You would think with so many news stories about “Zoom Fatigue” that most employees and managers would welcome a return to the office and an end to video conferencing.
But, statistically, this is only true on the management side. Ask employees what they want, like Pew Research did at the end of 2020, and the majority – 65% — will say that video conferencing and instant messaging platforms are actually a good substitute for in-person contact.
That still leaves 35% of workers who prefer in-person to video conferencing.
But, whether more employees end up permanently working from home or not, the era of the video conference is here to stay, simply because so many companies already rely on such services to bring together employees from branch offices, contractors, freelancers, and those who work from a home office.
In addition, video conferencing is an important part of offering accessibility to employees who cannot work at the office due to various disabilities. Indeed, if more employers were willing to offer work-from-home from the outset when hiring employees, an additional labor pool in the millions would be open to them.
According to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 61 million American adults have a disability that impacts major life activities. A report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 5.9 million people with disabilities were employed in 2019 and that labor force participation was much lower for people with a disability and those without—20.8% vs 68.7%. Yet, more than half of all U.S. jobs are sedentary or require only light strength.
Since video conferencing is already so prevalent, and so many people can benefit from the opportunities presented by such tools for remote workers, the next developmental stage should be (and, indeed, already is) how to make it better for all concerned.
The most common employee complaints include:
The most common reasons managers give for not supporting remote work options:
Between these concerns and the varying personalities among any group of people, what seems to make the most sense is a combination of both virtual and physical co-working spaces. This would eventually translate to lower overhead for companies as they’re able to reduce physical office space, while providing the best of both worlds to employees and managers.
But most of the virtual spaces currently available still need improvement to get there:
Make natural conversation easier—One of the problems with current videoconferencing services is that they were built on technology initially sourced a decade ago. The result is that it’s impossible to have a natural, human conversation, because there’s so much processing of the audio and video that it creates a delay in the transmission. This makes it difficult for call participants to collaborate creatively because the flow of the meeting is very stilted.
Make it easier to “drop in” on each other—Another issue with videoconferencing services is that, even in a meeting with multiple participants, how you’re able to interact with others requires a moderator and, essentially, a spotlight on a single person talking at a time. It’s nothing like being in an office and being able to stick your head in a co-worker’s cubicle for a quick confab. It should be easier for people to interact much as they do in an office setting.
But still allow for privacy—In an office, even an office full of half-wall cubicles, the buzz of other calls and conversations and general business of the day provides an individual worker with a sense of privacy. You may approach a worker’s area and see that they’re on a call and decide to check in with them later, for example. In a virtual office setting, with the goal being that people are streaming the virtual office all day, workers can, essentially, close the door with the click of a button that blurs their screen and mutes their microphone. Others in the virtual office can still see that their co-worker is there and can wave at them or ping them if they want to have a conversation.
It’s possible with streaming tech right now to create a hybrid workspace that bridges the gap between in-person and video, making people feel present and available to each other, just like in a physical office.
And, in the not-too-distant-future, instead of peering at a computer screen, we’ll very likely be interacting with 3D images of each other (Google introduced an experimental full-size 3D calling system in May 2021, for example).
While we’re years away from a day when we meet and work and visit with each other via 3D tech, there’s no need to suffer with glitchy teleconferencing services in the here-and-now. Better streaming tech is available, and it can help virtual office and virtual/physical hybrid spaces feel more organic and natural.
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