Four months into the coronavirus pandemic, the world has just about had it with the lockdown. Businesses are itching to go back to…well… “business-as-usual.” But should the business world just snap back to the way things have always been, or are there aspects of this altered world that should stick around?
The lockdown has shaved personal interactions down to the bare minimum. And these months of transition have brought into intense focus some important questions that twenty-first-century businesses have already begun to face. Foremost among them are the questions: “Can my company survive with remote-only workers?” and “What actually needs to happen in person?” As companies have been forced to answer these questions and adjust accordingly, one must wonder: out of these adjustments, what will survive the desperately desired return to normalcy? Whether the majority of businesses go back to the traditional 9-5 office setting or not, surely every employer will have reevaluated what face-to-face interactions are actually necessary.
The majority of businesses have been forced to make the transition to remote work. There was a mad scramble to acclimate when the stay-at-home orders began to roll in, and businesses have seen varying degrees of success in adjusting to the new realities. Many businesses have adopted videoconferencing as their main form of communication, to keep their employees connected to each other and to their clients. Working remotely was not the ideal situation for many businesses, but perhaps the switch to virtual connection is a change worth keeping.
The main form of videoconferencing software is the now notorious Zoom. Zoom allows multiple parties to speak together “face-to-face” at any time and in virtually any place. Although there are important benefits to this form of communication, it is a good idea to examine the drawbacks of Zoom’s prolonged use.
Psychologists have commented on the mental toll that having to focus on 15 different faces staring out at you from your computer screen for multiple hours a day can cause. Some have noticed how the lack of non-verbal cues negatively affects the flow of conversation as well as the inability to have side conversations or participate in the comfortable give-and-take of natural conversations. Other side effects have been officially labeled. For example, “Zoom Fatigue” is defined by USA Today as “the feeling of tiredness, anxiousness or worry with yet another video call.” Employees and employers alike are struggling to find connection in a culture that, in the blink of an eye, became bound by law to meet only from behind a screen.
Though video conferencing has drawbacks, it may prove to remedy a significant waste of productivity: the number of in-person-meetings that usually occur within businesses. One study shows that in the past 50 years, business meetings have jumped dramatically in frequency and length. As opposed to less than 10 hours a week in the 1960s, executives now spend an average of 23 hours a week in meetings (pre-lockdown, obviously). Researchers explain that executives feel that they appear selfless by sacrificing their time in innumerable meetings. However, this attitude has great potential to damage efficiency. Face-to-face communication can be important, but perhaps a post-virus business world will have learned to prioritize these interactions and potentially keep Zoom around for the meetings they do deem vital.
The coronavirus lockdown has created a reality ripe for re-evaluation. Each business is unique in its ability to work remotely. Each is also unique in the lessons it should harvest from the pandemic. If you take the time to be attentive to what aspects of your business have been damaged and what aspects have been improved by going remote, you may just come out of this global hardship with a more efficient, conscientious business.