Stop With the Video Chats Already. Just Make a Voice Call.
Research shows frequent videoconferences can sap your brain and deplete your energy.
Research shows frequent videoconferences can sap your brain and deplete your energy.
Dear colleague and/or friend:
I’d love to do a call about this. And by “call” I mean absolutely NOT a video call. Let’s do a call-call. You know, those old things where we just hear each other’s beautiful voices. Whatever you do, don’t touch that webcam.
Looking forward to (audio) chatting,
The time has come to be bold: Stop the nonstop video calling.
Allow me to remind you of the BPE (you know, the Before-Pandemic Era), a time long ago when every call didn’t require colour-coding your bookshelf background, firing up the webcam and staring into a human tic-tac-toe board for hours on end. Video calls used to be a rare treat. Now, they’re everyday soul suckers.
Really. There’s vampirical—I mean, empirical—proof. A high frequency of video calling can cause general, social, emotional, visual and motivational fatigue, researchers at the University of Gothenburg and Stanford University found in a recent study. Even Zoom’s chief executive, Eric Yuan, says he suffers from the dreaded “Zoom Fatigue.”
Look, I’m not saying all video calling must stop. I love video calling. Instantly see and hear people with little to no delay? It’s miraculous. My mom, who is hearing-impaired, struggled throughout my childhood to hear me on the phone. Now, she can see my son wherever she is, and the visual cues help her tremendously.
I’m just saying audio calls can be more productive—and they can sound better than ever.
But how do you know when to pick voice over video? And how do you make it happen without being the meeting jerk who just refuses to turn on the camera? After talking to researchers and technologists—and cutting back on my own video calls—I present you with five steps to regain your sanity.
Fact: There are too many meetings. So I beg of you, before deciding on the technological format, simply ask: Do we really need to meet at all?
Géraldine Fauville, an assistant professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and the lead researcher on that aforementioned study, mapped out the main reasons video can be so cognitively draining:
• It’s a lot of looking at ourselves, which is unnatural and comes with self-evaluation and scrutiny. Called the mirror effect, this can be particularly intense for women. You can combat this with the self-hide option available in Zoom and Google Meet. Google has just added a number of features to address this specifically. Microsoft Teams’ new Together Mode was built to combat this, too.
• It’s a lot of close-up eye contact. In fact, the brain processes that sort of invasion of space as if it should lead to mating or fighting.
• It’s a lot of sitting and feeling trapped. You can’t get up and walk around during a video call.
• It’s a lot of nodding. “For you to communicate cues to the participant, you need to intensify the cues,” Dr. Fauville said. “So people nod more vigorously than if they were in the same room.”
No wonder we’re exhausted. So yes, limiting the number and length of video calls seems like the obvious answer. And as some of us kick-start the hybrid work life, that will happen naturally.
But voice calls aren’t just table scraps from our work-from-home buffet. They allow you to focus on what’s being said and give you real respite from the screen. I now do my weekly call with my boss on the phone. We reserve video for deeper conversations, like performance reviews.
I also still like to do video calls with colleagues I haven’t caught up with for a while, or for important meetings where reading facial expressions is crucial.
You’ve decided that voice is the way to go for a call, now you’ve got to convey that to others.
Don’t waste precious meeting time having an awkward convo about this; be straight up before the call. “Hey, I’d like to do voice—no video—for this call. Work for you?” You can even put it on me: “I read this wonderful column in The Wall Street Journal about how too many video calls are bad.”
In a survey of employees, the University of California, Berkeley, found that 77% multitask during video calls. I called that out in a recent calendar invite: “Let’s do voice-only for this one,” I wrote to my colleagues. “We’re all going to cover each other’s faces with other windows on the screen anyway!” (Yep, we can see all of you, looking over at your second monitor!)
Even though I made my voice-call preferences known to my colleagues, I’m not just reaching for my phone. In fact, I’ve used all the big videoconferencing services—sans video. Zoom, Google Meet, Slack, FaceTime, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger all produce stable and clear calls if you have a good connection. Most sound better than cellular—especially if you have a good mic. But the best choice is however you can most easily reach your contact.
Slack has become my go-to for work. Since most of the folks already are there all day, it’s great for mimicking the quick desk drop-by. Hit the phone button and it automatically defaults to a voice call. (To add video, you have to tap the video icon.) With Slack audio use surging in the past year, the company has been piloting new group-audio features, an office variation of Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces.
Slack is also looking at ways to improve audio quality and make it easier to switch between desktop and mobile calls, Ali Rayl, the company’s vice president of product and customer experience, told me.
Call-quality-wise, FaceTime audio consistently sounds the best to me. I often talk to my editor via Apple’s service and he sounds crystal clear. The downside? Apple devices only.
“The responsibility of limiting Zoom fatigue is not just on the individuals,” Dr. Fauville told me. “We hope our findings inspire companies to rethink videoconferencing.”
So far, so good. Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser has started “Zoom-free Fridays,” a day free of internal video calls. The University of California, Berkeley, for the past year, has said no recurring meetings—of any kind—on Friday afternoons.
You may want to try a similar policy. Or at the very least start perfecting those extremely polite “You don’t want to see my face and I don’t want to see your face” emails.
Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: May 26, 2021.
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You’ll never guess where they found a little extra room when renovating this west coast house
There was a time, not too long ago, when the most important must-have for would-be renovators was space. It was all about space to be together and space to be apart.
But as house prices increase across the country, the conversation has started to shift from size for the sake of it towards more flexible, well-designed spaces better suited to contemporary living.
For the owners of this 1920s weatherboard workers’ cottage in Fremantle, the emphasis was less on having an abundance of room and more about creating cohesive environments that could still maintain their own distinct moods. Key to achieving this was manipulating the floorplan in such a way that it could draw in light, giving the impression at least of a larger footprint.
See more stories like this in the latest issue of Kanebridge Quarterly magazine. Order your copy here
Positioned on a site that fell three metres from street level, the humble four-room residence had been added to over the years. First order of business for local architect Philip Stejskal was to strip the house back to its original state.
“In this case, they were not quality additions,” Stejskal says. “Sometimes it is important to make sure later additions are not lean-tos.”
The decision to demolish was not taken lightly.
“Sometimes they can be as historically significant as the original building and need to be considered — I wouldn’t want people to demolish our addition in 50 years’ time.”
Northern light hits the site diagonally, so the design solution was to open up the side of the house via a spacious courtyard to maximise opportunities to draw natural light in. However, this had a knock-on effect.
“We had to make space in the middle of the site to get light in,” Stejskal says. “That was one of the first moves, but that created another issue because we would be looking onto the back of the neighbouring building at less appealing things, like their aircon unit.”
To draw attention away from the undesirable view, Stejskal designed a modern-day ‘folly’.
“It’s a chimney and lookout and it was created to give us something nice to look at in the living space and in the kitchen,” Stejskal says.
“With a growing family, the idea was to create a space where people could find a bit of solitude. It does have views to the wider locality but you can also see the port and you can connect to the street as well.”
A garden tap has also been installed to allow for a herb garden at the top of the steps.
“That’s the plan anyway,” he says.
Conjuring up space has been at the core of this project, from the basement-style garaging to the use of the central courtyard to create a pavilion-like addition.
The original cottage now consists of two bedrooms, with a central hallway leading onto a spacious reception and living area. Here, the large kitchen and dining spaces wrap around the courtyard, offering easy access to outdoor spaces via large sliding doors.
Moments of solitude and privacy have been secreted throughout the floorplan, with clever placement of built-in window seats and the crow’s nest lookout on the roof, ideal for morning coffee and sunset drinks.
The house has three bedrooms, including a spacious master suite with walk-in robe and ensuite overlooking the back garden. Adjustable blades on the bedroom windows allow for the control of light, as well as privacy. Although the house was designed pre COVID, it offers the sensibility so many sought through that time — sanctuary, comfort and retreat.
“When the clients came to us, they wanted a house that was flexible enough to cater for the unknown and changes in the family into the future,” Stejskal says. “We gave the owners a series of spaces and a certain variety or moods, regardless of the occasion. We wanted it to be a space that would support that.”
Mood has also been manipulated through the choice of materials. Stejskal has used common materials such as timber and brick, but in unexpected ways to create spaces that are at once sumptuous but also in keeping with the origins of the existing building.
Externally, the brickwork has been finished in beaded pointing, a style of bricklaying that has a softening effect on the varied colours of bricks. For the flooring, crazy paving in the courtyard contrasts with the controlled lines of tiles laid in a stack bond pattern. Close attention has also been paid to the use of veneer on select joinery in the house, championing the beauty of Australian timbers with a lustrous finish.
“The joinery is finished in spotted gum veneer that has been rotary cut,” says Stejskal. “It is peeled off the log like you peel an apple to give you this different grain.”
Even the laundry has been carefully considered.
“The laundry is like a zen space with bare stone,” he says. “We wanted these different moods and the landscape of rooms. We wanted to create a rich tapestry in this house.”
The owners now each experience the house differently, highlighting separate aspects of the building as their favourite parts. It’s quite an achievement when the site is not enormous. Maybe it’s not size that matters so much after all.
Alexandre de Betak and his wife are focusing on their most personal project yet.
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