Video meeting technology: a double-edged sword?

Posted on September 30, 2021 at 10:00 AM

laptop-conference-call

Zoom was becoming increasingly popular before COVID-19 forced many of us into our bubbles, but its use has exponentially increased. We’ve heard new terms associated with Zoom, and other equivalent platforms, such as ‘Zoomshock’ and ‘Zoom fatigue’. In our latest blog, we consider whether the use of such technology is both a blessing and a curse? Is it a double-edged sword?

Zoomshock is not (as it may sound) the feeling that you get when you log into your first meeting of the day, when the camera pops on and you can see how much grey hair you have, or how big the bags under your eyes are! It is, in fact, an economic phenomenon recognised by the Institute of Economic Affairs in January 2021.

With many organisations, and individual workers moving out of city centres and with the increase in homeworking, we are seeing a crisis for service and hospitality companies. That said, the change in working patterns also represents an opportunity for these companies to move out of the cities, potentially benefitting from lower business rates and being able to provide services to others in suburban areas.

Gianni de Fraja and fellow researchers point out that commuters spend a lot of money on “locally-consumed services” near their place of work: coffees, sandwiches, after-work drinks and meals, hairdressing, gyms, retail etc. However, if 50% of commuters to an area switch to homeworking two days a week, this means a 20% fall in potential demand for locally consumed services. In addition, de Fraja et al estimate that over 75% of jobs in the City of London and approximately half of jobs in Westminster, for example, could be done at home.

And what of Zoom fatigue?

  1. We all know – experientially – that virtual meetings are more exhausting than being face-to-face, and research has proved this. The increased drain is thought to be because we are constantly striving for synchrony (this refers to how communication is an interplay of talk, gestures, movement, eye contact and timing), which is naturally more difficult on virtual platforms.

These platforms constantly flood us with cues and information, which our brains tire trying to process. There is also the fact that technology does not always work optimally. It often leaves us struggling for a connection or to resolve an IT problem, along with all the stress this creates. We also have strong reactions to faces that are too big or too close, and it triggers the fight or flight response in our brains.

We can’t control our location, or make eye contact with specific people, and we have to cope with people moving about. Our fast-thinking circuits will make more mistakes, for example, remembering people’s names is usually helped by remembering where they are in a room, and our mental shortcuts or biases will, for instance, more often get confused between the two blonde women wearing glasses or the two men wearing turbans.

This does not an inclusive culture foster… We need to develop and train people in virtual facilitation and meeting management skills. We need to ensure that we are taking breaks away from our screens and engaging with people in other ways. Team-based software company, Saberr, have put together a useful guide to help people discuss diversity in remote teams.

But what about learning?

Anyone with school-aged children will undoubtedly have witnessed the challenges of virtual learning. However, in the world of work, perhaps as adults, we shouldn’t need someone to supervise us and ensure we attend our online lessons?

Research from neuroscience shows us that our brains are activated differently when engaging virtually, resulting in higher cognitive loads, which will impair our capacity to learn. Learning on platforms such as Google Meet and Webex affects our GPS neurons which code our navigation behaviour, mirror neurons and others. For example, those that are involved in attention, empathy, and intuition. This results in higher cognitive loads and can mean reduced creativity, reduced social and professional identity, and more complex team dynamics.

One source of discomfort that most of us have experienced is the activation of the ‘self-attention network’. This is because we can see our own face most of the time and, as a result, become more conscious of ourselves. This distracts us, as we can now see ourselves in the way we think that others do. It draws our attention to things we would normally be less conscious of and also amplifies the intensity of emotions, making them more difficult to control in a social setting. This all takes up precious brain-processing capacity, meaning we devote less of it to actually learning.

Of course, for some people, their cognitive load is higher than others when face to face. So, in this way, virtual learning is more inclusive. However, there are real challenges for learning providers in terms, especially when tasked with making hybrid-learning events workable, and to ensure that those engaging remotely are not excluded from the ‘in the classroom’ networking and peer-learning opportunities. 

Looking forward

It’s clear that making use of video technology to host virtual meetings and check-ins has brought about some less than positive experiences. Clearly though, it has enabled teams to feel better connected, to bring ‘more of themselves to work’ and to collaborate across the organisation, points which we explored in a previous article. 

The challenge for those in the talent and L&D teams, as well as managers of teams, will be how to retain the upsides of video meetings and mitigate the downsides. Managers and team members need to be shown how to manage and interact with video technology, how to behave as part of a geographically dispersed team and engage and collaborate at a distance. Importantly, people need to be given the tools to work effectively as a team.

Is it also time to think about using other technologies to support some of the essential talent activities.

Check-ins and performance review processes can be enhanced through dropping into systems such as Talent Performance; no video needed but simple, on-demand feedback invited from all those worked with. Talent management software that enables the request for, and giving of, performance and development feedback makes a significant difference to the cohesion and performance of a virtual team and the development of individual team members. We’ve witnessed a surge in use of our 360 and performance review software as teams get to grips with working together, but apart.

If you’d like to learn more about how we are working with clients to help them make the most of virtual working, then please contact us

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