Zoom refuseniks: why companies are banning constant video calls

This week an investment bank announced Zoom-free Fridays – and they are far from the first to question the stress and fatigue that comes with 24/7 screen time

Name: Zoom refuseniks.

Age: One year old, give or take.

Appearance: Don’t know. They won’t log on, so no one can see them.

But I love Zoom calls. No, you don’t. No one loves videoconferencing. No one loves finding a tidy part of their house, or brushing their hair, or having to look at their own face while they talk, or sitting through boring two-hour presentations while staring at a screen.

It’s 2021. If you don’t have Zoom calls, then how are you even supposed to communicate with other people? Ask Jane Fraser, the chief executive of Citigroup, who has just banned work video calls on Fridays to help her staff cope with the stress of working from home during a pandemic. She’s calling it “Zoom-free Fridays”.

That’s a bold move. Is Fraser the original Zoom refusenik? Well, last year, SailPoint Technology Holdings in Texas made headlines when it banned its employees from having video chats between 10am and noon every Tuesday and Thursday. As its chief people officer, Abby Payne, put it: “Zoom fatigue is real.”

What is Zoom fatigue, exactly? Payne said the move was made to tackle employees complaining about sitting at desks staring at screens for 12 hours a day. Also, being pulled into endless, meaningless Zoom calls can distract you from doing your job.

But that describes every meeting I’ve ever been in. Precisely. That’s because this isn’t really about video calls. It’s about having any sort of unnecessary meeting. It’s about being able to concentrate on your work without being dragged off to participate in some nothingy get-together where nothing meaningful is achieved.

Actually, I do seem to be having more meetings than usual. Exactly. We all do – and it’s because videoconferencing has made it easy. In the before times, scheduling a meeting was a pain. You had to inform everyone, book a room, sometimes travel for hours. Now you just send a link.

Do we think Zoom-free Fridays will catch on? Other companies have come around to the idea of cutting back on video calls. The MD Anderson Cancer Center, in Texas, has introduced “focused Wednesday afternoons”, where employees are encouraged not to communicate electronically at all, while the cleaning product manufacturer Clorox has one day a month on which no one is allowed to use Zoom. Feather, a furniture rental company in New York, even recommends that employees disable their cameras during video chats.

Why? Feather’s head of people, Zach Ragland, says that it gives employees “permission to say: ‘Don’t worry about taking a shower, don’t worry about doing your hair, whatever it is that you’re concerned about.’ You can keep your camera off, this can be a phone call.”

Just a phone call. I know! Remember phones? Don’t tell anyone, but I think they might be the future.

Do say: “This meeting could have been an email.”

Don’t say: “Sorry, can you repeat that? You’re on mute.”

The GuardianTramp

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