the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, organisations have had a sudden
need to keep large numbers of people from gathering in
workplaces, forcing many companies, who clung fiercely to
physical office space, to quickly implement a fully remote
working model—overnight. Pre-pandemic, just 1.7 million of the UK
workforce worked remotely half of the time or more. Now, it is
estimated that over 20 million people are working remotely,
forcing companies to test all prior thinking on WFH practices.
Those who can work from home have had to learn an entirely new
lexicon, new technology and new video communication skills. Terms
like Zoom, Skype, Teams and Meet have become part of our daily
business conversations as both nouns and verbs.
A recent report from The Brookings Institute noted that this is
not the first time employers have been forced to adopt a remote
work model to keep business operations running. The report
touched on events like the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and how many
organisations experimented with wide scale telework until it was
clear the threat had been alleviated. Even if it was not a
permanent shift, many organisations realised that they needed to
have work-from-home protocols in place as part of business
The history of telecommuting, in fact, extends back decades. In
the early 1970s, a focus on clean air, coupled with the oil
embargo and commuter gridlock, pushed telecommuting into the
spotlight. But adoption sputtered.
Now, with more sophisticated technology, the ability to work from
home has evolved dramatically. Video conferencing has emerged as
a critical tool that has allowed organisations to smoothly
transition to fully remote workplaces—avoiding lost productivity
and protecting employee health, while helping employees maintain
and build relationships.
With the fallout of the pandemic to linger for months, even
years, there is even greater emphasis on building permanent
remote work infrastructure that may involve the abandoning of
expensive corporate real estate holdings. If working from home is
the future of work for many people, then we should start casting
a critical eye toward the connectivity and productivity tools
like video conferencing that will increasingly become a part of
our working lives. Especially now, as many organisations are
wondering if they will be able to get their employees to return
to the office.
The video conference revolution presents great opportunities but
also some important challenges. Let’s look at the good, the bad
and the awkward:
Video conferencing can help alleviate the feeling that we’re
isolated from, or cut off from, our organisations while we’re
working at home. For those who thrive in the structured
environment of an office setting and derive energy and are
recharged by face-to-face social interactions, there was an
understandable feeling of loss. Video conferencing provides
needed contact with co-workers.
Increasingly, we see that video conferencing can be as
productive, or even more productive, than in-person meetings. No
more searching for the erasable markers or flip chart papers, no
more wasting time setting up projectors or monitors, no double
booking of conference rooms. Even with its well-documented bugs
and glitches, video conferencing allows seamless document or computer
desktop sharing, and lets members work collaboratively on a
project in real-time.
Many individuals who work from home report fewer office
distractions and increased productivity. In fact, a survey
conducted by Flexjobs found that only 7% of workers say they are
most productive in an office. The key is to find a dedicated
space to work that is quiet and free of interruptions.
Now, managers are shifting the way they measure employee
productivity, looking at “output” or what is being produced
versus how much time is spent in an office.
We should be concerned that—as a shiny, new technology toy—the
video meeting may be overused for conversations or interactions
that may not require a full-blown video interaction. If too many
of these meetings are scheduled, or too many people who don’t
need to be online are drawn into a video conference, it has the
potential to slow down or even erode productivity.
Video calls also require people who were used to telephone
conference calls to adopt new habits. In the old conference call
days, it was not unusual for most of us to continue typing
emails, watch videos on our computers or even eat a meal. With a
video connection, many of those things can become significant
distractions and a source of frustration.
Tips for employees
• Turn your video camera on. Let people see you during the
meeting. This helps to keep everyone engaged and focused.
• Find a quiet place to connect and close tabs and apps that
might be distracting. It’s important to reduce distractions.
• Try not to be too informal. For example, avoid eating while
you’re on camera. A cup of coffee or water is acceptable, but
eating a sandwich can be a needless distraction.
• Run a full test of the video conferencing solution so that you
can properly sign into a meeting on time, and trouble shoot your
computer’s camera (including the angle) and microphone.
• Consider using noise-cancelling headphones with a built-in
microphone. They’ll cut down on collateral noise from your home
office and create a better experience for everyone in the
Tips for managers
• The first tip for managers is the same as it is for individual
participants: make sure everyone on your team has their camera
on. Vanity aside, there is much to be gained by being able to see
your team during a meeting. You’ll be able to pick up on
non-verbal, visual cues, like facial expressions, that convey
• Make sure you are fully in control of the agenda and purpose of
the meeting. If you don’t have focus and clarity around why
you’ve called everyone together, you may find people drifting
towards other work or non-work activities. Remember, they are
staring into a computer screen that could have multiple windows
• Take a bit of time to let people connect and interact on a
personal basis. A business meeting is not a cocktail party, so
you need to control the amount of socialising. But remember as
well that for many of your people, this could be the only major
source of contact with the outside world.
• Consider scheduled one-on-one video calls with individual team
members to strengthen relationships. In the pre-pandemic days,
one-on-one meetings are often scheduled and then cancelled as
other events overtake them. Keep your appointments to connect
directly to each member of your team and use it as an opportunity
for coaching or mentoring.
The pandemic has changed the world of work in many profound ways.
And some of these changes may be permanent. Until we know when
we’re all returning to an office setting, it benefits us to
embrace the new environment and become experts in the fine art of