Video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have become essential components of work and life since the onset of the pandemic. And though many businesses have returned to the office, an increasing number have chosen to permanently adopt remote or hybrid arrangements, meaning “Zoom culture” is here to stay.
For the most part, this is a positive development that allows for a more flexible and agile workforce. But beyond the obvious benefits, it’s important that organisations recognise these platforms can also present challenges for some – such as employees with vision or hearing impairments, those who work from shared spaces, or people with children at home.
Experts agree we’re unlikely to ever fully return to our old ways of working, which means the challenge for organisations now is to step back and critically assess the practices we hastily adopted at the beginning of the pandemic. If flexible hybrid working is here to stay, how can we ensure potentially challenging and exclusionary practices like video conferencing are adapted to serve all staff in the long term?
Examine your use of, and need for, video calls
Firstly, it’s important for organisations to consider how they’re using video conferencing and why. Video calls are fundamental to maintaining a sense of cohesion and team morale, and while the need for and frequency of video calls varies by industry and organisation, leaders must toe the line between valuable and productive Zoom sessions, and those for the sake of it.
Unnecessary, long or too frequent video calls not only lead to Zoom fatigue, but they can also be really challenging for employees juggling young children, those working from shared spaces, or those whose limited tech skills may restrict them from fully participating.
Before scheduling a video call, consider whether an email, phone call or another form of collaboration might be more suitable instead.
Seek to understand and accommodate staff preferences
Check in with individual team members to understand their needs and preferences when it comes to video calls. Some staff may be content with a weekly Zoom call to connect with colleagues and discuss work in progress, while others may prefer a brief check-in at the start of each day.
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Leaders should also be mindful of encouraging staff to participate and engage, without dictating exactly what this looks like. For example, avoid forcing staff to turn cameras on during video calls and allow them to choose. Some employees may prefer to maintain a boundary between work and their personal life, opting not to share their home surrounds with colleagues. Similarly, parents with young children or those living in share houses or crowded environments might prefer to participate with their cameras off in to avoid distractions to themselves and others on the call. Allowing employees the freedom and flexibility to choose when and how they participate in conference calls is essential for creating a more inclusive remote work culture.
Consider accessibility limitations
Video conferencing platforms can present significant challenges for employees with accessibility limitations, and organisations must take this into account if they are to establish true inclusivity. Consider the experience of a Zoom call by an employee with hearing impairments — unreliable or unclear sound quality on a Zoom call can severely impact their ability to participate in the meeting, especially when cameras are off, and lip-reading is no longer an option. Similar scenarios are also faced by those with vision impairments or low vision, particularly when it comes to screen-sharing and virtual presentations.
Organisations need to explore accessibility options so that all team members can participate equally. For example, many platforms including Zoom are closed caption enabled, meaning teams can add live subtitles to their meetings to assist those with hearing impairments. You can also record Zoom meetings to later download and share, allowing staff to revisit the meeting and pause, rewind, and replay at their own pace.
Balance video calls with face-to-face meetings and other forms of collaboration
While video conferencing has become an essential part of how we work, it’s essential to still maintain in-person collaboration. Face-to-face meetings typically enable more effective communication, improved concentration and engagement, and help to strengthen relationships and morale between teams.
Importantly, when done right, they also work to enable greater inclusivity – when employees can meet together around the one table, external factors like children, pets, housemates and background noise are removed, and those with accessibility limitations benefit from the ability to better see, hear and interact with their colleagues and hard-copy materials.
Remote working is here to stay, which means Zoom culture is too. Organisations must now critically assess their communication practices to determine what is and isn’t working, and for who. For remote working to be inclusive, organisations must be open and collaborative during the planning stages, consulting widely with team members to ensure that no one is left out in the virtual workplace.