Bo Parfet Discusses the Importance of Small Talk

Is small talk at digital meetings re-defining “gathering time” and ending conference call dread? I would argue that in most cases, the answer is a resounding ‘yes!’

The truth is that before the world went under lockdown, work had perks and meaning far beyond what daily ‘to-do’ lists entail. We had happy hours, social events organized by human resources, and perhaps even groups of colleagues that were always eager to try the newest lunch spot. Since we are all arguably more isolated than we have ever been, it is worth taking a moment to check in with our colleagues to ask how they are doing. Here are some reasons that your office might benefit from more small talk over Zoom and the significant work outcomes that could result:

Small talk can help your team “shoot the breeze.”

To be frank, our “breaks” do not always let us take real breathers from the day. We are all navigating schedules that are far more challenging than usual. The tasks we take for granted (keeping our homes clean, staying in shape, and cooking) require much more energy and consideration when living and working alongside family on a full-time basis. Even if your home is not as crowded, most still struggle to meet their expectations in a living arrangement that they did not anticipate. Parents with children who have not yet returned to school are also tasked with the burden of homeschooling, meaning that many professionals are simultaneously juggling two full-time jobs.

If a company provides opportunities for employees to decompress, participants are less likely to bring their burnout to team forums. To “shoot the breeze” more often with your co-workers, I recommend that team leaders designate a short amount of time before each video conference call for small talk. Holding space to check in with each other builds positive team energy before diving into work matters. The pre-meeting check-in is also a delicate compromise for employees who are not fans of deviating from professional discussion. Putting small talk on the agenda before you entertain business matters will give the less-social employees some time offline to gather their thoughts between meetings.

It is time to confront the reality of Zoom fatigue.

Some remote workers report being on Zoom for up to 12 hours every day. And at this point of the pandemic, everyone is tired: tired of being home, tired of working from home, tired of social distancing, and everything in between. The back-to-back scheduling of video conference calls can become mundane. While video conference calls may be unavoidable until we return to the office, they do not necessarily need to be unenjoyable.

Now that the “new normal” has been in place for nearly a full year, it is worth re-imagining what socializing can look like in a remote work setting. Small talk over Zoom is an excellent first step to make an exclusively digital professional environment feel more natural. For example, some executives express concern that their teams’ performance levels go hand in hand with maintaining company culture. That is valid; all leaders should consider how their team’s relationships impact their experience at work.

Fortunately, small talk at meetings creates an ambiance of “hanging out” from afar. If making small talk an agenda item at the beginning of a meeting does not work for your team, try scheduling small talk for the end of a group call. Leaders can also opt to start team meetings with individual ice breakers or check-ins to have employees speak to each other one-on-one about how they are doing.

If you still struggle to get your team on board with small talk, try to build more opinion-based content into your team meetings. Questions like “Who are you looking forward to seeing in concert when this is all over?” or “Where do you want to travel to next?” do not have a right answer. Since they are open-ended by design, anyone can participate and chime in when they feel comfortable.

About Bo Parfet

Michigan native Bo Parfet is an experienced investment banker, social entrepreneur, and real estate professional. Bo Parfet is the Chief Growth Officer of DLP Real Estate Capital.  He also serves as the CEO of Denali Venture Philanthropy, an organization he founded over a decade ago. Denali Venture Philanthropy builds on Parfet’s family legacy of pursuing philanthropic initiatives; Parfet seeks out like-minded social entrepreneurs looking to foster positive social change in their communities.

Show More