The Transformative Nature of the Virtual World: Insights From My TEDx Talk
My friend’s daughter has Down syndrome. Before the pandemic, she would struggle to go to the daycare center because it caused her stress and discomfort getting in the car and traveling.
My friend and his daughter’s lives, like all of ours, changed irrevocably with the onset of COVID-19. Her daycare center was one of the many that pivoted to a virtual environment — which ultimately turned out to be a better experience for her. She would wake up happy and excited in the morning about joining her Zoom meeting so she could be with her caregivers and friends from the comfort of her own home, from an environment that she was familiar with.
That’s when I realized the virtual environment wasn’t just changing our professional lives, it was changing every aspect of our lives.
A new kind of work/life balance
I used to be on three or four flights a week until the pandemic grounded me. Suddenly, the furthest I went was a walk around my neighborhood.
While it was a drastic change in mileage, I soon realized that volume of travel didn’t equate to efficiency. I was just as, if not more, productive in this virtual environment — I could connect with people around the world, whether that was Tel Aviv, Germany, or Tokyo, from the comfort of my own home. I realized how much happier and healthier I was sleeping in my own bed, having breakfast with my wife every morning. I reflected on how much of my life I had missed when I was in my office in Manhattan for 12 hours a day.
I wasn’t the only one uncovering positive outcomes from this unique circumstance. People across every industry — government, healthcare, education, you name it — soon discovered how they can use this new virtual option to improve the way they live and work.
In fact, some of our most challenging and innovative work emerged during this time, all taking place from the comfort of our own homes. So when people talk about “returning to work,” that feels inaccurate. The question isn’t really about returning to work, it’s about returning to the office.
Reimagining the meaning of a work environment
I used to say to my wife Rachel, ”I’m going to work right now,” but that was a lie. I wasn’t going to work, I was going to the office and then I would work.
That’s because work is actually something we do; it is not a place we have to be. And we as leaders need to treat it as such by letting people work in a way that’s best for them, rather than forcing them to adhere to a specific geographical location.
At Zoom, we’ve adopted an employee-led approach to actualizing this next phase of work — one that lets employees choose the type of environment they feel most productive and purposeful in. Called “workstyles,” this approach doesn’t marry work to a specific location, but rather encourages employees to identify the environment that makes them feel engaged and purposeful in their work and supports the needs of their personal lives as well.
When it’s safe to reopen the offices and employees are comfortable, Zoom’s workstyles will be:
- In-person: Employees in roles or hired with the purpose to be in the office daily, as defined by the role and responsibilities
- Remote: Employees who were originally hired to work remotely or who have moved their permanent residence beyond a reasonable commute from their closest Zoom office
- Hybrid: Employees within a reasonable commuting distance who choose a hybrid work model, going into the office a certain number of days a week or month
I already know a handful of co-workers who are thrilled about how they can select their own workstyle. A colleague of mine is a relatively new parent, and she and her husband are so excited about being able to be home more to raise their child.
People just need a space to work together — to ideate, create, and brainstorm. Sometimes that’s an office, sometimes it’s a video call. What matters is equipping your employees with tools that create a space optimized for collaboration.
Tools that enable the era of flexibility
According to a Slack study involving 10,000 knowledge workers around the globe, 76% of respondents expressed wanting flexibility in where they work, and 93% want flexibility in when they work.
A flexible work environment is a necessity for attracting and retaining the right talent, so it’s imperative leaders support this approach with the right policy and products.
Identify solutions and tools that are designed with flexibility in mind, ones that workers — no matter their location — can equally deploy to communicate and collaborate seamlessly with one another. A few examples include:
- Smart Gallery: A Zoom Rooms feature designed to create an inclusive experience that promotes equality for both in-person and remote workers through the strategic application of AI technology.
- Whiteboarding: A persistent hub that enables real-time and asynchronous visual collaboration before, during, and after a meeting.
- Auto-generated captions: Real-time, voice-to-text transcription technology that helps enable a more equitable communications experience.
Tomorrow takes cues from today
We could fill an entire novel with everything we’ve learned over the past two years. This experience has taught us about what really makes for meaningful work, how to foster relationships regardless of someone’s location, and that our families must always come first. One of the worst things we can do now is go back to how things were.
It’s time to embrace the change — doing will help you build a better tomorrow for colleagues, employees, and even yourself.