TOM UTLEY: When Zoom’s Boss Tired of Video Calls, It’s Time We Go Back to the Office

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Technophobes of the world rejoices! This week, we have received strong support for our campaign against the horrors of video conferencing and the drawbacks of working from home (WFH). Plus, it came from the most unlikely source imaginable.

Step forward Eric Yuan, the 51-year-old Chinese-born American entrepreneur who founded Zoom – a man who has a vested interest in keeping us all out of the office and only communicating with our colleagues through the magic of his internet platform.

But now even he is tired of his brainchild and admits that after too many virtual meetings, he felt the mental tension. There was a day last year, he told the video conference of the Wall Street Journal CEO Council summit, when he had to pass 19 Zoom meetings in a row. “I’m so tired of that,” he said. “I have meeting fatigue.”

Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said even he is tired of his brainchild, admitting he feels the mental strain after too many virtual meetings

Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said even he is tired of his brainchild, admitting he feels the mental strain after too many virtual meetings

Indeed, he is so disillusioned with WFH that he now plans to call his company’s employees back to the office at least two days a week.

Nor is Mr. Yuan alone among the bosses of high-tech giants to discover that computer-assisted home working might not be quite the utopian dream they once envisioned.

Cons

Take Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Twitter, who made headlines a year ago when he announced, “Twitter employees can now work from home forever.”

Since then, the company has deteriorated frantically, drawing attention to the fine print in Mr Dorsey’s announcement, who added, ‘… if our employees are in a position and situation that allows them to work from home to work.’ That’s a mighty big ‘if’. Now it has been ‘clarified’ and says it expects most of its staff to spend at least some time in the office. So much for ‘forever’.

The same is true of Google, where HR boss Fiona Cicconi has written to employees to push forward the company’s timetable for the recall to the office. Starting September 1, she says, anyone who wants to work from home more than 14 days a year will have to apply for permission.

Employees are also expected to “live within commuting distance,” she says. So they can say goodbye to any thought of moving to an idyllic corner of the countryside, to spend their days zooming over their laptops by the pool.

Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, who made headlines a year ago when he announced, `` Twitter employees can now work from home forever

Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, who made headlines a year ago when he announced, “ Twitter employees can now work from home forever

Meanwhile, Amazon employees were told, “Our plan is to return to an office-centric culture as a starting point. We believe it allows us to invent, collaborate and learn together in the most effective way. ‘

My question is this: If even these high-tech companies that live and breathe on the Internet discover that working from home has serious drawbacks, shouldn’t other companies think very hard before expanding the schemes imposed on them by the lockdown?

Heaven knows, I can see the appeal of WFH to corporate finance, licking their lips at the idea of ​​all the savings they could make by closing expensive offices and firing the support staff they need to maintain them.

Indeed, I hope it is not needlessly cynical to suggest that this thought may have occurred to the bosses of the accounting firm KPMG when they announced this week that they would move to ‘more flexible working’ after lockdown, starting with more time at home. for its 16,000 employees.

Accounting firm KPMG told its 16,000 UK staff on Wednesday that from next month they will be working in the office for up to four days in a fortnight following a hybrid working model created in response to the recent decline in UK Covid cases (Photo: KPMG's headquarters in London)

Accounting firm KPMG told its 16,000 UK staff on Wednesday that from next month they will be working in the office for up to four days in a fortnight following a hybrid working model created in response to the recent decline in UK Covid cases (Photo: KPMG’s headquarters in London)

Of course, they dressed up the offering as an act of pure philanthropy, saying, ‘We trust our people. Our new way of working enables them to design their own working week. ‘

But I can’t help but feel that they wouldn’t have thrived in accounting if they didn’t have at least half an eye on the bottom line. The same goes for Lloyds Banking Group, which says it will have 20 percent less office space within three years, while HSBC hopes to reduce square footage by as much as 40 percent.

But isn’t it at least possible that encouraging telecommuting turns out to be a false economy for many, if not most, businesses?

Wish

David Solomon, boss of banking giant Goldman Sachs, certainly seems to think so. Earlier this year, he rejected the idea that working from home should be here to stay after the lockdown, saying he was determined to get his staff back to the office as soon as possible.

“I think for a company like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us,” he said. And it’s not a new normal. It is a deviation that we will correct as soon as possible. ‘

But it’s not just employers who have reason to be wary of embracing the stay-at-home opportunity offered by technologies like Zoom. Employees should also be nervous.

David Solomon (pictured), boss of the banking giant Goldman Sachs, certainly seems to think so.  Earlier this year, he rejected the idea that working from home should be here to stay after lockdown, saying he was determined to get his staff back to the office as soon as possible.

David Solomon (pictured), boss of the banking giant Goldman Sachs, certainly seems to think so. Earlier this year, he rejected the idea that working from home should be here to stay after lockdown, saying he was determined to get his staff back to the office as soon as possible.

Yes, I am well aware that many say they love it. Apparently, most of KPMG’s own employees are among them. In a survey conducted in March, 87 percent of them said they liked not having to commute, 76 percent enjoyed the greater flexibility they enjoyed, and 65 percent said they felt they now have a better work-life balance. private.

I’ve also heard some people say they enjoyed seeing more of their kids – although if mine were still young, I know I would have been itchy to retire to the office ASAP. Every time, give me the rigors of the daily commute, instead of the torture of being locked up all day, every day with an endlessly demanding two-year-old.

But employees who hope that flexible working is here to stay, have to be careful about what they want. First, the bosses take over your desk and your office space.

Before you know it, they’ll calculate that if you can do your job more cheaply from your kitchen or sitting room 50 miles away, it will be even cheaper to hire someone else on the other side of the world – in India, perhaps, or China.

Stilted

Hoping for a promotion one day? I wouldn’t count on it. I’m afraid it’s a fact of human life that bosses will always prefer those they see around them. As for the rest, “out of sight, out of mind,” as they say.

But the ones most feared by the Zoom revolution, I think, are the younger generation, just finding their way into the world of work. How can they advance in their chosen careers without experienced hands around them to put them in control?

Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t have lasted a week of journalism if I hadn’t had gray old sub-editors breathing down my neck to introduce me to the mysteries of wet proofs and dry proofs, subdecks, crossheads and straplines, WOBs and BOTs (that is White on Black and Black on Tint, if you’re wondering) – or bark at me the only time I, as a cub reporter, put a rogue ‘O’ between the B and the R in Middlesbrough.

But the ones most to fear from the Zoom revolution, I think, are the younger generation, just finding their way into the world of work

But the ones most to fear from the Zoom revolution, I think, are the younger generation, just finding their way into the world of work

No, humans are social animals. We need contact with our fellow humans to learn how to please or annoy them and express ideas with each other as we work our way through the minefield of office politics.

Zoom, with its stilted conversations, screen freezing, and other technical hiccups (‘sorry, Samantha, you seem muffled’) just doesn’t hit the spot.

No wonder the founder is exhausted. And it’s no surprise that Stanford University scientists have identified Zoom Fatigue as a clinical condition caused by excessive close-up eye contact, the tiring effect of staring at ourselves at the screen, and the “cognitive load” of video conferencing. which apparently consumes a lot more mental calories than old-fashioned face-to-face meetings.

The sooner we get back to the office, if you ask me, the happier and healthier we’ll be.

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