Virtual insanity?

We’re almost at the point where ‘business as usual’ can actually be just that – at least in terms of the rules we have to follow post-pandemic.

Some people have relished the benefits of working from home and using video calls for meetings (no commuting, squeeze more meetings into a day, the ability to work in shorts etc) but others can’t wait to get back to the office and resume real, not virtual, interactions.

Without a doubt, the pandemic has created a flexible working revolution. In 2019, employees had to negotiate to work from home – now they have to ask permission to be in the office.

Zoom meetings jumped from around 10 million in December 2019 to 300 million in April 2020. Even with businesses being allowed to open up their offices, it’s likely that video calls will continue to feature as a part of everyday working life, especially as flexible working is expected to be an enduring legacy of the pandemic.

A recent article in the Economist featured some interesting research that’s worth bearing in mind if you plan to keep video conferencing as an integral part of your business.

Virtual meeting challenges

  • Standard settings for a Zoom call make the other person’s face appear as big as it would be if you were standing 50cm apart. At that level of proximity, your brain is hard-wired to expect either a punch or a kiss!
  • Endless eye contact can make meetings stressful. A Stanford University study estimates it is the equivalent of cramming co-workers into a lift and forbidding them to avert their gaze.
  • People can spend up to 40% of a video call looking at themselves. This can exacerbate any self-esteem issues.
  • Video conferencing eliminates important non-verbal communication. Building trust without these social cues is very difficult.
  • People speak on average 15% louder on video calls than they do in person which can become exhausting.
  • Poor internet connection is a menace: even a delay of one second makes people seem less attentive, friendly and conscientious.

On a more positive note…

  • Video calls have a certain democracy. Everyone appears equally sized in a randomly arranged square. Markers of status like sitting at the head of the table or taking the seat next to the boss have disappeared.
  • We’ve got to see another side of colleagues, customers and suppliers. We have been in their homes, often meeting their children/pets/ partners. We now have a more rounded understanding of the whole person – not just their business persona.

What are you planning for your business over the coming months? If you’re a financial adviser and you envisage sticking with virtual meetings (or a mix of both), you might find our recent white paper useful – it looks at how to grow your business when you’re not meeting clients in person. You can access this here.