I’m picking on Zoom as it is the online meeting platform that has captured the zeitgeist. Although there are others and despite its poor initial reputation for security it seems to be the most widely used.
You see, I don’t like them. I am sick of being on them. I am fed up with being in meetings that are non-meetings. I want to go back to sitting around a table.
Lying in the bath, I have given this some thought and have come up with what, in my opinion, is wrong with all of these platforms.
Firstly, when you go to a meeting you sit next to someone, usually between two living breathing humans. At any one time you look at one person, not six or ten. Sometimes you look at the speaker (online the speaker always appears) but at other times you look at who is leading the meeting to see their reaction.
Perhaps you will then look at a colleague to catch their eye and send a knowing look across the table. You may even find yourself looking at someone opposite, staring a bit too long until they catch you looking and you turn away pretending you weren’t fixated on them but then your blush gives you away. Occasionally you scan your eyes around all the participants.
And then there is the politics of meetings. When you go to a physical meeting you sit somewhere on purpose. Sometimes people want to sit close to the chair, on their right to show loyalty. You may want to sit at the opposite end of the table amongst the renegades, or pick a safe seat somewhere in the middle. You may decide to sit beside someone you don’t normally sit next to, to build up their acquaintance, or you may choose to sit opposite someone to read their thoughts. Meetings are far more complicated than actually meeting.
What can be done then? I suggest a few added features: Firstly, online meetings should be arranged in different styles, theatre style for webinars, round tables for smaller meetings, perhaps cabaret style for workshops. You should only ever be able to see people directly in front of you. Secondly you should be able to pick your chair from those available and decide, in effect, who you are sitting next to. You should be able to whisper things to them only they can hear. Thirdly you should be able to look at whoever you wish too or scan around the room and not just the speaker.
OK, this will be very difficult with current technology though these suggestions are ideal for virtual reality. You see the problem with online meetings is that they are not meetings at all, only two dimensional download sessions.
When are we going to be let out?