to hash out any questions in real time! At least with video conferencing, you could get a sense of whether they were really understanding it or were baffled but didn’t want to say anything.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I think some of it depends on the tech used, and the type of meeting. I don’t like doing video conferences from home, because the video and sound quality isn’t good enough to make a difference. From the office, if I can use the professional quality video conference setup, it’s much more comfortable, and I can use my laptop for other purposes during the meeting – taking notes, bringing up information. But I’d rather do a from home meeting at odd hours, so I don’t need to get to the office at 5am and not be able to get tech support if something isn’t working.

      If it’s a meeting of more than about 6 people or so, having a video hookup can make it much easier to keep track of who is saying what. And if it’s a couple of people remotely joining a meeting, having a picture of them helps us remember that they are participating.

      And while face-to-face is nice, it’s often not practical, particularly in international situations. I’m going to need to fly to the US for an important face-to-face meeting for a project, for which we already have twice monthly telecons. I’ll spend 17 hours on a plane, each way, with 12 time zones of jet lag, to attend a two day meeting.

  19. stevenz*

    My experience with video has been entirely negative. When I have used it, the bulk of the group has been in one place while a couple of us were elsewhere. We felt like we weren’t in the room at all – which of course we weren’t. But we were so easy to ignore, and it could be so hard to get a word in, that there would have been no difference if it had been a conference call. And you’re so conscious of how you look and sit and all that that you’re no where near as natural as you would be in person, and that, as the post says, is not good for communication.

    Same with Skype. I had a Skype interview for which I prepared a Power Point presentation that took about 40 hours to produce. I emailed it to them. When the time came, they couldn’t get the Power Point to work and all I could see of them was somebody’s elbow. So that was a bust and I don’t think it was fair.

    But if there is one thing I don’t like about video or conference calls it’s that the volume is always way TOO LOUD.

  20. Ruffingit*

    Time wasting colleagues – ugh, I have one of these. And actually, she’s not a colleague, she works in a different department, but I work out in the field so when I need to be in an office, I sit in a team room that is open and everyone sort of rotates in and out and uses the room as needed. Anyway, this woman is sweet, but man does she not understand that I have no interest in answering her mundane questions about things not even pertaining to work. Today, she asked me the best way to get to a particular area of town and yesterday, it was a question about car inspections. None of that has anything to do with work at all. I have headphones on and this person still bugs me with “I know you’re busy, but…” Yes, I am busy, STOP BOTHERING ME. ARGH.

  21. Fish Microwaver*

    I have time wasting colleagues too. There’s the social butterfly who wants to join any conversation, no matter that it’s on the other side of the room and between 2 people who haven’t invited her. Then there’s the “sage” co-worker who wants to give her considered opinion on everything and yet another who rabbits on but one has no idea of what she is actually trying to say. Needless to say, excellent communication skills are essential in my workplace.

  22. nofelix*

    I struggle asking time wasters what they want to talk about in a way that doesn’t imply “I don’t want to talk to you unless there’s a good reason”. The suggested wording in the article is good

    “I need to confirm some plans on Thursday, so I’ll get back to you ASAP. Just so I’m clear, what would you like to talk about?”

    However, often when I’ve used things like this, I just get the response “Thanks! Let me know!”. So then I’m forced to give in to the agenda-less meeting or clarify that my response IS contingent on them answering the question.

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