The Pandemic’s Silver Lining: Tips for Making the Most of Virtual Communication

By: Alan Rupe

If there is a silver lining in the current COVID-19 pandemic, it may very well be the pervasiveness of electronic communication, including Zoom, WebEx, Blue Jeans, and other virtual platforms. Before March 12, 2020, I traveled constantly. It was not unusual to spend a day traveling, appear in court for a 15-minute case management conference, and spend another half day returning to home base only to travel again. And many judges simply found it more convenient to ask attorneys to travel from wherever to their courtrooms, stand in line or sit patiently while a docket was called, and then spend a brief amount of time with the judge providing the court with the status of a case. Much work for 15 minutes of facetime with the judge. 

Once the pandemic began spreading rapidly, travel, courts, meetings, and public gatherings diminished or stopped altogether. Zoom, Blue Jeans, WebEx, and other virtual platforms emerged. Since March 12, 2020, I have been in a number of court hearings – all by Zoom. I have handled well over 20 mediations – nearly all of them by some virtual platform – and had numerous case management conferences – mostly by Zoom.

Lawyers, court reporters, litigants, and even judges have all become more comfortable with Zoom. It is cheaper, faster, easier to control, and less time consuming than old-fashioned travel. And when virtual platforms go three-dimensional, well… “Beam me up, Scottie!” 

At 70 years old, this dog has learned new tricks. Below are my suggestions as we zoom into the future: 

  1. Whatever you do, make certain that your video lens is at your eye level. This may mean buying a stand for your iPad, or stacking books on a table and putting your laptop on top of the books. Eye level. Without an eye level camera, you either see what Abraham Lincoln must see when looking down from Mt. Rushmore or you see what Jack was seeing when he looked up at the beanstalk. 
  2. At all costs, look at the lens of the video camera. Do not look at the person you are directing your comments to on the screen. When you do that, you appear to be looking away from the person watching the video. If you look directly into the lens, you will be looking directly into the eyes of the person to whom you are talking. Eye communication is as important on a virtual platform as it is face-to-face in real life. 
  3. Skip the cute background pictures. Distracting. Enough said. 
  4. Watch the millennials. They have grown up taking selfies and communicating on Facetime. They know how to appear on a screen. They are comfortable and completely at ease when they communicate on a virtual platform. Try to emulate the millennials. Also, consider investing in a ring light. 
  5. I can remember my grandmother talking on the old-time crank telephone on the wall in the farmhouse in Western Kansas. She talked into the phone yelling and was completely uncomfortable with the new device. My strong suggestion is to practice, practice, practice. Use Zoom as often as you can and learn to be familiar with every aspect of it, including how to mute, how to see all the participants, and simply use it enough so that it is not foreign to you.
  6. Dress for the occasion. If you are in court, dress like you are in court. 
  7. Show up. On a virtual, visual platform, you need to be seen. Don’t turn the communication device into your voice and a picture of a telephone. Get with the program. 

 Zoom, Blue Jeans, WebEx, and other virtual platforms are now the new normal. Live with it. Adapt to it. Enjoy it. Bring on the future. There is no place like home.

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