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Zoom gloom and the future of the virtual boardroom

When I first typed the heading to this article, I accidentally wrote Doom instead of Gloom and Boredom in place of Boardroom. In fact, either version would be correct given the release of new figures suggesting that 9 in 10 of us are suffering “lockdown lethargy, with video conferencing attracting a good portion of the blame.

Like many of you, I too have stumbled out of my home office at the end of a day of virtual meetings wondering why everything is so much more difficult online. The technology I have frequently heralded in my articles on AI and future working is becoming a bit of a headache.

One reason has to be overuse. Video meetings seem to have taken the place of the ‘cc’ of email culture. In other words, if you are organising a meeting, inviting everyone along ensures that they are working and proves to them that you are working too. Some people I have been speaking to are called into dozens of meetings a week, many of which they simply watch rather than actively participate in.

There is no escaping the fact that Zoom, Teams and similar are excellent business tools, particularly at a time when boardrooms are a no-go zone. Video keeps us connected during these unusual times and enables us to continue making decisions and moving things forward. It is, however, important to be mindful of the differences between face to face meetings and those conducted online.

Aside from the fact that it can be hard to know whose turn it is to speak, the absence of non-verbal signals can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunications. The opportunity to clarify a comment could be lost as the conversation moves on and the next speaker take over.

Then there is the stress of interruptions (a delivery, a small child, a barking dog, a partner on a separate call, to name but a few) and the effort of staying focused, bearing in mind that you can see your own expression staring right back at you.

Nobody is denying that the Zoom boardroom is better than no boardroom at all. Some CEOs have even suggested that video conferencing helps accelerate business growth by making it easier for decision makers to come together at a mutually convenient time and date (although this is also due to the fact that nobody has a lot in their diary at the moment).

Personally, I think the virtual boardroom is here to stay and I am not necessarily opposed to such a concept. As with any shift in behaviour, we all need time to adjust and a little consideration as to the limitations and foibles of this brave new world will go a long way towards easing technology into our working lives and managing the effect it has on our productivity, not to mention our physical and mental wellbeing.