Zoom fatigue and the return to work

Zoom fatigue and the return to work

On Monday morning, there was a Zoom call. 8:30 am. The manager had Mike send out the link.

Mike, Carol, and Meghan signed in first. Terrence and Lincoln joined shortly after. Kris had somehow spent the last seven weeks in the Zoom waiting room.

"Great, looks like we're just waiting on Catherine," the manager said. "And Jack from Del Rio, Texas should be joining as well. He's gonna share some 'Zany Zoom tips' Everyone have a good weekend?"

"I think you're on mute," Meghan said.

"Really? Here, let me check something. Is that better?"

"I can hear you," Carol said. "But I can't see you."

"Weird, I can't hear you, but I can see you," Meghan said. "Maybe you're only on mute for me?"

"That's not a thing," Mike said.

"Ok, see now I heard that one," Meghan said.

"I'll have Mike look into it," the manager said. "Alright, well, let's just get started. We can send Catherine the recording later. So here's what I've been thinking, we've had almost a year of work from home experience under our belts. Let's use that experience and gameplan for 2021. How can we make this whole Zoom thing work even better? And I know times are crazy and still unpredictable, but I wanted to at least start the conversation on what a return to work would look like in the office."

Catherine's video box joined the Brady Bunch squares.

"Sorry I'm late," Catherine said. "Dog stuff."

"No worries," the manager said. "That actually segues nicely into my first bullet point. Moving forward, I think we should keep our Zooms on from 8 to 5. No interruptions."

"What?"

"That way we all know, 'hey, she's working. Maybe he's running an errand.' You know, just keeps the camaraderie up."

"Gotta have the camaraderie," Lincoln said.

"Sounds like the Truman Show," Catherine said.

"Question," Terrence said. He still raised his hand over Zoom. "During my midday nap, would you want me to bring my laptop into the bedroom?"

"You're taking a midday nap?"

"Oh, I was just thinking of like a possible example."

"Terrence, I did want to discuss something else with you," the manager said. "There's not a lot going on, um, on your face."

"Come again?"

"Well, like Lincoln has a great pair of glasses, cool mustache, and a hat. And since we're on camera so much, I think we should all aim to have at least three facial items just to liven things up, you know?"

"Nose ring?" Meghan asked.

"Well, let's not, you know, let's not get carried away here."

Jack from Del Rio, Texas signed in.

"Sorry I'm late," Jack said. "Computer still thinks it's the weekend."

"I have one very minor complaint," Lincoln said. "So, as a 6'4'' man, normally when I enter a room there's a certain, well, presence that comes with that. I'm having a hard time communicating my height over Zoom. Any suggestions?"

"Here, I'll take that one," Jack from Del Rio, Texas jumped in. "There's an app you can download called 'Gravitas' which will display your height and weight in the bottom right corner of the Zoom window."

"Nice!"

"Question, are we still doing the pants check?" Mike asked.

The 'pants check' was an accountability initiative where each team member would stand up in front of their camera. The goal was to gradually discourage the wearing of sweatpants.

"So, I talked with HR, long story short, looks like that might have been a bad idea," the manager said.

"Let me hop in here real quick," Jack from Del Rio, Texas. "I think work clothes should just be a standard thing. And I'd take it a step further, you really need to simulate a normal work day to get in the right zone. For example, every morning I put on a full suit and tie then go out to the truck, take a few laps around the block, come back in. Same thing at 5 o'clock. It gives me a clear beginning and end to the day. We've got a guy in our Chicago office who simulates his old commute on the El. He installed an escalator and then crams into the bathtub with his roommates to recreate the Red Line experience."

"One idea I wanted to share," Carol said. "What if, from noon to one every day, we agreed that no work needs to be done. Go to the fridge, make a meal. You don't have to check email. Literally just eat and come back."

"Yes! Great idea!" the manager said.

"Are we just gonna pretend that that's not the same as taking a lunch?" Catherine asked.

"Okay, well, lot of great ideas, lot of good stuff," the manager said. "Now I'd like to transition to our 'return to work' discussion. Let's work through what things will look like once we're back in the office."

"I think priority #1 will be rebuilding the social element," Lincoln said.

"Completely agree."

"Absolutely."

"Gotta have the water cooler."

"Need the water cooler."

"Need that camaraderie."

"No," Catherine said. "Let me stop you right there. You all had your chance. I get more done in three hours at home than I used to in three weeks in the office. You know how hard it is to focus there? I don't care about your four fantasy football teams, Terrence. Carol, I get it, the Bachelor was wild last night. Lincoln, the Nerf basketball landing on my keyboard every twenty freaking minutes. How the hell do you miss a dunk, you're seven feet tall!"

"6'4'', but I'll take it."

"No. No water cooler," Catherine said. "No office. No chit chat. This is the introvert's time now! Look at my stats. Look at Mike's stats. We're crushing it. And Kris, he's been locked in a Zoom waiting room for seven weeks, and he's the most productive one!"

"We should really reach out to him," the manager said. "Has anyone heard from Kris?"

"Guys, work from home works, we know that it works, there's literally no reason to go back," Catherine said.

"Well, it's worked for nine months," Carol said. "Nine months compared to what, the entire history of work? I can make anything work for nine months."

"Yeah and we've all been on our best behavior so we can keep wearing sweatpants," Terrence said. "We'll wear down eventually."

"Getting a little heated, but that's okay," Jack from Del Rio, Texas said. "Good to air these things out over Zoom. If I may, one thing we plan to implement to help with the transition will be blankets in the conference rooms."

"For naps?" Terrence asked.

"What? No. Like on Zoom how you can turn your video off, you'd be able to do the same thing with the blankets."

"You'd just hide under a blanket?"

"Yep!" Jack said. "'My video's off!' Kind of a Harry Potter invisibility cloak sorta thing."

"Catherine, I think you made a fair point earlier," the manager said. "The office does get a little loud. We need to be fair to both extroverts AND introverts. We can't go entirely work from home, that gives the introverts too much of an advantage. But in the office, we can't do the open floor plan with the Nerf basketball court, that's too much of an advantage to the extroverts. So, here's what I'm thinking. We'll install 'spaces' with walls and barriers. It will help with the sound and also, health-wise, keeps a nice six-foot distance."

"So... cubicles?"

"No, they'll be 'spaces.' And then instead of laptops, we'll have desktop computers at each desk. This way it's clear, when I'm in my 'space' I'm working. When I'm outside of my space, I'm not. Work would then truly end at 5 pm because we wouldn't have laptops going home or working on cell phones. It's been nice hanging out with the family at night. Cooking dinners. Making sourdough bread. I don't want to lose that. Our return to work will be a balanced life. Work at work. Home at home. But no more 'work from home.'"

There was a silence for a good 10 seconds while everyone thought this over.

"I think we just went back 50 years," Catherine said.

Every once in awhile, I'll come back to this fictional office for another chapter. Earlier posts included:

To subscribe to Medium Rare via email, just enter your email address in the box below. And to keep up with earlier books or books in progress, check out Long Overdue Books. Thanks for stopping by!

Leave a comment