The pandemic has rewired how we communicate with our colleagues, pushing the need for digital connectivity to the fore. Online meetings and video conferencing systems like Zoom, Teams, etc., are seeing a massive spike in volumes. And a lot of these users are going online for the first time – Zoom announced that it added 100 million new users in three weeks, indicating a large population of freshly online work from home (WFH) employees.
So, what does this portend for more traditional communication channels, like business telephony? Is the humble phone call a thing of the past, now that more structured conferences/meetings have moved online?
The answer isn’t quite so simple.
On the one hand, you have massive populations confined to their homes for work, play, and productive hours. Several of these people face a sense of isolation, with no in-person interactions with colleagues, friends, or even the neighbourhood barista. At this time, a phone call becomes a way to hear another person’s voice, cutting through the silos for those living alone and providing respite to those living with families/dependants.
This is probably why Verizon witnessed an average of 800 million wireless calls a day, up by 33% from an average pre-outbreak day. AT&T, too, saw a 35% rise, reports the New York Times.
On the other hand, online meetings now form a crucial part of our workday, taking over nearly every interaction – from a quick informal check-in with the boss at 10 AM to more structured, multi-party conferences to discuss work at length.
Online meetings are inherently different in nature from a phone call, despite superficial channel similarities.
We go into an online meeting with a clear expectation – what is the agenda at hand? Who are the participants? Do I need to prepare, gathering materials or studying beforehand? When we apply the online meeting format to what could have been a quick telephone call, we intrinsically change our expectations from the participants and from the interaction overall.
It is not uncommon in today’s WFH world to schedule a meeting for a 10-minute chat or simply to catch up with one’s supervisor before punching out.
But this does not make telephonic conversations irrelevant. Only, instead of the traditional, more impromptu approach, we are now taking phone calls more seriously if you will, acknowledging their impact on our workflows.
There are a plethora of technologies out there to support employees as they WFH and collaborate digitally. Business telephony and online meetings are both compelling options, and each has its own place in this freshly-minted world of digital connectivity. As phone calls become more structured (participants setting an agenda, giving notice if one cannot attend a call, etc.), online meetings will also become more free-flowing. You could expect the old school minutes-of-a-meeting to take a backseat as these communications happen every day, and are bolstered by online transcription facilities.
At the end of the day, communication right now is all about empowering employees and breaking through the isolation.