Video is on the rise during social distancing

By Richard Mcloughlin, CEO of Nowcomm

I’ve noticed a positive change in my own working pattern over the past month, and am interested to see how this will continue beyond the countrywide lockdown required to rightly protect our national health service, the amazing care workers that support us and our population as a whole.

What has struck me over the first month hasn’t just been the many advantages and positives that remote working offers the individual and to our wider society (no rush hour stress and no rush hour pollution for example).  Having been a heavy consumer of remote working for several years I have already experienced the wow factor of the various great and easy to use apps. These help us communicate with voice, video, messaging, with sharing content easily and securely across multiple devices. They already connect people together from multiple countries and across different time zones including within and beyond our respective organisations own corporate four walls.

The big shift which I have seen has truly been a visual experience: most of us – around 90% in my experience – are now naturally and willingly using “video first” communications in our business roles when we contact and directly “speak” to another person. These “video first” calls and conversations are from laptops and tablets and over our home networks rather than smartphones using 4G and our favourite personal social media app’s video calling function. We are video calling not just our closest co-worker or our manager, but anyone in our organisation, our customers, our suppliers, stakeholders and partners.

My personal view is the imposed national lockdowns during Covid-19 pandemic has shifted our approach and our pervious personal reservations; after all the technology has been available and highly useable for a couple of years now.  We just haven’t had a compelling reason to use it and to “get over” our individual concerns. 

Let’s be honest, most of us will have on occasions have felt a little self-conscious of ourselves when video calling from home in a professional capacity. It may have been that we are at home in the kitchen or via the dining room table (and the other end of a video link could be fancy meeting room).  Perhaps, we have been  worried about our own potential to experience  Robert Kelly’s “BBC Dad moment” fearing the children could run in at any moment. The opposite is now often true. Such situations can help remove some of the dark shadows that hang over us during these times of extended social isolation. Having video first conversations with each other can be so relatable, both professionally and personally. Video calling really does bring us all closer together and makes our ability to communicate, build relationships and to work productively whilst being situated remote.

Be it your own team members, customers, clients, students, patients, suppliers, eco-system partners and stakeholders we are now all speaking to each other over video. My typical use of traditional business phone calls is down by 90% compared with my pre lockdown levels. I’m listening and speaking just as much as back then, in fact my real time listening and talking with others is higher than ever. However, I am also seeing at the same time during these conversations, and those visual cues for all parties are valuable on so many levels whilst we perform our professional roles from home. Even today, when I got the idea for this post, a number of phone calls I made or received over my mobile where as short as “are you available to chat?  OK, let’s speak over Webex Teams”.  Click one ‘join’ button on my collaboration app and hey presto I was having a video call, be that with other people inside or outside my organisation.

I believe that current lockdown measures may have somehow freed us of our previous remote working and video calling worries. Yes, my two elder children are having a play fight in the room behind me. Perhaps someone has left the door open into the living room whilst we are on our video call and you can see people in the background.  It could be with my attention on your video presentation that I didn’t realise the cat had returned and decides the quickest route to her favourite spot is over my keyboard and centre stage of the video camera.  Then there is the unwashed breakfast mug and cereal bowl on the shelf or kitchen countertop behind me whilst we have our call. These background snippets over video don’t matter, they never have. They don’t prevent each of us from performing our role or the task in hand. For those of us lucky enough to still be carrying out our professional roles from the safety and security of our homes that is the key item.  We are working productively, and other home life is also happening around us. Not only have we seen inside the living rooms of the cast of Gogglebox, each week we now see inside the homes of Ant and Dec, of Martin Lewis and Jon Snow to name a few.  And it’s all OK, we can still all perform our jobs, meet, share ideas and discuss matters just as well as we can from our office desk, the classroom or around a meeting room table.

Being forced to rapidly adopt the use of video conferencing into our roles has resulted in a more natural style from each of us as we talk and share over video. In addition to making our working day more productive, video has created a bigger society boost.  During these tough times of social isolation, those of us who have adopted a lot of video communication into their working day may be enjoying better mental health and wellbeing in general- because whilst we can’t meet and sit next to each other at work and in social in groups, seeing and not simply hearing each other has become the next best thing to helping all of us through this crisis. I for one hope that such levels of personalisation are something we maintain beyond this new normal.