Zoom Fatigue

zoom screen

"Zoom fatigue” is a new term for 2020 that describes the exhaustion, worry, or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms of communication. I am sure that Zoom Video Communications (the company) is thrilled to have their name mixed in with "fatigue."  Like other generic trademarks, it is a mixed blessing when your brand becomes the common (lower case) noun or a verb for something. People used to say they were going to "xerox" something to mean they were going to make a photocopy no matter what brand of copier they were using. Today someone might say they have to zoom or have a zoom call to mean they are going to video conferencing. I know that some teachers and students who are experiencing "zoom fatigue" at the end of the year and semester have been using Google Meet, Skype, Facetime, or some other conferencing platform.

Since there are more than 300 million daily participants on Zoom alone, this psychological and physical exhaustion is a real concern. Some people who study this have suggested some counterintuitive explanation, such as that audio is main reason that video meetings are draining. How? Millisecond delays in virtual verbal responses negatively affect our interpersonal perceptions, even without any internet or technical issues.

Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat, says another researcher. "Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy. “Our minds are together when our bodies feel we're not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally."

One of the Google search trends this year has been searching "zoom fatigue", possibly in search of ways to reduce the fatigue. The ways to at least reduce video conferencing exhaustion are not surprising but they may not be easy to put in place. Suggestions such as building in break time, reducing visual stimuli, reducing virtual social events, and using phone calls and email again are helpful but not always an option, especially if you are not the video conference organizer or host.

A psychiatric explanation of zoom fatigue

Zoom fatigue is taxing the brain 

 

 

Gig Workers Versus Employees

work from homeTraditionally, "work" was described as a full-time worker with set working hours, duties and benefits. But the definition of work has changed more rapidly in the past 20 years due to changing economic conditions and continued technological advances. A new labor force characterized by independent and contractual labor has emerged.

I was listening to a podcast about how California’s Prop. 22 could affect the gig economy nationwide from Marketplace Tech. Proposition 22 is a California initiative sponsored by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other gig work platforms that would exempt app-based ride-hailing companies and food delivery companies from a new state law that requires them to classify drivers as employees instead of independent contractors. Gig companies have poured nearly $200 million into getting a Yes vote on Prop 22. That is the most spent on a ballot initiative in state history, but a No vote will cost them all (and others) a lot more money.

I have mixed feelings about it. As someone who unretired into gig work, I have no desire to be an "employee." But I'm past the full-time worker phase of life and have health insurance, so I'm not like younger gig workers who might be using gig work for the bigger companies as their main gig.

Those companies have threatened to leave California or dramatically raise prices if Prop 22 doesn't pass. I'm not sure how seriously I would take that threat. California represents a lot of business. And yes, I know it will cost them more to operate there and they will probably need to pass at least some of that along to customers but a "dramatic" increase in their prices will also hurt business.

California often takes the initiative on issues - environmental and otherwise - and other states often follow California.

Temporary work or temporary employment isn't really new. What we call gigs might once have been termed "odd jobs" by my parents. Any employment situation where the working arrangement is limited to a certain period of time that is based on the needs of the hiring organization is similar temp work to some new gigs. Those workers (who we should not be called "employees" at this time) have been called "contractual", "seasonal", "interim", "casual staff", "outsourcing", or "freelancers."

At the higher end of those positions are some highly skilled professionals and seasoned workers in "white-collar" worker fields, such as human resources, research and development, engineering, and accounting. Those people (and I include myself) often refer to themselves as consultants.

Gig workers and the "gig economy" are a 21st-century development. Gig workers are also known sometimes as independent contractors, online platform workers, contract firm workers, on-call workers, or temporary workers. In most cases, gig workers enter into formal agreements with on-demand companies to provide services to the company's clients. It was the Internet and the digitalization of the economy and industry that allowed this type of work to emerge.

Digital technology has created jobs and employment forms that are differentiated from existing offline transactions. The economy is driven by accessibility, convenience and price competitiveness.

Presently, 36% of U.S. workers in the gig economy arrived there through either their primary or secondary jobs. In Europe, 9.7% of adults from 14 EU countries participated in the gig economy in 2017. , according to the survey. Meanwhile, it is estimated that gig worker's size, which covers independent or non-conventional workers, is 20% to 30% of the economically active population in the United States and Europe.

Will the Gig Economy someday be the dominant economy?

Reimagining Work After the Pandemic

home office toyParody home office toy for kids watching their parents working from home - see actual toy below

 

As we move towards the winter of 2020, the pandemic is still the most dominant factor affecting work and school in America. In March of this year, the rise of COVID-19 cases forced a reimagining of work and school. I'll leave school for future posts and focus here on work. 

I could have used the title "Reimagining Work" as a title on a post in any of the 14 years that I have been writing here because we are always reimagining work and the workplace. But 2020 has also been the year of social and cultural uprisings throughout the world, a record number of hurricanes, catastrophic fires in California, dire warning about climate change, and an increasingly divided American political system. 

I saw a panel on this topic focused on reimagining the office and work-life after COVID-19. I think it's too early to say what the results will be, but it is clear that some things have been forced to change. The question is how many of those things will remain or will we return to some of what we were doing in 2019? 

Before the pandemic, it would have been safe to say that having offices were critical to productivity and creating a company culture. Estimates I found vary on how much work has moved out of offices. In April, I found that it was estimated that about 62 percent of employed Americans were working from home. Work from home was already a trend before 2020 but the number was closer to 25 percent. Prior to the pandemic, just 3.4 percent of Americans worked from home, but at the peak of the shutdown, an Upwork report in partnership with MIT found that nearly half of the U.S. workforce was working remotely

Will there still be competition for prime office space in major urban centers? Will companies be maintaining but downsizing their workspaces?

around the world, and many focused on solutions that were seen to promote collaboration. Densification, open-office designs, hoteling, and co-working were the battle cries. a couple of years ago. During the pandemic, many people have been surprised by how quickly and effectively technologies for videoconferencing and other forms of digital collaboration were adopted. For many, the results have been better than imagined.

According to McKinsey research, 80 percent of people questioned report that they enjoy working from home and 41 percent say that they are more productive than they had been before.

As I said, this reimagining was happening before the pandemic. In the 2017 book, Reimagining Work, the focus is on the business leader working in what the author calls a "new on-demand economy" positing that "traditional management strategies are becoming obsolete."

That obsolescence is driven from the bottom up. A skilled workforce wants much greater flexibility and more control over their work. That is not something major corporations really ever considered offering in the last century.

That flexibility began in this century with many startups and smaller companies. It's easier to turn around a small boat than it is to turn a large ship.  Some of those smaller companies - Uber, Lyft, Handy, Airbnb, Task Rabbit - have become big and the flexibility was built into their culture. Changes have already happened more broadly in the way companies recruit, develop, and train talent. As the book says, growth for a company is more than just expansion. It also means maturation, adaptation, and evolution. 

During the pandemic, employees were freed from commuting and work travel. That has given them more personal time and greater flexibility in balancing the work-life balance that has been part of attracting new employees for the past twenty years.

For employers, this shift means they can access new pools of talent without considerations of the location while saving on their real-estate costs.

I have had several jobs that were done virtually with only a few visits to the actual company offices. One of my sons started a new job during the COVID-19 summer and he has never been to the company offices. He did his interviews by videoconferencing and has met his co-workers only online and on phone calls.

I don't think total isolation from the office and co-workers is ideal, and there has been speculation about the effect these shifts will ultimately have on "office culture" - morale, company loyalty, camaraderie and other difficult to assess elements.

Almost everyone is looking to return to some reopening and return to whatever the new normal turns out to be. Though President Trump had predicted it would be "by Easter" or "when it gets warmer," no one really knows when we will return. Before a vaccine is available, the office experience of January 2020 will not return. those few offices (and schools) that have reopened require masks and have redesigned workspaces to ensure physical distancing. Companies are restricting movement to avoid typically congested areas (like elevators, break rooms, dining areas, conference rooms). The classic "hanging out at the water cooler" of the 20th century may be gone forever.

But we know that there is value in the social capital that comes from those informal conversations, meetings, and social engagements, not only with co-workers but with clients.

That panel I referenced asked questions that we don't have answers to at this time. Will corporate cultures and communities erode over time without physical interaction? Will planned and unplanned moments of collaboration become impaired? Will there be less mentorship and talent development? Has working from home succeeded only because it is viewed as temporary, not permanent?

Important questions. No answers yet.

 

MORE 

Another webinar on "Reimagining Work in the Pandemic and Beyond" from Harvard Business 

A report on "Reimagining work in the era of COVID-19"




* I used a parody home office toy as an illustration above but Fisher-Price does actually offer such a toy - but no crying baby or wine included.

Lots of Flexibility in Reopening Colleges

The decisions to reopen schools K-12 and colleges have been difficult ones.
 
As the spring 2020 semester was ending, two-thirds of colleges had announced that they would hold in-person classes this fall. That was according to data presented by The Chronicle who teamed up with Davidson College’s College Crisis Initiative (C2i) to present the reopening models of nearly 3,000 institutions.

As of their latest data, there are only 3.9% of the reporting schools fully in-person. Another 23% are the rather confusingly termed "Primarily In-Person" - which sounds like hybrid but that's another category taking up 21%. 

chart

chart via chronicle.com

Clearly, the 66% of schools last May who expected to be in-person in some form haven't reopened in that form. In fact, I'd call almost every category shown here hybrid/blended/HyFlex (the terms are getting blurred) in some form.  34% selected "primarily online" as their status which does not mean hybrid. Many schools are putting some courses back in labs, lecture halls, or classrooms with some restrictions, while other courses are fully online and others are meeting half in-person and half online (the classic hybrid). So, a school's approach to reopening might be a hybrid of several totally different approaches.

Flexibility - a key element these days.