Remember when ‘zoom’ simply meant to move quickly? It wasn’t long ago that video conferencing was a futuristic aspiration and the stuff of Star Trek fantasy. But thanks to the power of the Internet, and a certain California-based American communications company, ‘Zoom’ now has an entirely new meaning.
Although video conferencing had gradually increased in popularity before Covid-19, it was the global pandemic that really accelerated its growth. The number of Zoom meetings jumped from around 10 million at the end of 2019 to more than 300 million by Easter 2020.
Now Zoom and rivals like Google Meet and Microsoft Team are so ubiquitous that many experts believe business communications have changed irrevocably. But will the popularity of video conferencing really outlive the pandemic? Let’s weigh things up below.
The video conferencing revolution
A recent PwC survey has shown that as many as 84% of employees believe they work just as effectively at home as they do in the office. As a result, influential companies like Twitter and Facebook have announced that employees can work from home indefinitely (even when the pandemic has ended). Indeed, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckenberg estimates that 50% of his workforce will be working remotely by 2030.
It’s video conferencing that makes this possible. The technology links homes with offices and enables co-workers to collaborate closely 24/7. Colleagues can dial into meetings wherever they are, and the picture and sound quality have come along leaps and bounds.
Video conferencing is so popular because it works for all kinds of businesses. It’s not just techy types in Silicon Valley. It can connect co-workers and clients in traditional office environments or those in desk-sharing spaces; it can also facilitate everything from remote yoga and ballet classes to medical appointments. Every industry can benefit.
A huge bonus is that video conferencing improves productivity. Employees can use the time they’d normally spend commuting or travelling to business meetings to complete other tasks. What’s more, contrary to popular belief, people tend to work harder when they’re at home. A study of 3m employees at 21,500 companies by Harvard Business School showed that they worked longer hours when the pandemic forced businesses to shift online.
Many believe that video conferencing improves camaraderie and team spirit too. For example, there’s no obvious hierarchy in video calls. There’s no boss at the top of the table showing that they’re in charge. Everyone appears in identical sized boxes. What’s more, video conferencing gives colleagues glimpses into your home life. They can see your home and inadvertently ‘meet’ pets or other family members. Suddenly co-workers feel like they know each other a whole lot better.
Video conferencing is also appealing to environmentalists. It uses less than a tenth of the energy used for face-to-face meetings once travel and equipment are taken into account. As sustainability is becoming increasingly important in the modern world (not least because it increases productivity by reducing waste), video conferencing will likely remain in vogue for years to come.
The flip side
Despite the numerous advantages of video conferencing, however, some professions can’t wait to get back to the office. They miss personal engagement and its ability to inspire and spark ideas. They also prefer meeting face-to-face because body language (which is limited in video calls) makes it simpler to read reactions. This makes mutual understanding easier.
Some people also become very self-conscious during video calls. This is because there’s more eye contact. The face is all participants can see. Co-workers can also spend too much time looking at their own image in the corner of the screen, which can be distracting.
All of these things, whilst insignificant compared with the benefits of video conferencing, show that new technologies do have their limits. Video conferencing can also lead to fatigue. Whilst it’s more convenient to speak to colleagues via your screen at the click of a button, research shows that virtual interactions require increased cognitive and physical effort.
There’s no doubt that video conferencing has changed the business world for the better. The idea that we need to be in the office ten hours a day, five days a week, to work effectively has been blown out of the water. Consequently, those who believe that video conferencing is a fad that won’t outlive the pandemic are likely to be mistaken.
Although video conferencing isn’t a perfect technology, and etiquette might ultimately evolve, the pros clearly outweigh the cons. Therefore, time-poor professionals will continue to lean heavily on the technologies they embraced so readily in 2020 even when it’s possible to return to the office full time.
With less travel, more video conferencing, and more remote work in the offing, it’s prudent for IT managers to prepare themselves for the future by adopting the very best video conferencing technology. This will help their business to work as efficiently and productively as possible in the coming years.