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

Related Content

Article image
The Zoom boom is horrible | Zoe Williams
My 85-year-old uncle and I are on the same page. When you are used to looking at yourself in the mirror once a day, it is agony to do it for 40 minutes straight, writes Zoe Williams

Zoe Williams

22, Feb, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
I went to my mum's house to make a very important Zoom call. Big mistake | Zoe Williams
In search of somewhere peaceful, with an appropriate backdrop of books, I decided to visit my mother. Between her builder and her wifi, it was a disaster, says Guardian columnist Zoe Williams

Zoe Williams

12, Jul, 2020 @1:00 PM

Article image
Do you know how Zoom is using your data? Here's why you should | Arwa Mahdawi
The video-call provider has apologised for sending data to Facebook without users’ permission, showing that we must be vigilant about the tech we use, says Arwa Mahdawi

Arwa Mahdawi

01, Apr, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Why is cosmetic surgery on the rise? Because of hours staring at ourselves on Zoom | Bidisha
After months of video calls, there has been a global boom in demand for cosmetic surgery. Apparently people are rushing for facelifts - but I have a better idea, writes Bidisha


20, Jul, 2020 @5:07 PM

Article image
‘I believe it’s a mental health issue’: the rise of Zoom dysmorphia
Time spent on the ‘funhouse mirror’ of video conferencing calls has resulted in a distortion of our self image

Priya Elan

01, Sep, 2021 @3:11 PM

Article image
Polyworking and Zoombies: welcome to the new home office jargon
One good thing that could have come from home working? The end of ridiculous corporate speak. But new words have emerged to describe our blurry, zombie, Zoom-call days

13, Dec, 2021 @4:48 PM

Article image
The Zoom boom: how video-calling became a blessing – and a curse
Video calls have become part of daily life since the pandemic hit, helping the locked-down, especially elderly and disabled people, keep in touch. But there are downsides

Ammar Kalia

21, May, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
End of the office: the quiet, grinding loneliness of working from home
Before Covid-19, many of us thought remote working sounded blissful. Now, employees across the world long for chats by the coffee machine and the whirr of printers

Simon Usborne

14, Jul, 2020 @9:00 AM

Article image
Hug refuseniks: the people who won’t embrace the loss of personal space
While many are celebrating the return of hugging after more than a year, others would much prefer to maintain their distance

17, May, 2021 @3:53 PM

Article image
I’m so desperate to meet people I’ll work on a bank holiday. Luckily, my family won’t miss me | Zoe Williams
It’s not the done thing. But after 14 months of solid contact, I know the kids and Mr Z won’t mind if I go to Newquay for that rare joy: a face-to-face interview, writes the Guardian columnist Zoe Williams

Zoe Williams

03, May, 2021 @5:00 AM