There’ve been many articles about the curse and the blessing of the Zoom boom (i.e. video conferencing) during the pandemic, but as much as it may sound like an oxymoron, I think that the Covid-19 push in digitalization has actually made us more empathic with each other. The big question is if it is here to stay.
Lockdown measures around the world have forced us at home, TV programs started to allow only a few guests and speakers in. Companies increased their share of home working.
Suddenly, people had to meet online rather than in person, video calling Apps such as Zoom, Hangout, Skype, have grown as a hockey stick chart, and changed the way of working. We have seen many stats about it.
Conference calls were already there, even before March 2020 so what has actually changed?
Once upon a time, before Covid-19, in the corporate world, working from home was almost seen as a sin, as an excuse to avoid the office, perceived badly by bosses that preferred micromanaging.
It’s like if we had to show that everything at home was perfectly enabling an 8 hour (at least) day with zero distractions. Kids? partners? No, of course, my home is empty 24/7. Like if we all lived in a perfectly insulated recording studio with foam panels on the walls.
Do you remember the famous 2017 viral video of the BBC starring Professor Robert Kelly and his family? His apologetic face was worth 1000 words and he feared he would not be invited on an interview anymore. It wasn’t so. He became a viral success. Who would have guessed that the empathy it generated would become just an appetizer of what would happen 3 years later?
Fast forward to March 2020 and the COVID-driven digitalization has let us enter the homes of journalists, doctors, politicians, broadcasting from their sofas. We have seen their living rooms, their bookshelves, their study rooms. What’s hanging on their walls. Pets or kids hijacking a live interview and unstable and dropping internet connections made us feel sorry for them in a way that we have never experienced before.
Looking at other’s spaces has made us rethink our homes. It made us realize that we were probably not ready for adding the video part to our usual “audio-only” conference calls. What am I showing behind my back during a call? Shall I change that painting, poster, or books visible on those shelves?
All of a sudden we were all human beings, the full family at home, we were not anymore “only” managers but we were also part of a household, with kids, partners, pets, etc. We had a life outside the office.
With the number of hours doing video calls, we suddenly were all more understanding of different home situations, hick-ups in internet connections, background noise, and a quick pause to fetch a glass of water.
We were all on the same boat and we realized that it was not the end of the world if we had forgotten to press mute on the mic.
It made us focus on the content rather than on appearance. We all have a life outside of work and we all do our best on our daily job and the more work and private are intertwined, the more we need to be understanding and empathic.
The flip side is that we must also be careful about not letting the working hours hijack precious family moments as studies published on Bloomberg show how the working day has become 3 hours longer during the pandemic.
We don’t know what habits will stay in the post-COVID-19 but hopefully, it is time to focus on substance rather than appearance and we can finally skip being kidless machine-like managers that must always look as sharp as a James Bond’s suit after a fight.