Is the ‘Zoom boom’ over?

The start of 2021 has seen us face a series of dubious anniversaries – a year since the first cases, deaths and lockdowns caused by Covid-19 in countries across the world. These milestones have caused us all to reflect on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the ways in which it has changed our lives in and out of work.

They’re also a reminder of the scale of the crisis as ‘pandemic fatigue’ sets in and millions struggle with burnout, stress, disrupted sleep and a lack of motivation and positivity.

While the initial lockdown measures were undoubtedly a frightening prospect for many – they also brought a few positive side effects. The lack of a commute, the ability to wear casual clothing during the working week, being around to sign for parcels, a better work/life balance and a cut in pollution were all seen as the plus sides. By early 2021, even those who had welcomed a change of pace began to feel the ‘novelty had worn off’ and that ‘Zoom fatigue’ had long since set in.

That fatigue – exacerbated by the ‘one year on’ anniversaries – might well lead us to believe that there’s a distinct desire to return to the pre-pandemic world and put the experiences of 2020/21 behind us.

One recent study by the University of Las Vegas – ‘Connecting During Covid-19’ – even found how many turned to older forms of technology such as phone calls and emails to ease the loneliness and stress instead of video calls and social media.

Above all, it found that face-to-face communication trumps technological interactions. Natalie Pennington, a UNLV communication studies professor who worked on the study, explained: “This is a good reminder and encouragement that in order to get our social needs met, we want to take active steps to be safe and smart, and stop the spread of COVID-19, so that meeting in person is a viable option going forward.”

At the start of the pandemic was saw stories that showed fewer than ten per cent of people wanted to ‘go back to normal’…now reports find 85 per cent of workers are itching to get back to the office. Absence has made the heart grow fonder, it seems.

There’s wider expectation that our pre-pandemic economic behaviour might be rekindled too. The markets, for example, are predicted to show a strong bounce back among all sectors that suffered as the crisis struck. The vaccine news – couple with tricky headlines specific to its business – caused a 6% fall in the Zoom share price in December, for example, showing confidence that many of 2020’s habits will fall away.

Yet it’s too early to call an end to the pandemic era. Many businesses have realised that remote working can deliver results – and be cost effective. While the vaccine rollout is bringing hope that a ‘return to normal’ is possible, it’s still not clear how quickly people can return to the things they did in 2019. As a result, some firms – including the likes of Google – expect to continue with working from home arrangements for the long term. Perhaps that’s more likely to work in some industries than others, but it’s certainly true to say that some businesses have no desire to press the reset button.

In the short term, however, workforces around the world yearn for the things they’ve lost when it comes to human interaction. 2020/21 has shown us the capability of video meetings…but also its limitations. For many, the time to step away from Zoom and working from home can’t come soon enough.

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