Warding Off the Coming ZOOM-bie Apocalypse

By now, if I’m indicative of most people, the vast majority of both office-dwellers and WFH-ers have had way more than their fill of conducting the lion’s share of meetings via video conference.

It’s certainly true that video conferencing provides significant convenience, cost and time savings, and enables one to pack more meetings into a schedule than could be done PC (Pre-COVID). But as with most good things, too much of it turns out to be a not-so-good thing. The pendulum has swung so far in one direction that face-to-face meetings have become almost a freak and noteworthy occurrence.

Prior to the pandemic, Zoom was a cool new platform that seemed like it had a real future. But akin to that that scene in The Flintstones when Fred looks down at a tiny trickling stream of water next to a boulder engraved with the words Grand Canyon and remarks to Wilma, Betty and Barney “They expect this to be a big thing some day”, Zoom exploded into a behemoth that nobody saw coming, which isn’t easy for behemoths.

But in Zoom’s case, it only took months, not millennia, and was aided by the hurricane-like tailwind of COVID-19, emerging as the 800-pound gorilla that saved the world. When COVID hit in March 2020, Zoom was almost immediately catapulted to near-sanctification status, credited with everything from saving mankind to curing toenail fungus - becoming the very definition of the word “Godsend”.

As the pandemic dragged seemingly endlessly on, what started as a temporary solution to an immediate problem quickly evolved into an entirely new lifestyle and business model.

In truth, I’m not, or at least shouldn't be, one to complain.  When News Direct launched in July '20, the entire world was literally shutting down (timing is my thing).  Zoom and its ilk most likely made the survival of our fledgling business not only possible, but it also probably accelerated our growth curve. People at companies that in normal times would be very difficult to pin down for an in-office meeting were suddenly much more open and comfortable when they could take the meeting in their (unseen) slippers and sweatpants. Thankfully nobody went all Jeffrey Toobin on us (that we know of).

But as honeymoons are wont to do, inevitably the bloom came off the rose.  As Zoom meetings multiplied like Tribbles on the Starship Enterprise, Utopia transformed into Dystopia. What at first seemed like paradise began to feel like prison. Privacy turned into claustrophobia.  We all started to deteriorate into ZOOM-bies.

Today, the whole experience has left the majority of us confused about the benefits of hybrid work schedules and the potentially damaging effects on company culture, creativity and stimulation that results from every single employee existing in their own silo.

And don’t even get me started about how all of this isolation acts as a career-retardant for young people just entering the workforce. I have three daughters about or soon to enter the professional world, and I shudder to think of the street of broken dreams they will find there. Coupled with the Escape from New York vibe of most major U.S. cities these days, you’d almost have to literally BE  Snake Plissken to succeed in such an environment.

I gripe to everyone I work with that it’s easy to complain about a problem, but how about a solution? I know what’s wrong, tell me how to make it right. So, taking my own sage advice, here is what I think is needed to prevent a complete ZOOM-bie Apocalypse.

Meet I say! Meet, meet and meet some more! Did I say Meet? Yes, Meet. Get off your Zoom-hardened derriere, buy yourself a monthly train ticket, shine up your wingtips, and hit the bricks. Think of it as exposure therapy for shut ins. You’ll be glad you did and eternally grateful to me for suggesting it. You’re welcome.

I’m not going to get into the WFH vs commute-to-the office debate. Enough people dislike me as it is. But there is no replacement for face-to-face engagement, and I personally guarantee, though with no penalty for being wrong, that more business will get done this way even as fewer “meetings” will be held. And for the record, I’m not picking (solely) on Zoom. Google Meet, MS Teams, WebEx et al, you don’t get a free pass here. Slouching in your seat at the back of the room and pulling your baseball cap down over your face isn’t going to let you evade being called out as culpable co-conspirators.

There’s an old saying that goes “the light of day is nature’s best disinfectant”. That maxim, weirdly, kinda applies here. It’s time to bust out of your protective cocoon, brush off the moss that’s gathered on your social skills, take someone to lunch, go to conferences and make what used to be referred to as “appointments”.

Only then will we be able to repel the looming Business Armageddon for which Zoom has been (probably unfairly) cast in the inadvertent lead role.