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Welcoming the Post-Zoom Era

The Zoom era is quickly coming to an end. How should companies re-adjust?

Prior to the pandemic, few outside of technology jobs even knew what Zoom was. Now, everyone is comfortable with video conferencing. However, while the technology works better than ever, I’m starting to sense that people are done with continual video conferencing. 

Zoom Logo

Many people who use Zoom do so on a compulsory basis. They have jobs that require that they Zoom for meetings or they are in classes that require online attendance. Therefore, it is hard to decipher people’s attitudes towards Zoom in those circumstances. They use it because someone told them they must.

However, I regularly teach at a homeschooling co-op class. Homeschoolers, especially in Oklahoma, aren’t compelled to do anything that they don’t feel comfortable with. Don’t want to do standardized testing? Don’t have to. Don’t want to grade on a traditional scale? Don’t have to. Don’t want to use traditional textbooks? Don’t have to. However, for all of these things, most families I am familiar with do, in fact, do these things because they bring some amount of value. They take standardized tests less often, or they might stray from the textbooks more often, but the reason they do them at all is because they find the benefits outweigh the costs. When no one is under mandates, we can more readily see where people find value.

Having said that, I’ve found an interesting trend—the trend against Zoom classes as an alternative to in-person classes. During the early pandemic we often had classes via Zoom, or mixed-mode classes with some on Zoom and some not (in fact, you can see my recommendations for running mixed-mode classrooms here). But recently, when students are sick (whether COVID or other illness), even when Zooming into the class is offered as an option, both parents and students are opting to just skip class altogether rather than attend via Zoom. To me, this says that the season of Zoom as an integral component of keeping everyone together is quickly ending.

The Zoom era will probably persist a little longer in places where employers and administrators can mandate it, but I think the enthusiasm for it is waning. People are recognizing how draining it is to be interacting online instead of in-person, and they want to get back to seeing everyone face-to-face. 

The question is, how will that work with the remote workforce? Many companies have been hiring without respect to location because it is so easy to Zoom people in. Many employees have gotten used to working from home because they can. However, this will likely lead to an inevitable collision course of values in the coming years. And, unfortunately, the choices will not always be individual choices. If even one person Zooms, then the whole meeting is a Zoom meeting. And, frankly, it is less draining for everyone to be on Zoom than for one or two.

So, some recommendations. First of all, your organization will have to decide whether it is primarily remote or primarily in-person. Soon this will no longer be something that you can just “feel out,” because everyone has to be on board with the decision. Then, for remote organizations, you have to realize that people’s ability to maintain high levels of concentration in the face of Zoom meetings is very low. Therefore, even though the tool is essential for some types of interactions, managers will need to find ways to minimize the amount of time that employees actually spend on Zoom meetings. 

Additionally, Zoom no longer serves as a vehicle for social interaction. People are generally done with that. Zoom happy hours are seeing less and less attendance. Even when close family and friends are out of town, their willingness to get involved in Zoom conversations is decreasing. Therefore, managers will need to find alternate ways to maintain team cohesion among geographically remote employees. Without this, loyalty to companies and teams will degenerate until employees are mere mercenaries with no long-term commitment to companies they are a part of.

How do companies maintain a corporate culture of camaraderie among people who never interact physically? That is the big question that will face managers over the next several years.

Jonathan Bartlett

Senior Fellow, Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Jonathan Bartlett is a senior software R&D engineer at Specialized Bicycle Components, where he focuses on solving problems that span multiple software teams. Previously he was a senior developer at ITX, where he developed applications for companies across the US. He also offers his time as the Director of The Blyth Institute, focusing on the interplay between mathematics, philosophy, engineering, and science. Jonathan is the author of several textbooks and edited volumes which have been used by universities as diverse as Princeton and DeVry.

Welcoming the Post-Zoom Era