‘The New Normal’ is a phrase which has been used and perhaps over-used in the last few months when describing our lives post Covid-19 lockdown. From a business and meetings point of view, how will our interaction change and what will that interaction look like?
- The bombshell
- The consequences
- Zoom fatigue
- Data protection
I started writing this article at the start of April 2020 and by the time you are reading the completed work here in August 2020, I have more or less re-written the whole of it as events have overtaken the original content. Let me explain why.
The world of business communication has been through a rollercoaster ride, the like of which has never seen before. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused incredible disruption to exhibitions, meetings, conferences, product launches and any type of face-to-face events.
I vividly remember back at the start of the pandemic which coincided with ISE 2020 in Amsterdam, the number of companies that I spoke to at the time who were seriously considering the prospect of re-writing the book as to how they were going to communicate with their customers, employees and colleagues. Just think, all of that travel and expense saved. A CFO’s dream, possibly…
These weren’t just ‘what if’ conversations. These were genuine attempts to look at streamlining the operations of large corporate companies so that the methods of communications were strategically changed out of all recognition – it was sounding like it was going to be a big moment.
Of course, many companies already use a whole plethora of tools for remote working and communications; Teams, Zoom, Skype – you name it. These are effective tools for collaboration and group working where travel distance is nil and, for short to medium length meetings, they do what they say on the tin. What has genuinely surprised me over the last few months, is that pundits saying this somewhat binary method of communications IS going to be ‘the new normal’ and that there won’t be as much need for those in-person meetings. Really?
I would say that I learn lessons about the importance of face-to-face communications every time I have one of these meetings. In the corporate selling world, you do business with people, not entities. Within your own organisation, you engage with your work colleagues. How many times has something been misinterpreted or misunderstood because someone didn’t get the whole picture? Especially when it comes to sensitive or otherwise important communication, having tone and body language for context makes a world of difference.
Personally, I get so much out of physically meeting people -- no matter where it is. Communicating face-to-face sends a message before you say a word. People will not only hear what you are saying, they will perceive the greater meaning of your tone, voice inflection and emotion. These are by far the best ways to build long-lasting and fulfilling relationships in my opinion.
The above might sound like an attempt to dismiss the collaboration technologies as irrelevant. Not at all. In fact, I very much embrace and encourage the use of these in the right context and for the right reasons. I use them all of the time myself.
What I have noticed though over the last few months is that many people I know have been suffering from what I call ‘Zoom Fatigue’ – a condition that seems to be brought about by too many collaboration meetings in one day. When it’s time for my meeting with them, say at 4.00pm, they are already mentally ‘done’ and I’m unable to have a good level of engagement with them. I also think that being stuck in front of a monitor for 10 hours or more a day is not good for the mind.
Staring at the screen, rather than looking around a room at your colleagues or customers, is such a different experience and I don’t believe that we fully consider that. It can be the mental equivalent of having blinkers on and not looking out wide enough for solutions.
Also, the temptation to have back-to-back meetings is a real one. Packing in lots of collaboration might make the calendar look nice if you are trying to impress your boss and make the day go faster, but does that make one really effective? I don’t think it does and I would much rather take my time over projects that require it, rather than trying to jam everything in.
As always, there can be unintended consequences to the way in which we work. One of them is clockwatching. It’s a thing.
It doesn’t seem to matter how long your video conference is scheduled – when your computer clock tells you there is 1 minute to go before the end of your meeting (or the start of the next one) there is a mad rush, panic even, to end the current meeting. We are not in a TV network control room; we are not going to crash into the news at the top of the hour if we don’t finish at 13:59:59. It’s OK. Really.
These sudden terminations of meetings, although normally polite and courteous, miss out on a whole range of topics that might have been ignored or glossed over, or one of those ‘can we just…’ moments.
I don’t know how many times I have visited a client’s offices when just as I am packing up my stuff to leave, they have said: ‘Oh, while you’re here Nev, can we just…’ or ‘Just before you go, can I introduce you to our IT Network Manger…?’ These unexpected addendums to a meeting rarely happen when you are on a call and not physically in the space. And they could easily cause your original meeting to overrun, but so what? The amount of information and further relationship building and personal interface that you can obtain from that moment of afterthought is incredibly valuable and should never be overlooked.
This is an area which has been in spotlight during the pandemic. How secure is our data? What organisations have access to it? I was very interested to read an article on video teleconferencing (VTC) in the online edition of Inavate magazine entitled: ‘Data protection watchdogs urge video conferencing data responsibility.’
Quoting directly from a few paragraphs, the article mentions the direction that vendors (video conferencing companies, but also Microsoft, Cisco, Zoom, House Party and Google) are being asked to take regarding data security:
‘Global data protection and privacy authorities have sent an open letter to video teleconferencing companies to ‘remind them of their obligations’ to comply with data protection and privacy laws and to handle information responsibly, through the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.’
The letter states: ‘Use of VTC to stay connected is not new. But as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen a sharp increase in the use of VTC for both social and business purposes, including in the realm of virtual health and education, which can involve the sharing of particularly sensitive information, for particularly vulnerable groups. This increase in use exacerbates existing risks with the handling of personal information by VTC companies, and also creates new ones.
‘Reports in the media, and directly to us as privacy enforcement authorities, indicate the realisation of these risks in some cases. This has given us cause for concern as to whether the safeguards and measures put in place by VTC companies are keeping pace with the rapidly increasing risk profile of the personal information they process.’
I would say that this is a long overdue step, and there has been considerable concern regarding data privacy at a consumer and a professional level for many years now. As the propensity of this technology becomes even more mainstream, it is vital that we have confidence in how data is being used and stored.
As you will have gathered from the contents of this blog, I am big fan of face-to-face and in-person communication. But I very much embrace technology that allows one to do things more efficiently, that saves time and money. I do not believe that this technology is a panacea, but it offers incredible flexible forms of engagement across multiple platforms that are easy to use.
Frankly speaking though, I cannot wait to get together with my work colleagues again over a minor ale and a dinner near our European HQ!