Oh, the virtual meetings you’ll have. And the exhaustion that comes with them.
Every morning, at 8:30 on the dot, I join a Google hangout meeting for work. I wake up 5 minutes prior, put my hair up, and turn on the camera. I need all the sleep I can get before I face another day inside with an energetic toddler. Then, throughout the week, I have a few more virtual meetings for work that I attend. These calls are difficult to handle with a toddler running around the house. I end up muting myself about 90% of the time. The other day, my son put on his light shoes and came in stomping into the room. At the top of his lungs, he said, “mama, look at the lights!” while I was having a conversation with my manager. Most of all the other times, though, he’s either hanging off of me like a monkey, or he’s trying to close my computer.
And those are not the only virtual meetings I’ve been a part of since the stay-at-home orders came in on March 16th in the Netherlands. Since I’m in the middle of finishing my second Master’s degree, all my classes have moved online. While I’m used to taking online classes, I’ve never had to take part in a virtual happy hour with an entire class of 50 people. Here we were, 50 faces on the screen, looking at each other. If that weren’t awkward enough, we had to take turns telling everyone how we’re faring, what drink we’re drinking, and how we feel about all classes going digital. Love it.
But wait, there’s more.
I’ve also taken part in several Zoom meetings with friends back home in the States. I found myself eating dinner while staring at everyone else having lunch. Did I mention that at one point or another, someone had a bad internet connection? It made it extremely difficult to communicate without asking, “can you hear me now?”. This has been a frequent incidence in ALL virtual meetings. This song and dance of sketchy video transmission, bad audio, and dropped faces is a whole beast of its own.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m extremely grateful for this technology as it allows us to connect at any moment in time and see the people we care about the most. But as an introvert, this almost daily occurrence creates an overwhelming sense of dread. As in, oh my goodness, do I really have to log in to ANOTHER virtual meeting with 10 people talking over each other? There are plenty of introvert memes circling, talking about how introverts are finally in their element, but there’s another side to it.
Here are 5 reasons why virtual meetings are a nightmare for introverts.
1. There goes the internet connection again
Maybe it’s just me, but my internet connection has been quite on and off since everyone’s been staying home. You might think, no big deal, reconnect and ta-da! Well, not so fast. If I’m in the middle of presenting or working through my thought process and the entire audience stopped seeing me 10 minutes ago, I have to play the awkward dance of logging back in, getting everyone resettled, and figure out when they stopped seeing me. Then I have to backtrack and think of what I was talking about. Since it already takes me forever to speak my mind, having to re-speak it is nightmarish.
But that’s not the worst of it when it comes to a spotty internet connection. Here’s another scenario that’s happened to me. I lose connection, and it takes me minutes to log back into the meeting. By that time, the discussion has ended – one that I needed to hear – and they’ve moved on. I have to interrupt the current speaker to ask the previous one to repeat what he said. While everyone else has moved on, I’m that annoying person asking the same questions that have already been asked. This brings me to point #2.
2. Interruptions, interruptions, interruptions
Is there etiquette on virtual interruptions? Usually, in a face-to-face meeting, I’d raise my hand or make a gesture to signal to the speaker that I have something to say or ask. In a virtual meeting, there’s no such thing. This is how it’s gone down in my virtual meetings; if I want to say something: I press unmute and excuse myself for interrupting. What happens is that with the lag in sound/video, the person continues talking, so I assume that they didn’t hear me.
The introvert in me pretends it never happened because there’s no way I’m going to repeat myself. I mute myself immediately and feel terrible about trying to interrupt. Except, a few seconds later, they stop talking. Is it my spotty internet connection again? Did the video freeze? No. They’re waiting for my comment. It takes me a few seconds to gather myself, but by the time I start talking, they’re also saying something. So here we are again, doing the song and dance, talking over each other. Cue the awkwardness in front of everyone else.
3. Virtual happy hours are not happy
Let’s talk about social virtual meetings. Those aren’t more comforting than the professional ones. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have to scroll far to see people posting their virtual happy hours with friends these days. Usually accompanied by the caption “virtual happy hours are a good time.” Eye-roll. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been face-timing one-on-one with the people I care about. But having a recurring virtual meeting every few days sounds way too overwhelming for me. There’s not that much I have to say, you know: “I’m still staying at home, what about you!?”
After one or two virtual social meetings with different groups of friends, I’m wiped out. I’m already texting and messaging individually with all of them. I don’t need to get together every week to talk about the same thing. As an introvert, I tend to imagine and role-play how a conversation will go with someone so that I’m prepared. Now that I’m already exhausting all my words through texting, I’m extremely anxious about opening up the computer and having to come up with other things to talk about. It’s too stressful! Because let’s face it, 99% of the time, my days are the same – I have nothing to talk about. And the funny part about being invited to too many of these meetings? There’s no excuse not to attend!
4. There’s nowhere to hide
Usually, when I’m in a social gathering, and my energy has been completely sucked, I tend to look for a way out. I usually excuse myself to take a mental break (aka hiding in the bathroom) or pretend I have to be somewhere else (or that I need to call someone). The good thing about those scenarios is that people have shifted positions in the room when I return, so I’m free to move about as well. In a virtual meeting, there’s nowhere to go.
Sure, I can open a few internet tabs if the conversation is taking a turn that doesn’t involve me, so it seems that I’m still staring at the screen, but then I have to focus on my facial expressions, so it doesn’t look like I’m reading a novel on my computer. I can’t hide in the bathroom, and I certainly can’t pretend to be somewhere else (hi social distancing measures). And even so, if I were to do that, people will still be in the same spot on my screen when I come back. As an introvert, I need a way out to survive such events, but there’s nowhere to hide these days.
5. Everyone has the attention span of a goldfish
This goes for both professional and social virtual meetings. I find myself cutting sentences short and fast-tracking through my thoughts because I can see people get distracted. Either someone’s kid is throwing a tantrum (or my kid is), or they’re grabbing a snack, or they’re changing their zoom background, no one is truly paying attention to the conversation. Let’s also add in the spotty internet factor (I have to finish my thought before my internet or someone else’s goes down!). As an introvert, I’m already uncomfortable with all eyes on me when I speak and take up too much time to talk, so I end up mutilating everything that I say. I sound like someone that’s just learning the language. And because of all of this, boom! Social Anxiety decides to pay a visit—just another thing to have to worry about.
I’m sure there are other reasons why these virtual meetings are becoming overwhelming for us introverts, but I find myself running into these the most. It’s an interesting experience to go through, especially from the standpoint of “socializing” since this is a new medium I’ve never used before. And I can see why. As much as I enjoy interacting with co-workers and friends, I highly prefer face-to-face communication over this, so I’m definitely looking forward to the day when these virtual meetings will subside. In the meantime, for the next few weeks, I’ll be going through this loop of things that drive me crazy.
This article was featured on introvert, dear.