If you type “Zoom fails” into Google, the first things you’ll see are lists upon lists of the most embarrassing things to have happened on Zoom during the pandemic. From the famous “Ms. Potato Head to the “I’m not a cat” lawyer, cringeworthy mishaps with filters, background noise, unmade beds in backgrounds, or pets photobombing a meeting kept happening as we went to work from home.
There’s no denying that in this difficult time, new technologies like videoconferencing weren’t just useful—they were a lifeline. We used tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Google Meet for everything from speaking with our colleagues to catching up with our friends. But as the world starts to open up again and vaccine rollout picks up the pace, it’s time to reflect on how to move forward.
Videoconferencing technology will not replace business travel
There’s been a lot of talk since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic about whether videoconferencing solutions would make business trips obsolete. They’ve argued that travel budgets are too high and that the previous year has shown us that these collaboration tools can work.
Well, we’re here to tell you that business travel will bounce back. And the reason for that goes back to why business travel even exists. An influential paper out of Harvard University’s Growth Lab declared that business travel is about the movement of know-how between regions and countries. It indicated that there is direct causation between the productivity and economic growth of a region or country and its incoming business travel. That’s because industries that have been visited by experts from around the world have the benefit of sharing knowledge and experience that only in-person meetings can provide. The transfer of know-how “from brain to brain” cannot be done as effectively through videoconferencing systems.
That’s not to say that you need to run back to the meeting room for everything. As we start emerging from lockdown and resuming a normal life, it’s time to reflect on how we did things before. Is every meeting a necessity? Probably not. It’s going to be about identifying which meetings can add value to your professional experience and making sure that they happen face-to-face, not through a “telepresence” or instant messaging.
Going forward, we will need to consider adapting our travel policies—but not necessarily in the way that you think. Sustainability and “green travel” will become the staple of how businesses roll out their travel programs in 2021 and beyond. There’ll be a huge focus on carbon emissions and taking their carbon footprints down to zero. Travel costs won’t just be about budget, they’ll be about reporting on the real-time impact companies have on the environment. Travelers will be encouraged to favor trains over air travel on short-haul, domestic journeys.
Full remote work is not the future
A few weeks ago, our CEO Avi Meir issued an announcement that TravelPerk will not be going fully remote. Why? Because the meetings that matter happen in person.
We are innately social creatures. We rely on cooperation to survive and to thrive. Our inherent need to connect with others on a human level is what defines us as a species, and is what drives creativity and progress. Mankind’s greatest ideas came about face-to-face, not screen-to-screen. The bursts of energy, inspiration, understanding, and support when we come together in person build the foundation of what makes us who and what we are. That’s why we’re going hybrid, not remote.
Here are 10 reasons why video calls won’t be the future of your business either.
1. They diminish nonverbal communication that humans rely on
Studies show that 70-93% of human communication is actually non-verbal. Breaking that down further, the interpretation of a message is 7% verbal, 38% vocal (looking at the intonation of a voice, for example), and 55% visual (looking at gestures and facial expressions). All of these details help us as humans to develop an “impression” of the person we’re interacting with. Should we trust the person? Do we think we can work with this person? Can we rely on them to do what they say they’ll do? Will they deliver high-quality work? All of these questions and more are really important in business and are in large part communicated by our body language.
Things like conferencing technologies are great alternatives when teams, colleagues, and clients cannot get together. It’s one of the great advances of our time, giving us flexibility and autonomy. However, it’s important to remember that this is a one-dimensional space where most non-verbal queues vanish. It’s like trying to paint with both hands tied behind your back.
2. They can instil a fear of public speaking even if you’re not the one talking
Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is one of the most common phobias out there and is estimated to affect about 75% of the global population. Studies report that people suffering from glossophobia are most nervous about being watched and stared at by large amounts of people. Sure, you might argue that video meetings aren’t quite the same as standing on stage addressing a live audience of 100 people. And you’re right, it’s not exactly the same—but there are similarities that can provoke anxiety.
Online video tools require an uncommon amount of eye contact. Think about it—with the webcam on throughout the call and all participants looking straight at their screens, there are always faces staring back at you. This doesn’t happen in face-to-face meetings in conference rooms, where people can focus on many different things. So even if you’re not speaking in a Zoom call, you still feel like you’re being watched and looked at.
The same applies to the fact that you can constantly see yourself. This isn’t something that occurs naturally, and can also provoke a feeling of anxiety. It can be counterproductive during a conference call at best and can induce feelings of insecurity and self-consciousness at the wrong time. Both seeing yourself and constantly being seen can shatter your confidence during important meetings.
3. They can make difficult conversations even worse
It can often be difficult to convey empathy in words. Sometimes sayings like “I’m sorry” or “I know this must be difficult” simply don’t cut it. That’s when we turn to things like a sympathetic facial expression, a gentle pat on the shoulder, or even something more emotional like a hug. Sure, we try to stay away from showing too many emotions at work—but it’s important for us to remain human. Empathy is a huge part of that.
Think about a situation where you need to tell an employee that they need to work a little harder. Or worse, that it might time for them to leave the company in a virtual meeting. That conversation is difficult enough for both parties without adding this digital element to it that takes away the humane side of it. There have been countless reports of group firings being conducted in 15-minute Zoom calls where all the participants were put on mute. That was shown to cause significantly more stress than having these conversations in person. Affected employees felt like information was being withheld from them and that they didn’t have an appropriate channel to process what’s just happened.
4. They can result in an unnecessary amount of meetings
According to a recent report, employees are having more meetings now than ever before (8 times per week on average) and 67% of employees feel that over half of these online meetings are not valuable. They perceive online conferencing tools as a “poor fit for ad-hoc meetings and one-to-one meetings”.
As the number of meetings increases, their value decreases. It’s gotten to the point where Instagram influencers like Dude with Sign put up joke posts saying “this meeting could have been an email”. And this trend keeps increasing the more time we spend away from each other, particularly with ad-hoc meetings. In offices, if you need to ask a team member a question, all you need to do is walk over to them and chat for 5 minutes. When working as a distributed team remotely, that interaction is placed by “a quick Zoom call”. This, combined with an increased frequency in regularly scheduled meetings means that employees have less time to do their work because they’re hopping in and out of calls all the time.
5. They can lead to miscommunications and misunderstandings
When you meet someone in person, you usually have an instinctive feeling of when they’re going to talk, how they react to something you’ve said, and when the conversation naturally dies down. A lot of that comes from cues that we can’t really perceive when mediated through a screen. For example, if someone takes a deep breath, that usually implies that they’re going to say something. Or if they don’t like something you’ve said, they may take a step back or look away.
That dimension of interaction is lost when you put a screen in between two people. And this can be particularly detrimental in the business world where leaving a good impression can mean the difference between a successful deal, or a deal gone sour. Imagine this simple situation—you’re on a call with a potential client. You’re getting ready to pitch an idea you’re really proud of, but your video quality is awful. Then their WiFi lags, and there’s an awkward silence. You turn the conversation away from your pitch and onto their internet connection. Can you hear me now? Where were we? I missed that last part. Sorry your audio quality is really poor. All common phrases and technical issues. Now, you’re less sure of yourself. You wonder whether they didn’t like what they heard, or if they really didn’t hear it at all. Your confidence wavers and your presentation suffers. That rubs off on the client and you both end the call not feeling as great as you hoped.
Sure, it’s not a deal-breaker. We all understand that these things happen. But don’t you wish it didn’t?
6. They’re actually a disadvantage in sales
Why do companies usually go on-site to meet potential clients or customers? It’s to build the in-person relationships that will ultimately decide and define who they close a deal with, and who they don’t. In fact, 60% of business travelers feel that most deals and important decisions just can’t be made online. It’s about establishing trust and creating a feeling of having great customer service that can turn a potential business relationship into a lucrative one. It’s more than just about the meeting or videoconference itself—it’s also about the social aspect that comes right before and right after. Whether it’s a coffee, a formal lunch, or just a simple conversation about the weather the first time you meet, these small interactions are what build a foundation of trust for your business relationship.
As the world starts to open up again, you can bet that companies will start sending sales representatives back out on the road. If your competitor starts doing that and you don’t, then chances are they’re going to land the deal. Why? It’s simple—the customer will feel that they’re the better option because they’ve taken the time and dedication to come and see them in person.
7. They can take a toll on your mental wellbeing
Researchers at Standford identified four consequences of prolonged video chats that came to be known as “Zoom fatigue”. They discovered that the size of the faces and the intensity with which we look at one another is unnatural, that it’s mentally exhausting to be able to see yourself reacting to others at all times, that our usual mobility is dramatically reduced through videoconferencing, and then our cognitive load gets a lot higher when relying solely on verbal communication.
And this doesn’t affect everyone equally. In fact, one in seven women (13.8%) report feeling exhausted after a day of back-to-back Zoom meetings. Just one in twenty men (5.5%) report feeling very or extremely tired in the same situation.
8. They can expose you to harmful levels of blue light
Eyecare professionals around the world are growing concerned about the possible health impacts of increased screen exposure. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the average adult spends about 13 hours a day staring at a screen. Between our work laptops, personal mobile devices, iPads, Netflix, and TV, the hours add up.
This exposure to the blue light emitted by screens on our devices can have a negative impact on our eye health. According to a study by United Healthcare, 70% of eye care professional survey respondents cited seeing dry eyes as a major symptom. 54% cited blurred vision, 63% cited headaches, and 76% cited sleep disruption.