Recognizing Someone in Person vs. Zoom: Why It’s Not as Automatic as You Think

I recently had an interesting realization at a regional meetup for the Cayliens in the Western US. With about 50 of our 500 employees attending, I finally met some colleagues face-to-face for the first time. Despite seeing them numerous times on Zoom, the recognition wasn’t as instantaneous as expected. This got me curious about why this happens.

The Face-to-Face Connection

When we meet someone in person, our brains are in their element. We rely heavily on a specialized area called the fusiform face area (FFA) in the visual cortex. This part of our brain is designed to recognize faces, helping us quickly identify friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. The in-person experience is rich with visual and sensory cues that our brains process seamlessly.

Zooming into Virtual Reality

On the flip side, recognizing someone on Zoom is a different ballgame. The flat, two-dimensional screen lacks the depth and nuance of real-life interactions. Our brains must work harder to interpret facial cues, expressions, and body language. It’s like switching from auto-pilot to manual, and it’s no wonder the process feels more mentally taxing.

The Cognitive Load

Have you ever felt completely drained after a day of Zoom calls? That’s the cognitive load in action. Our brains are constantly processing fragmented visual and auditory information, trying to piece together a complete picture. On Zoom, we miss out on subtle signals like body language and spatial orientation, making recognition less intuitive and more effortful.

Why Isn’t It Automatic?

Our brains aren’t just visual processors; they’re social organs. They crave context, depth, and multi-sensory input. In person, we receive all these inputs seamlessly, but on Zoom, our brains are deprived of this richness. Different parts of our brain, such as the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in social interactions and decision-making, must compensate for the lack of sensory data.

Making Virtual Recognition Easier

So, how can we ease this process? Here are a few tips:

  1. Lighting Matters: Good lighting helps your brain pick up facial features more easily.
  2. Consistent Backgrounds: Familiar surroundings provide context and reduce cognitive load.
  3. Regular Breaks: Give your brain a chance to reset and process information.
  4. Engage Multiple Senses: Use gestures and clear, expressive speech to enhance communication.

The Caylent Experience

At Caylent, a fully remote company with no physical headquarters, we’ve all become pros at virtual interactions. However, this meetup highlighted the importance of face-to-face connections. Meeting colleagues in person after months (or years) of virtual interactions was both exciting and challenging. It reminded me that while our brains are adaptable, they still crave the depth of real-world interactions.

Recognizing someone on Zoom is like meeting an old friend through a window. The connection is there, but it’s not as immediate or rich as face-to-face. Understanding the brain’s role in this process can help us navigate our virtual world more effectively and maybe even cut ourselves some slack when we feel Zoom fatigue setting in.

Feel free to share your experiences and tips on navigating this virtual landscape. Until next time, stay connected and keep those brain cells firing!

Changing chapters

After a little more than two years, yesterday was my last day with Edify. God truly orchestrated the strange series of events that led me there and I am so thankful for how I was able to play a part in the growth and development of that organization. Even in two years, the addition of staff, of countries operated in, and programs offered was great to watch. I can also honestly say that I was part of a family and that I have made some lifelong friends as a result.

Tomorrow, I start my new chapter with ProSites as their IT Director. Like any other new job, it will be certainly a whirlwind of new faces, names, practices, and projects. In getting to know my new boss and some of the upcoming plans, I’m excited to dive in.

So, if yesterday was my last day with Edify and tomorrow is my first day with ProSites, then I guess that means today, technically, I’m unemployed. It’s kind of a strange feeling. I wonder what I can watch on NetFlix…

Making working from home work

The commute to my office is over 50 miles and even with my workday starting on the earlier side, it currently takes over an hour to get to the office and almost two hours to get home. Fortunately, I am able to work from home three days a week which helps considerably to maintain my sanity. Since the vast majority of IT work can be performed from anywhere, it’s a decent arrangement for everyone. Continue reading

Getting creative for employee on-boarding

Working for a small, international, non-profit has many challenges. One of the biggest I’ve encountered is managing all the internal details involved in on-boarding employees and helping new staff get sufficiently oriented regardless of their location or technical competency. One tool I’ve been a fan of for years is Trello and, based on an idea they shared, a colleague and I got to work. The solution created has been in use for almost a year-and-a-half with over two dozen new employees brought onboard since that time.

When a new employee is slated to start, a workflow is kicked off using an internal Trello board shared by a few different people involved in the process. It represents a master checklist of steps that will be needed to complete the numerous necessary tasks. Some of the steps include:

  • Confirm that an offer was accepted
  • Confirm employee’s contact info and title
  • Get a headshot and bio
  • Create email and other server accounts
  • Create orientation board and account
  • Send welcome email with getting started instructions
  • etc.

As an operations-minded person, myself, I like to standardize whenever possible. A multi-cultural organization, however, demands acknowledging and accounting for differences in culture. The balance I shoot for is 80/20: 80% standardized and 20% contextualized. We took that into account with our solution. The bulk of the board is the same for all staff and covers the baseline common to everyone. Things like our mission, vision, staff resources, and must-watch or must-read items. Folded into that are lists specific to the team they’ll be joining as well as the country which they’re located. All combined, it’s proven to be a great resource. We also incorporate the feedback of each person that uses it so it can be improved in future iterations.

The best part is that it’s a free service which is always a good thing when the goal is to apply every dollar possible towards our programs. Want to donate?

Peay It Forward

Ok, I admit that the title’s lame, but I thought it was fun. You’re here reading this so I suppose it’s not all bad…

As one progresses through life and their career, knowledge and experience naturally accumulate. As you get exposed to new things and tackle the novel or unexpected, you generally amass a significant catalog of skills, insights, and, hopefully, wisdom. Over time, you consciously (and subconsciously) incorporate those numerous learnings into your day-to-day playbook to make yourself more efficient or effective. It happens almost automatically because nobody wants to spend more time or effort on something if they don’t have to. Continue reading

A Good Trip to Ghana

Last week, I returned to Ghana to participate in Edify‘s 2nd annual Education Technology Conference. The conference was well-attended and I enjoyed being part of the launch of our e-reader project in conjunction with our partner, Worldreader. Using Kindles to improve the reading ability and enjoyment for students will be a big benefit for many.

Following the event, a group of us had lunch at a rather unique local restaurant: La Tante DC10. Built out of an abandoned DC10 next to Kotaka Airport in 2013, it’s not surprising that it stands out. Very memorable.



Not just a team, but a family

Not surprisingly, in working for Edify I’ve learned that life in a non-profit requires being very thoughtful and judicious about how we use our resources and spend our money. Certainly, we could expand our manpower by hiring more staff or simply ‘throw money’ at every challenge that arises. That doesn’t work very well in the long run. In daily practice, the challenge is to find creative solutions or strategic trade-offs to keep our focus on our mission: To improve and expand sustainable Christ-centered education globally.

I’m happy to say that there is one thing, which comes at great expense, that is one of our wisest investments of our time and money: our annual team meeting. Each January, our (growing) team gathers to spend time together in fellowship, devotion, training, and sharing. In the past, the meetings have been in San Diego, but this year’s was our first in the field: Ghana.

When you think about all of the effort and expense that goes into flights, visas, lodging, food, and all the related logistics, it would be so easy to for our management to decide against it. Instead, the commitment to the time by our founders and senior management gets stronger each year.

I was fortunate enough to join Edify shortly before last year’s meeting so the one I’m just now returning from is my second. We now total 53 with over a quarter added in the past year alone. As I’m involved in getting each one set up and oriented, I have the benefit of being familiar with names and roles from the start. Hearing their voices on a weekly prayer call or other phone conferences only goes so far to really get to know people. Seeing them in person, sharing a meal, trading stories, is the only way to truly make a connection. That I did at every opportunity.

I can honestly say that my family has grown considerably since I joined Edify. It’s an honor and a pleasure to share my time and talents in service to them and our collective goals.

I have been blessed by the opportunity I’ve had. I cannot wait for us to be together again in 2018!