Zoom meetings are a poor substitute for in-person meetings and a worse one for phone calls

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/09/28/zoom-meetings-are-a-poor-substitute-for-in-person-meetings-and-a-worse-one-for-phone-calls.html


Dumbest thing about this article is that MOST zoom/teams/Google meet/whatever meetings I’m on have the video turned off. It’s just a audio conferencing app with screen sharing capabilities (which is where it’s real power comes in).

Very few people bother with the video calling unless they feel a need to a more “personal” touch (ie, a big call by HR to discuss how we all are adjusting to life in the apocalypse).

So, the thing that the author hates (video calling) is the least useful and most easily dealt with “feature” of Zoom. Just turn off the camera.


I’ve found that with a lot of my companies meetings, Video has been helpful compared to just phone calls. The key is being willing to use non-verbal queues, I will often look at people shaking their head or nodding, and will do the same when on big calls. Even as far as just asking people if they are confused, and can read faces better to get feedback.

And I like it for my small team of 4, we generally have just one team meeting per week, and it’s a lot nicer to see people than just hearing a voice for the once a week event.


My mileage definitely varies.

As an introvert whose coworkers think any excuse for a meeting is a good one, Zoom is better than in person. I don’t turn on my video and I can distract myself with being productive while they gab about nothing important. This is so much better than having to drive to another office location for a meeting that should have been an email and getting shamed for looking at my laptop instead of listening to updates from another team that I never otherwise interact with.

Zoom is also a lot better than a phone call when you have to provide support for someone. Non-tech savvy people are notoriously inarticulate about what they’re referring to because they don’t know the right terminology for systems and interfaces, so just being able to see their screen or share your own is a godsend.

I like to take my dog for a walk during Zoom meetings, so I load up the mobile app and turn off my mic and enjoy a pleasant time around the neighborhood.



EXCEPT there are the control-freaks who demand that everyone have their video on. Some demand it in the saccharine passive-aggressive tone of the cryptofascist primary school teacher, and others in the stentorian bellow of the out-and-out asshole. But it happens.

My partner has the misfortune to have been thrust into an oversight position from which she has to check on university faculty teaching online. I’ve overheard several instances of faculty chiding students for not being “professional,” like for example having a crying child in the background or a pet wandering past the camera.

The problem, for me, with Zoom and all the other remote-workplace tools is that so many people have no respect for the discrete and self-determining existence of another person.


Follow up article: In Person Meetings are often a poor substitute for emails!


We tell them it’s a data protection issue and you can’t force someone to have their video on (and they can be sharing and not able to gain consent of others etc.) I mean it’s nice and all, but you can’t force people any more than you can force them to speak in class. Allow them multiple modes of participation and make them want to engage with you, the material, and each other. Don’t force them to be on camera in public to do it though.

Unless that is itself a learning outcomen you have written for the class.


“Objection. Assumes facts not in evidence.”

There’s an assumption in this that in-person meetings are a good thing. Many (maybe most?) are a waste of time, more so as the group size increases above just a few.


I saw a meme where Zoom Calls are the modern seance.

“Jenny… are you there? Can you hear us? Give us a sign you are there.”

“Todd… we can hear you buy not see you… Are you with us?”


We used to have quarterly, 3 hour long, all-management (> 100 people) meetings that could have been summarized in a half hour video presentation; a great example of managemensturbation.


I’ve cancelled some zoom meetings and switched to calls. Works better if it not a larger group.

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And I don’t. So I guess mileage does vary.



Turn off your camera then!

As someone who has worked remotely for more than fifteen years, in tech, on conference calls and video conferences, I can say pretty authoritatively for me personally that:

  1. in person meetings are a great way to focus on a meeting while sapping productivity anywhere else. They have their place but it sure as heck isn’t a panacea.
  2. Phone calls (or being a dial-in caller in an in-person meeting or zoom) make it really obvious how deficient phones as a medium are. You miss out on a ton of information and context.
  3. Video conferencing that does not have audio issues is pretty incredible for replacing most of what I cared about in in-person meetings, but does allow for participants to be less focused on the meeting (which is both good and bad).

It’s super-important to point out that unless you were an enterprise, #3 above was NOT prevalent for most people before Zoom. Slack / hangouts / etc had terrible audio quality and echos and drop-outs that made them far less productive than zoom meetings. Zoom’s killer feature IMHO is audio quality, latency, and general tolerance to the modern internet first, with better video secondary.

Most of my team and internal meetings have video. very very few of my meetings with external folk do. At that point they are phone calls, at a quality far, far greater than telephony ever was, especially shitty conference bridges.

zoom calls without video but with screenshares are such a useful feature I would give up my desk phone just to have that option every time I need to co-ordinate with external (or internal) folks on that basis alone. We recently had an issue with a 3rd party vendor where they were able to screenshare and see the issue in realtime in a way that would have suuuuuuuucked to do with a phone bridge and tickets/emails.

Like, seriously. Turn off video and don’t require your folks to have video on if they don’t want it. At that point it’s just a way better phone call.


The problem isn’t the tech, it’s the meetings themselves. 50% of meetings are useless and 50% of the worthwhile ones are wasted. And it’s almost always the management and execs who are the biggest offenders.

ETA: Point is, the tech isn’t appropriately applied a lot of the time, but a pointless meeting is pointless regardless of platform.


Been working fully remote since about five years before the pandemic hit with a lot of remote work rolled in before that.

The orgs I’ve worked with have found Zoom to be the least worst option. This is not praise :slight_smile:

But in spite of that, I think this person’s criticisms have more to do with organisations being slow to figure out that most communications between remote workers should probably be asynchronous-- in other words, using slack, teams, rocket, email, etc.

IME the main uses of video calls are:

  • short meetings for rapid information exchange (i.e. where it would take too long to do in slack etc)
  • meetings where there’s a need to see exactly what someone else is seeing or doing (screensharing and troubleshooting in particular),
  • meetings with a strong social component, whether team or client focused (i.e. team “check-ins” where the purpose is a not too frequent or not too lengthy social meeting between teammates, or getting acquainted meeting with clients)
  • job interviews

As far as I can tell, everything else can be done via text, recording, or Zoom calls where video is optional (making it essentially a phone call).


Wait a second.

My company has had video and conf calls available for the last 20 years. Now we are certainly doing everything remote to avoid…ya know…a deadly disease; but even before COVID I couldn’t have an in person meeting with my developers in Bangalore.

So how is zoom any different from any other technology? How is this “worse” when one dev lives in Ohio and the other two are in India?!

What kind of fresh stupid is this entire article/point?!?

Are we not supposed to diversify and globalize our workforce now?

Can someone make up their minds on what the ever fuck is acceptable anymore? Are eggs good or bad? Pick one for fucks sake.

What do I expect this is the same bullshit like how a god damn stove top espresso maker is the bees knees but air fryers are somehow garbage.



The great thing about this post is that I’ve been alerted to the existence of an imbecile I now know I can ignore if they ever come up again.


I’d argue that the dumbest thing is that every example of why Zoom isn’t a valid replacement for in-person meetings are also things that happen in in-person meetings.

Visual performance? Check. Looking at people because they’re looking at you? Check.

It seems he just didn’t like meetings. Which is a perfectly valid way to feel. I don’t know why he had to dress it up as problems with Zoom meetings.


Unfortunately “professional appearance” is written into our institution’s code of conduct, so it’s always available as a way to harass. It’s also written into some of the individual colleges’ curricula (business, education, forensic science).

I’d bet that many institutions have this sort of think lurking around as a gotcha.