Imagine your weekly team meeting… you shake hands with your colleagues, an old colleague makes a comeback and you’re seeing him after a long time and give her a hug; you’re cherishing your cup of green tea with honey while enjoying the smell of freshly brewed coffee your boss is having (and some of your other colleagues) and from humor and laughter, you come up with an innovative business strategy – and bear in mind, all this is happening in a virtual setup, through a video conferencing – while you’re sitting at the comfort of your home (or anywhere)
That’s the kind of world Eric Yuan, CEO and founder of video conferencing company Zoom hopes to see in less than 10 years, as he believes Zoom calls will be better than face-to face meetings.
Speaking at a virtual panel with Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes and Slack co-founder Stewart Butterfield, Yuan said that Zoom is looking to add features to its video calling platform where people would be able to feel their hands being shaken and smell coffee in their virtual space, to make individuals feel as if they are in the same physical space as their counterparts, even if they are sitting hundreds of miles apart.
Yuan also believes that many workers would not return full time to the office after the pandemic – a reason why video meetings are here to stay and the pandemic had demonstrated that ‘it works’.
Stewart Butterfield believes the past year has been an opportunity to reimagine work. There’s a kind of assumption that whatever happened up to February 2020 is the default, the true reality, and we’re in this aberration now.
The company is trying to improve the work-life balance and foster more social contact across the distributed workforce. Every month at Slack, the whole company takes one Friday off which they call Slack Off Fridays.
Butterfield witnessed how the reduced need for business travel and less time spent commuting is having a positive impact on people, unlike before. Moreover the geographical barrier in recruiting is no longer there as Slack now hires talent from ‘anywhere’ who no longer need to live within commuting distance.
Atlassian has declared a ‘creative refresh’ day, when employees devote the day to any creative activities of their choice and share the output with colleagues. As Cannon-Brookes mentioned, “We’re trying to separate how we work from where we work. We meet to socialize much more at Atlassian now, whereas we used to meet to work. Once you separate those, you end up with very different constructs in office layouts and stuff over time.”
At Zoom, Wednesday is a meeting-free day. Yuan said Zoom has, since 2020, expanded employee benefits to include a new mental health program, the banning of internal meetings on Wednesdays and creating a partnership with the American Heart Association to discuss stress reduction strategies.
But worries remain…
Despite the optimism, the leaders did not rule out the concerns associated with remote work and technology. The ‘new normal’ work pattern brought immediate scrutiny as issues such as privacy and security were thrust under the spotlight (Think Zoom-bombing). But technology evolves faster than one can imagine and those are problems that need immediate attention. But there are bigger issues, noted the leaders.
Butterfield commented, technology alone will not be enough to sustain these changes. Businesses will also have to adapt culturally. That’s a bigger challenge for companies, especially on how best to help people adjust to these new patterns of work, especially that of a distributed workforce.
Take for example, onboarding new employees. Yuan said, earlier its employees were brought to the headquarters in San Jose, California, followed by social interaction, lunches and dinners and in-person meetings and mentoring. That’s not possible now.
Also “Zoom fatigue” is something one cannot ignore, which Yuan himself has admitted on various forums. He had also earlier hinted that every day before closing he practices a 15-minutes meditation to unwind and introspect. But he said, “The world will become a hybrid [workplace], and I think that’s a world we have to embrace.”
Experts believe, it is important how the company can sustain its culture through virtual channels, and makes a difference. As Butterfield added, “A strong sense of a common mission helps to reinforce that shared culture.
While the future of work is uncertain, we have to keep discovering new patterns of working and adjust to ‘new role’ in our lives. As Cannon-Brookes suggested, the move towards hybrid working models is forcing a rethink of productivity.
In the end, it is no longer where work gets done, but instead making things happen wherever you are while making yourself available on every device possible.