When someone says “let’s hop on a call,” what do you think of: video or phone?
Before the pandemic, the answer was obvious. That meant picking up your phone and having a voice conversation with someone. However, that has changed. For most people today, they infer that the person will send them a Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams invite for said call.
“A lot of it now is just assumed video call because of the remote and hybrid way of working,” said Luck Dookchitra, vp of people at people enablement platform Leapsome.
Does that mean that the days of calling someone on the phone are over? What does that mean for the future of workplace communication? And how do you know when to still stick with a phone call instead of a video call?
Workplace experts say that there is a time and place for everything and it’s important to know when is the right time for phone versus video. One rule of thumb is to use video calls for bringing people you don’t know well closer together, while phone calls may be deemed fit for talking to people you already know well.
Another guideline is around how long the meeting is. If it’s going to be a quick call, a phone call works just fine. However, if it’s over 20 to 30 minutes, pivoting to a video call might make more sense.
Logistically, if there are a lot of people that need to be on the call, or if people are calling in from multiple different countries, a Zoom or Google Meet might make more sense to avoid international fees. It’s also helpful if there is onscreen content to share, or presentations to give.
It may seem obvious, but when you do decide to do a video call and everyone has their cameras off anyway, it’s easy to wonder: why didn’t we just do a phone call instead? Some companies have their own internal and external communication policies that might not allow for much choice, but there are benefits to phone calls, ranging from being able to pace around the room you’re in while on the call, to avoiding awkwardness on a video call.
For others, it could be table stakes to have a phone call instead of video, like parents who might have kids in the background or an elderly parent they need to take care of. Or, perhaps they can only take the call when they’re in the car and can’t put on video.
“In talking to people about accessibility needs, video calls aren’t always feasible, possible, or fair depending on what people’s home situations are,” said Dookchitra.
For all of these reasons, it’s important to clearly communicate your preferred method of communication. Dookchitra recommends that leaders be honest about when they need someone to be on video (and whether cameras should be on) but provide flexibility and clearly communicate that.
“If it’s a big team meeting that happens once a month and the whole point is to see everyone’s face and talk and connect, it’s important to say ‘hey, you’re expected to be on camera,’” said Dookchitra. “But for some of those other kinds of conversations or check-ins, you can quickly hop on even a Slack huddle without video.”
Jacob Eidinger, director of marketing and communications at litigation firm Crumiller P.C., agrees that it’s important leaders describe why video calls are preferred. But, he argues that “the modern workforce is becoming over-reliant on video calls when sometimes the phone is the most efficient mode of communication.” And he doubles down on what Dookchitra said about the biases video calls can lead to.
“Video calls tend to have this unintended effect of perpetuating existing biases in the workplace, especially when it comes to things like age, race, and even parental status,” said Eidinger, who said he was pacing around during our phone call interview to help him think better. “We receive all these subconscious signals about people on the call based on things like what they’re wearing, what’s in the background, who’s in the background, or even the type of room that they’re calling from.”
He gives this example: say there is a visibly younger person logging on from their bedroom. They are going to be unfairly perceived as inexperienced compared to other participants on the call who might be in a full-fledged office.
If managers understand these nuances more and more and steer away from blanket protocols around remote work etiquette, it could lead to a better work environment for all. But that requires managers to take the time to figure out what methods of communication work best for the team.
“I do think it’s incumbent on management to set the right example and to communicate to their employees when it’s appropriate to get on a phone call versus a video call,” said Eidinger. “Getting face time with your employees is important, but if you’re constantly getting on video meetings, that can be bad for morale, especially if it’s starting to get in the way of their actual work.”