Are spontaneous conversations dead?

In a remote world, we've defaulted to scheduling every conversation, resulting in more meetings than ever before. Here are some ideas to bring back the casual, non-scheduled conversation.

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Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels
Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels

The last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking and writing all about meetings. How to reduce their impact on your schedule. How to make them more worthy of your time.

Yet, there’s a bigger issue a the root of the fact that we are in so.many.meetings these days, the fact that our time in meetings has increased as we’ve all started working from home. And that thing that’s been left unsaid is that the reason we’re so packed to the gills with meetings is that spontaneous, casual, conversations has ceased to exist.

There is no more turning around and asking your coworker for a quick minute. There’s no bumping into each other in the halls or the kitchen. There’s no overheard chatter 2 cubes over that you just can help from injecting yourself into.

Instead, we preschedule every conversation. And when we schedule conversations, we don’t schedule it for 2 minutes, we schedule it for 30.

Not only is that incredibly inefficient, it’s a lot of pressure!

When we schedule every conversation, we feel like there has to be an agenda. We stop talking about our weekends (boring as they may be stuck indoors), we stop sharing, we start to forget that our coworkers are actual, real life human beings.

Look, I don’t know when we’ll be back in the office. Neither do you. And realistically, for some companies, it might be “never”. So, this is a problem we actually need to solve. We can’t go on scheduling every conversation forever. And Slack and email aren’t good alternatives either. Adding to the ever growing influx of emails and messages isn’t going to make us feel any better. There are some conversations that should be, well, conversations.

So, here’s what I’m proposing: We’re going to have to start experimenting. And it might be uncomfortable, and that’s ok.

Here are a few things I’ve been thinking about as a means of normalizing casual conversation in an all remote environment”:

Pick up the phone

Yep. Just call up a coworker. And don’t even ping them to let them know it’s coming. Sound scary? You can do it. And remember, they don’t HAVE to pick up the phone.

I know, I know, actual voice phone calls have started to seem like an unwelcome intrusion over the years.

I’m 100% guilty of turning off my ringer, and of not answering the phone if I’m not expecting a call. It almost feels rude to call someone out of the blue. Or uncomfortable at least.

But try it. We’ve got to start somewhere, and while we rarely use our phones as phones these days. They still have that functionality.

Use integrated video call

Slack’s got video chat now. So do a number of task management apps. Facetime’s on your phone if you’re an iPhone user. Whatsapp has it too. Just click that button and see what happens.

Dr. Mehrabian’s law of communication tells us that 55% of what we understand comes from body language, so why

Set up open Zoom rooms

Call it the “virtual kitchen” or the “invisible water cooler”, but create a place for spontaneity. People can pop into the Zoom room when they’re on a break or getting a snack or eating lunch and stay and chat a while it there’s someone else there. In not, no big deal. Just like the real kitchen in your office.

Add “chit chat” to your meeting agendas

Instead of getting straight down to business, reserve the first 5 minutes of your meeting agendas for checking in with your teammates and casual chit chat.

Get on an all day Zoom with whoever you used to sit near to at the office

Call it “parallel play for adults”. You don’t have to talk. At least no more than you did when you sat next to each other. But if you have a question, or something else to say, you can just say it, without needing to schedule a meeting.

Will this be awkward at first? Probably. Will you accidentally pick your nose or fart because you forgot that someone else is right there? You might. But I think it’s a fair price to pay.

Until we’ve got full VR worlds and haptic suits a la “Ready Player One” (or there’s a vaccine!), we’ve got try something. So, let me know, what do you think of the suggestions above? Have you tried any? Are you willing to try any? Do you have better suggestions?

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