This morning I reviewed my calendar for this past week. I estimate I spent 17 hours on Zoom. It could have been worse. It could have been 17 hours on Microsoft Teams. I think this amount of time talking to people online partially explains why I woke up at 4am this morning wondering if I did anything useful this past week.
I am still not sure.
One Zoom call stands out. It was a session with a team of people who run a plant. The kind of place where big, noisy machines work 24 hours a day to produce products the world needs to live. Two comments during the call stayed with me the rest of the day and are the reason I am now writing. The first comment came from a senior leader who remarked that the zoom call was the first time he saw a new team member’s face. That person had been with the company for about three months.
The second comment was about noise. Another person was lamenting that the management team had lost much of their collaboration experiences; they are not able to be together face to face and talk. But that is not what struck me. It was what came next.
He said that the Covid-19 restrictions in place at the plant mean he is not able to walk the manufacturing floor. His loss was that he “could not hear and listen to the equipment.” I asked what he meant. He said, “The machines talk. The noises they make are not always the same. Those different noises are different voices talking to me about the condition of the equipment.” He has learned to listen acutely to those voices because they provide needed data for making decisions. No machine data means a loss of decision quality. His comment had resonance with the rest of the group.
Here is a team of people who lead a much larger team and much of their basis for making decisions comes from machine noise. These people are “machine whispers” and they have been sidelined by Covid-19. They have lost communication contact with their beloved machines and it hurts.
In my line of work, it is common to hear a client say, “They are resisting the changes we are making.” That comment is vaguely accurate. It is not true that people resist change. Every one of us has a lived experience of making a change in our lives and doing it quickly. It is not the change that people resist, it is the loss.
In organizations, a sense of loss can come from changes to role identity, compensation, competency, reputation, power, status, networks and relationships to name a few. Covid-19 has brought all these losses into play for each of us.
For me, the biggest loss is not being in the same room with people. Zoom is no substitute. Zoom has no soul. Zoom has no heart. I do not care if I know how to move people into breakout rooms or how to help them move themselves to a different breakout room. Becoming a Zoom master is not a competency I seek. But here I am, living 17 hours a week on Zoom.
I believe we are in this living condition for at least another year. My job is to support my clients as best I can. I remain on the hunt for ways and means to help my clients sustain and grow the stickiness of their team relationships, because it is not the individuals in the team who produce the good ideas. The good ideas come from the energy that flows between the individuals. Thickening that connective tissue is the work. I am fixated on finding ways to support that flow of energy, with Zoom and without Zoom.
I want to help the ‘machine whispers’ get back in conversation with their beloved machines.