Offline meeting and handwriting

Before March 2020, I had Skype on my Mac, but hardly ever used it.

I used to use Zoom for work calls between 2016/17 and 2018 because one of my clients at Ogilvy (IBM) used to have conference calls via Zoom. I uninstalled the app from my phone once I quit Ogilvy.

I did not even bother to try Google Meet or Microsoft Teams till April/May 2020.

Even when I used Skype (very, very rarely) or Zoom, my default setting was with video off, treating it as a voice-call.

But, since March 2020, my default use of any video call is with the video on and in full concentration, like it is a normal, offline face-to-face meeting.

I’m reasonably sure I’m not the only one who took to video calls as a default to conducting any kind of work because the pandemic forced us all.

A lot has been/is being written about the lasting impact of WFH and tools that allow WFH even beyond the pandemic and the eventual vaccination. Something has shifted, and affected our perception.

Where, once, we used to insist on a face-to-face meeting to consider the other person in any context, build trust and discuss things, a video call is the first choice now, because nature forced it on us. And we see the benefits and disadvantages at the same time.

Benefits: Very little disruption in our schedule. Ease of use. No time wastage (traffic, waiting, etc.).

Disadvantages: Cannot read body language (particularly in calls with more people; which may be the case even offline, though) well enough. Loss of the 3D, physical perception and we see only a 2D version on a little/laptop screen.

But, as we have clearly seen, work gets done, largely.

There are exceptions, of course, depending on the industry and the kind of work – so, obviously, your Swiggy order cannot be delivered via Zoom. But that’s not a meeting to discuss a thought; that’s a linear transaction for a physical commodity.

For context, before March/April 2020, when someone told me, “Can we meet?”, our (both of us) default assumption is an offline, face-to-face meeting. Since April 2020, everytime a client or a potential client told me, “Can we meet?”, it was assumed automatically as a meeting on a video call.

Even if grudgingly, we have figured that video calls (they are improving as you read this; and I’m sure they would improve, improvise tremendously soon – hardware-wise, software-wise, graphics-wise, avatar-wise) do work, by and large. They have become the new default, and this is bound to disrupt a lot of established practices and industries that depend on people getting out and meeting others for work.

This reminded me of something specific.

I rue the fact that I can’t even remember how my handwriting looks. I haven’t written anything in a long time with my own hands and a physical pen/pencil. I do write a LOT day after day, but all I do is type.

You may be an exception, holding on to writing down your notes and thoughts with a paper and pen, but, by and large, we have reconciled to the fact that typed, digital writing is the new default in ‘writing’. In fact, till early last year, some of my clients used to insist on a physically printed, signed invoice sent through courier. But last year, all that stopped – e-invoices (digitally signed) are the default.

So, will face-to-face come to mean, unless specified as ‘offline’, a video call, by default?

What video call is to ‘meeting’, is it like what ‘typing’ is to writing?

In other words, is the offline face-to-face meeting the new ‘handwriting’?

Very relevant related reading from Financial Times, January 2/3, 2021.

Cover picture courtesy Architectural Digest and Nilegirl’s Medium.

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