We’re all still adapting to the new normal—both in private life and work. The lockdown has changed society in a myriad of ways, many of which we are still discovering. Nowhere has seen a more revolutionary change than in the workplace. For over a hundred years, the office was the staple of business life. It was the hub around which the world of business revolved.
However, even before the pandemic, the logic behind the office was making less and less sense. Why spend thousands on maintaining a property when employees could just as efficiently work from home? After all, was that not the prediction of many futurists’ decades prior?
With the advent of video conferencing, businesses seemingly had the perfect tool to replace in-person interaction. However, many contend that these new replacements are a shadow of the real-world alternative. Video conferencing is as two dimensional as the screens which they use.
Is this true? Or are there significant benefits of video conferencing that outweigh the costs? Here we consider the pros and cons.
Minimise the miles
One of the most apparent benefits of virtual conferencing is the reduced need to travel. Gone are the days of the jet-setting businessperson. Today, you can communicate as easily with someone in New Delhi as you can Austin or LA. The world has been shrunk down to the click of a button.
Such a revolution in communication has two key benefits: cost and emissions. Companies are saving thousands on air travel, giving finance departments a breath of relief. Plus, there were all the accompanying costs: hotels, meals, hire cars. However, in the modern world, we are all much more environmentally conscious. Efficiency is the name of the game. With all the benefits of the conference call, there is also a significant drop in emissions. So, everyone is winning.
Infection control was a niche phrase only a few months ago: the province of a few public safety professionals. Today, it’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue. People expect action to be taken to limit the spread of the virus. They want to feel safe, free from the worries of invisible pathogens.
Currently, this is the driving force behind the dismantling of office life. Even before the pandemic, the office was a vestibule of infection. Bugs and germs spread around the office rapidly. If one person in your department got a virus, you knew sooner or later; it was coming your way.
However, infections cannot spread down wires or through radio waves. They require contact. As such, video conferencing offers the ideal solution to infection control, helping to flatten the curve. That can only be a good thing.
The possibilities are endless
In-person there are limitations to what a meeting can be, what you can do. Video conferences have no such restrictions. There are a variety of tools currently available, with many more apps and add-ons just around the corner. The endless stream of innovation will enable meetings to transform into immersive and interactive experiences, circumventing the downsides of the reduced contact.
One prime example of this innovation is the use of virtual backgrounds. Working from home, you might be concerned about your cluttered home, or kids racing around as they play. You want to present a professional demeanour. Whether you prefer a natural scene or a stylish home office Zoom background, you can decide where you want to be. Using the latest green screen technology, your home is replaced with any one of the hundreds of backgrounds available.
There is, of course, the elephant in the room: human contact. We all know that talking on a screen isn’t the same as real life. Your brain sees the screen: flat and unreal. In a face to face meeting, you get the full range of expressions, actions, and behaviours. You can develop a rapport, discern a personality. You can laugh and joke. Put simply: it’s real.
Such depth in communication reduces misunderstandings, improves people’s mood, and helps strengthen team bonds. That is why video conferencing will never fully replace face to face meetings. However, it will reduce them; the economic and environmental logic is too strong. Instead, face to face meetings will adapt to the new normal. When a company wants to impress a client, they will do it in person. When teams want to challenge each other and develop bonds, they’ll organise a meet-up.
Human interaction isn’t ending, just changing. It was the same with the print press and the radio, or the radio and the tv. New modes of communication rarely replace the old. They merely change their use. People will always need a real connection.