Zoom and Away. (Apologies to all Home and Away fans)
The pandemic began just on a year ago and very soon after we we were all locked down. Suddenly, we were all working from home. Sadly, for many they no longer had a job. We, who worked in an office job, suddenly found ourselves having to learn how too use online platforms. The learning curve for everyone was steep.
For myself, it wasn’t quite so bad. I had recently found a new job and my contract stipulated that I worked from home. I had already had numerous meetings by Zoom. Indeed, I was interviewed over Zoom for the position. So for me it was a little bit par for the course, except that there was no variety. Pre-pandemic I could balance online meetings with face to face meetings with my networks. Once we were forced to work totally from home everything was fully online.
It was all very novel at first. We all laughed as my son walked shirtless in the background not knowing I was in a meeting. Cats walked cross keyboards. Dogs gave their tennis balls to their owners to throw mid meeting and barked. Pauses were common while parents had to deal with children. We received a unique insight into the inner workings of peoples homes.
Some tried to be professional by ensuring that they had props like bookshelves in the background. Others were less professional and would plump themselves down on the couch so that you could only see their face from the nose upwards on screen. Some got clever and worked out how to put virtual backgrounds on screen so that we got to see an assortment of landscapes, sunsets and art. One larrikin tethered himself up and had a meeting while he had a leisurely paddle in his kayak. Yes, the latter really happened. How we laughed.
It was interesting that many hearing people actually struggled with working online. They found it hard to gauge peoples emotions. Visual cues that they normally received with in-person meetings were harder to read. They seemed to find that online meetings made them incredibly tired. The term Zoom fatigue became common.
David Penberthy, writing in The Advertiser, had this to say about pandemic forced online meetings
“It’s not just the logistics of getting the damned thing up and running, which is then followed (once everyone’s on, that is) with the smallest of small talk where everyone makes stilted chat about how their day is coming along.
It’s the fact that you are stripped of all the natural visual cues you get when you are sitting directly opposite a person in real life. This means the process of having a group conversation is not only logistically challenging, it is completely exhausting.
I have two friends, one a public servant the other in the private sector, who habitually spend six or seven hours a day going from one online meeting to the next and expire at the end of the afternoon in a catatonic and square-eyed state.” (Taken from -A year of video conferencing reinforces the supremacy of face-to-face conversation, The Advertiser, Februry 2021)
I can emphasis with some of what Penberthy writes, particularly the endless back to back meetings. Often you can have four or even five meetings on the trot. This is very different from the same number of face to face meetings. Face to Face you are often travelling or walking to different meeting places. Four or five face to face meetings in a day is still tiring but the breaks in between to mobilise yourself to get to a meeting can be refreshing. When you are having four five meetings back to back, in the same chair and in the same room it is incredibly draining.
It was just interesting to see how hearing people responded. Perhaps for the first time many of them had to adjust. They had to change their communication styles and overcome barriers that they had never had to confront before. We deafies have to do this every working day of our lives. As a result, perhaps, we adapted a lot better and with less stress.
As a deaf person I personally found many benefits. In a weird way I found that I was actually engaging with my hearing colleagues better. You see deaf people are often left out of workplace natter. They don’t get access to water cooler conversations.. Colleagues often phone each other and bounce ideas and debrief. Deaf professionals don’t get a lot of access to this sort of stuff and can be very isolated in the workplace.
I found myself getting to know people better. I was more involved and more engaged. I am part of a national network of 31 people. Before Zoom my only communication with them was email, text and conferences. They all kept in touch over the phone but I was left out of this so I was often not savvy to many finer details. It is fair too say I was quite isolated within the network. Not now, on a daily basis I speak to many of them through Zoom and am fully up to date with views, politics trends and the like. That has been refreshing.
Access also is a lot better. I find colleagues who set up these meetings are more empathetic. Many of them will book captioning off their own bat. I often use the Live Transcribe app for these meetings. It’s quite accurate but it has its moments. Colleagues are acutely aware of this. Before meetings start they ensure it is working well. When it screws up and I need clarification they are always willing to stop and help. I find that via Zoom people tend to speak over each other less and that communication is lot more succinct and to the point.
Face to face meetings are a lot more gregarious. People tend to talk over each other. Meetings are more fast paced. If you’re deaf it is harder to control people and get full access to the information. Very rarely over Zoom do I get asked by interpreters to tell people to slow down, not talk over each other and so on. For me, at least, it makes for more effective communication and I find things are more equal. It’s rare now that my captioner types “Everybody speaking at once.”
In a funny way the Deaf community even found lockdowns fun because of Zoom. They organised trivia nights, online dinners and the like. Being a visual platform meant that Zoom was heaven sent for them. Not too long ago, before the internet became good enough and Skype became common place, if a pandemic and lockdown had happened deaf people would have been well and truly royally screwed.
That is not to say that Zoom is perfect. Endless Zoom meetings are tiring. A balance between face to face and online meetings is desirable. One must be able to leave a room and a chair and be able to stare elsewhere than directly at a computer screen. Australia’s internet is still appalling, dropouts in video and audio are common place. As a deaf person it can be difficult to know who is speaking and know when to interrupt. Meetings need to be controlled well. Lots of gate closing and opening needs to happen.
The biggest thing is that full reliance on technology can be a recipe for disaster. If it fails, it fails spectacularly. That said Zoom has offered many opportunities for deaf people and has arguably made the workplace more inclusive.
For me using Live Transcribe has saved me heaps of money on captioning and interpreting. It’s allowed me to have impromptu meetings to discuss things without the need to search frantically for an interpreter and captioning. But Live Transcribe is a phonetic tool and sometimes it comes up with some hilarious bloopers. I will close this article with one of these.
Last week we were discussing the USEP program, University Specialist Employment Partnership. This program aims to assist graduates with a disability at university to find employment. A colleague was discussing how they were trying to find a USEP partner for the program. Somehow my Live Transcribe managed to hear this as, wait for it, “We are seeking a New Sex partner … ” True story.
AHH technology, you gotta love it, but honestly – Where would deaf people be with out it. So for me it’s – Zoom and Away, with you each day! (Again with sincere apologies to Home and Away fans.)