However, for companies still hiring and training staff entirely remotely, seeing a friendly face and being able to connect it with a name is important. “If two people already know each other well, then there might be less need for having that richness of information,” says Chia-Jung Tsay of University College London, who researches business psychology. “But if it’s a first time meeting, and perhaps there is a complicated issue to discuss, I think there are some aspects that would be more easily conveyed through visuals.”
Even Zoom’s own management agrees it’s not best suited to all situations. “Video calls aren’t necessarily the answer to everything,” admits Phil Perry, head of UK and Ireland at Zoom. “After more than a year of video meetings, people can occasionally forget the simplicity and speed of asking a question through a message – instead, automatically opting for a Zoom call.”
Virtual meeting fatigue is “a real and natural problem,” says Perry, who concedes that repeated remote video calls scheduled back-to-back can hit productivity. Zoom itself bans video calls internally every Wednesday, and also encourages staff to switch to audio-only breaks during meetings to disrupt the repetition of regular video meetings and to allow staff to feel less watched.
Carving out a day when video calls are banned is used by many companies, including Dublin startup Fiid. “Because we had so many meetings, we were talking about things we didn’t have any time to do, which is actually what we’re all getting paid to do,” explains Shane Ryan, Fiid’s CEO, who has banned Zoom calls on Mondays. “We ring fenced time, so that everyone has the space and the freedom to not just do things, but also to think and be creative,” he says. “Great ideas don’t come out of when a moment when you’re under time pressure, or when you feel like you have 30 minutes to get this done.”
Zoom itself uses its chat function to keep in touch with employees, but other organisations use platforms like Slack. “The pandemic has also been a good reminder of the neural diversity that exists amongst teams,” Templeton says. Slack has seen companies using its app to run brainstorms over a couple of days, with people adding ideas in a thread. “This has meant that people who would usually be a bit quieter on a Zoom have had the opportunity to structure their thoughts and participate more,” Templeton says.
But how do you decide when it’s best to Zoom and when you should use something else entirely? Attaluri still uses Zoom for her regular agenda meetings, but doesn’t require staff to turn on their video. Briefs for projects are shared via email, while one-to-one meetings are reserved for phone calls only. “We found that some of us actually feel more comfortable to open up when they don’t have their manager staring at them,” Attaluri says. Phone calls – or non-video calls through digital platforms – are also used more by Slack. “Many of my virtual meetings come with a note in the invite that says that the video is optional, giving the participants the freedom to decide themselves if they want to be on camera or not,” Templeton says.
One element of video calls that has shifted how we work is the need to be immediately able to respond to questions or concerns that may be raised. Employees know well the cold shudder that runs down the spine (and the thoughts that race through your head) when your boss pings you on Slack asking if you have five minutes for a quick Zoom call. People feel on the spot when brought in front of managers to provide prompt responses, whereas in the office environment pre-pandemic, they may have received an email that they could answer in their own time, after finding the answer to the question. “Chat features and collaboration tools can lead to faster responses and work being completed more efficiently,” Perry says.