Video Conferencing in the COVID-19 ‘New Normal’

In the case of videoconferencing during the time of COVID, necessity is the mother of adoption as much as invention. Video Conferencing platforms have been around for awhile, and they’ve been used in business quite a lot, but the pressure to continue day-to-day operations as much as possible while preventing the spread of the Coronavirus and protecting the health of employees has spiked their popularity for day-to-day use in all kinds of business settings.

Prior to COVID, many businesses were reluctant to have their employees regularly work from home. Management was concerned that they would not be as productive as in a normal work setting, where they could be monitored. They were concerned that employees working from home would be easily distracted and spend more time, unproductively. Studies have shown that both assumptions are probably untrue, but managers were reluctant (wish some notable exceptions) to try working from home in large numbers without a significant reason to attempt such an experiment—COVID-19 has given them that reason.

Working from home has significant advantages, however. People in densely populated areas save themselves the expense and aggravation of tedious commutes to and from work, which saves a lot of psychological wear and tear. In cases of bad weather, provided broadband stays up, people can still ‘get to work.’ In many cases, it is the workplace itself that offers more distractions than the home. From home, you are much less likely to spend time socializing with co-workers or being interrupted by micromanaging supervisors. Getting a meal is easy (maybe too easy) rather than a one-hour lunch break. During break times, employees can attend to personal business, freeing up more of their time after their work is done for the day; a win win.

The past decade has seen a lot of government policies and directives aimed at pushing people into cities to minimize urban sprawl and other negative environmental impact. The severity of the pandemic in urban areas is causing some people to reconsider living in cities and the emergence of work-from-home options afforded by videoconferencing and other platforms and systems for tracking, aiding, and integrating workflow, may fuel a reversal of this push. Less commuting means less congestion and pollution. Less time spent at physical sites means less need for expensive of offices.

Many of the IT tools that companies rely on work much better on non-portable hardware than on highly portable devices such as smartphones. This is one area of opportunity for IT developers. Improvements to predictive text and voice-to-text transcription will be key to this next migration. Videoconferencing is also limited in conveying people’s full presence, though it is certainly closer than text or audio-only. Some developers are working to move meetings from video conferencing platforms to virtual reality platforms. What seemed a futuristic pipe dream when Princess Leia was imploring Obi-Wan for help in an R2-D2 holographic projection may soon be coming to the virtual business space—sans the droid.

Let’s hope that COVID-19 is in our rear view mirror soon, but some of the changes it has wrought to how we work are certain to persist.

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