The other day I was walking by a colleague’s campus office. As was my habit pre-COVID, I decided to drop in for a quick chat.

My colleague was sitting at his desk, looking at his computer. He seemed like he was working — but was interruptible.

But no…..he was on a Zoom meeting.

Barging into his office was like barging into someone else’s meeting—a workplace faux pas.

Many of us are back on campus. Maybe not in the office as much as in before-times, but more and more.

Our meetings — and higher ed runs on a meeting culture — have not quite returned to campus with us.

The academic meeting norm nowadays seems to include Zoom. Some folks may be together in an office (masked up), and others will be remote.

How many meetings did you have this past week? Too many. Right?

Zoom has caused meetings to proliferate. Absent the need to schedule the time to physically get from one meeting to another across the campus, our Zoom meetings are now scheduled back-to-back-to-back.

We jump from one Zoom to the next.

An enormous amount of mental energy is spent figuring out how to extract ourselves from the Zoom we are in, so we can get to the next Zoom on time.

Here is a prediction. We are going to see the birth of the hand-lettered “in a meeting” sign. We will hang these on our doors (if we are lucky enough to have a door) and on our cubicle walls.

At some point, our hand-lettered warnings will be replaced by professionally printed signs.

Or maybe our offices will come to resemble recording studios, with a red light above the door that will automatically illuminate each time we fire up a new Zoom meeting.

The risk to all this campus Zooming is that the norm of the drop-in will drop away. You can interrupt a colleague who is doing e-mail. Not so for a colleague on a Zoom meeting.

Academic culture is at a choice point. We can decide to limit our meetings. We can choose to have Zoom-free mornings, afternoons, and whole days. We can set for ourselves a new set of norms that inhibit the virtual meeting.

Or we can do nothing and watch Zoom devour the space that once belonged to unscheduled, ad hoc, and unplanned conversations.

The choice is ours to make.

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