Beyond words: Why voice and video is exactly what we need right now

July 15, 2020

In times of crisis, we need one another more than ever. We need to be able to share our fears, hopes, dreams, and passions; hear and feel heard; understand and be understood; see and feel seen. In short, we rely on one another for strength and a sense of purpose and belonging. 

But what happens when we can’t meet? What happens when experts recommend that we physically avoid one another? How do we stay connected and stay sane?

Staying connected in difficult times

With thousands of people continuing to practice physical distancing in response to COVID-19, we’re turning to technology to bring us together in real-time. Tools that allow us to message, call and video chat have become lifelines in a time that would otherwise have been devastatingly lonely. They’ve also allowed millions of people around the world to extend their hands to one another virtually and form bonds of community and solidarity at a crucial turning point in our history.

While text-based communication like email, texting, social media, and chat apps perform vital communication functions, it’s the tools that allow us to hear one another’s voices and see one another’s faces that really make us feel more connected and less alone. Whether it’s for a quick chat, an online board game, a virtual first date, a work meeting or check-in, a remote doctor’s appointment, or a virtual happy hour, voice and video calling allows us to interact almost as we would face-to-face – and hold onto aspects of our normal lives in these extraordinary circumstances.

Why is video chat what we need?

Some 35% of employees report that using video conferencing in the workplace makes them feel more included and valued. This makes sense when considering the fact that researchers like Dr. Fiona Kerr have found that eye contact and physical connection increases the production of dopamine and inhibits the production cortisol – the stress hormone – which means that the simple act of interacting face to face and looking one another in the eye can calm one another down and build trust. 

Now, you might be thinking that video chat is a far cry from in-person interaction. However, a recent study at Finland’s Tampere University found that video calls trigger the same type of psychophysiological responses as face-to-face eye contact.

This ability to develop trust quickly is critical to remote communication, particularly in stressful and unfamiliar situations. For instance, teams that are working together remotely for the first time need to build connections rapidly in order to work together effectively. Similarly, doctors that treat patients using telemedicine tools need to establish trust with their patient quickly.

Being able to hear one another’s tone and read one another’s facial expressions and body language can make a significant impact when it comes to interpreting intent accurately – which helps us to judge whether the person means us harm or can be trusted. 

Without these non-verbal cues, so much is left open to interpretation and it can be easy to read an abrupt text or email as dismissive or cold, when the sender may simply have been distracted or in a rush. 

Perhaps this is why people using Microsoft Teams for meetings are reportedly turning on the video function twice as often as before COVID-19.

Our voices, expressions,

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