Over the past two months, the word “zoom” has become commonplace in our quarantine vocabulary. And by zoom I’m not referring to the action of dashing somewhere with a buzz. We are confined to our households and we have come to rely on Zoom, the videoconferencing platform, to carry on our professional and even social lives.
Zoom was developed in 2011 and has been widely used by the public since 2013. Although there are many platforms that offer a video conferencing feature between two or more participants, Zoom has the advantage of being able to support up to 1000 interactive video participants. It can also accommodate up to 10,000 view-only participants. The software is simple to download and can easily be used in a variety of devices. In addition, Zoom has a free plan that allows businesses to host unlimited one-on-one meetings and 40-minute group sessions.
Beyond its ability to facilitate all kinds of organizations to function quite seamlessly despite physical distance, Zoom has brought many other benefits:
The office-experience: Zoom is distinctly business oriented and has features that enable an office-type experience. For instance, you can use the “breakout room” feature which enables the host to split the meeting into smaller separate meetings if need be. You can schedule conferences and send reminders. Zoom also enables screen-sharing and meeting recording, both which are especially handy for presentations.
Host controls: If you are the host of the meeting you have tools to manage your participants. You can “mute” the group when you are leading a session and have “hand-over controls” to delegate co-hosting.
Team engagement: It can be hard to keep people focused when everyone is on their personal computers or when people accidentally talk over each other in meetings, but Zoom can help keep your team engage with the virtual hand-raising option and a simultaneous chat board.
User friendly: The platform is pretty straightforward and easy to navigate. Like with any technological service, you need to acclimate yourself with it, but Zoom is simple enough to learn after a couple of uses.
Professional protocol: Even when we are now working from the comfort of our own homes, many of us might be expected to maintain a certain level of professionalism in terms of our personal presentation. But thanks to Zoom we only need to properly dress the top half of our body! Moreover, if you happen to overlook the state of your workspace and have let it slip into disarray, you may change your actual background to one of Zoom’s virtual backgrounds, which span from a dreamy beach to an alternative office space. Or you can upload your own!
But like any tech service in this day and age, Zoom comes with some pitfalls:
The rise of Zoom-bombers: Zoom-bombing refers to the unwanted disruption of a video conference by an uninvited individual. What these zoom-bombers do varies. They have been known to yell indistinctly, to curse, and even show body parts that should remain private. During my online yoga session last week, a young man invaded the class and took it as an opportunity to show us a firearm. Luckily, thanks to Zoom’s host controls, a host is able to block people out of a meeting. Zoom has cybersecurity measures in place and participants need a specific link or password to join in, but some reckless people still manage to hijack private sessions. As disturbing as this development is, it’s impressive how crafty people can be in the name of mischief.
Host controls: While Zoom allows hosts to manage sessions, this results in shortcomings for the participants. Since everyone can see each other at once on the screen, you have to be careful about your facial expressions. So watch out for those eye-rolls! And even though you can have a private gossip-chat with your favorite co-worker, you have to be very careful not to message the whole group by mistake.
Team engagement: Since we are not working from a traditional office environment, it can be problematic to stay focused throughout long meetings and not be tempted by the entertainment of our own computers.
User friendly: Like we mentioned before, you can use Zoom from a variety of devices, from your desktop computer to your phone. This means you can take your meeting (and everyone in it) anywhere you need to go. So we have to be mindful of where you go and what you do. In an era where people even take their phones to the bathroom, make sure you don’t accidentally show things you are not supposed to. Zoom permits us to be comfortable, but don’t get too comfortable.
Professional protocol: With the conference room at your fingertips there are fewer excuses to be late to your meetings or not participate. And let’s face it, quarantine or no quarantine, there are going to be days when you are not up to showing your face and these video systems are not exactly flattering. You have to find the best angle and lighting and some days even that won’t help. But when those days catch up to us, at least Zoom gives us the option to turn off our video. And although I haven’t tried it yet, I heard there’s a filter that smooths out your facial imperfections.
As I outlined this post I consulted with friends who have been using Zoom on a regular basis these past couple of months and we reached a similar conclusion: technology has enabled us to continue our professional roles quite seamlessly. As I processed this thought I felt an inkling of concern creeping over me. Is the ease with which we are adapting to working online a glimpse of a future where physical work spaces are not necessary? I don’t think I’ll be totally surprised if many organizations take this into consideration. Nevertheless, I contend that there’s unique value in human interaction. Nothing can replace the joy of looking up from your desk to ask a question and receiving an immediate response, or of a spontaneous brainstorming session over a cup of coffee mid-afternoon. We still find ourselves yearning for the familiarity of human coexistence beyond a screen. And that, to me, is comforting.