Pivoting to the New Normal in a Virtual World
“In these crazy, challenging, uncertain times we have to pivot and adjust to the new normal.” I introduced a previous No Jitter article with this sentence to make fun of the repetitive words and expressions we’ve been hearing since the start of the COVID pandemic. The COVID crisis has created or elevated several terms that are now part of our everyday vernacular. In addition to the ever-present “social distancing,” “flatten the curve,” and “shelter in place” (SIP – not to be confused with Session Initiation Protocol), phrases like “COVID bubble” or “pod” (who you quarantine or interact with most frequently), mask shaming, maskne (acne from masks), and “Superspreader,” have also become part of our vocabulary. We're constantly reminding colleagues and friends to “you’re on mute” while on “Zoomerangs,” or back-to-back Zoom calls.
Of course, now that everything is “virtual” and video-enabled we have virtual yoga classes, virtual church services, and of course, virtual happy hours with “Quarantinis” (quarantine+martini).
As we move into the “New Normal” (or “Next Normal”), terms like “work from home (WFH),” have become commonplace, and concepts like touchless or curbside pickup demonstrate how many businesses have “pivoted.” While it’s easy to make fun of these new buzzwords, these terms have important implications for the business communications world. Video and virtual interactions are the norm, and business communication vendors are hard at work trying to adapt to changing customer needs as we all navigate through these challenges.
Enabling the “Hybrid Workforce”
A key phrase that we’re all getting used to is hybrid – whether it’s the hybrid office, hybrid workspace, or hybrid workers. The new workplace will be a mix of virtual and remote work with physical presence in a more limited capacity. While many workers will go back to the office eventually, a good portion will opt to work from home at least part of the time. According to a recent IBM survey, more than 75 percent of respondents would like to continue to work remotely at least occasionally. The hybrid workforce and workplace will be a combination of employees who are physically in the office or building, alongside those who are remote or working from home.
Businesses around the globe are finding ways to deal with this new hybrid workforce while helping individuals feel safe and comfortable returning to the workplace. As employees gradually go back to the office, we’ll be hearing more about the “touchless” or “hands-free” workplace. While the risks are relatively low, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) says it's possible a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes, leading to the need for hands-free or touchless tools and technologies.
Supporting a hands-free environment, smart personal voice assistants like Siri, Alexa, and others are making their way to the workplace. For example, Alexa for Business makes it easy to use Alexa in business settings to manage devices, control conferencing systems, check room availability, and book rooms – all with just using voice. Working with Cisco, Zoom, Poly, and others, Alexa for Business can bring a touchless experience to meetings. Alexa can control specific video conferencing endpoints and users can use Alexa for Business to control room systems and join meetings by using their voice. Similarly, Microsoft also offers Cortana voice assistance for Microsoft Teams Rooms, providing a hands-free experience to join meetings, make calls, send chat messages, share files, and more.
At its recent Zoomtopia user conference, Zoom announced Zoom Rooms Kiosk Mode, allowing visitors to walk up to a branded display and remotely engage a receptionist virtually over Zoom.
Zoom Rooms Kiosk Mode
Ensuring social distancing rules in meeting rooms is also important. To enable attendees to view the number of people already in a meeting room and determine whether the room is at capacity per social distancing protocols, Zoom announced Zoom Rooms Scheduling Display People Counting.
Cisco added enhancements such as Webex Assist, as well as new meeting room devices that deliver safety and health metrics. The new Webex Room Navigator provides intelligent room booking, touch- and voice-activated screens, meeting room and device controls, and will even provide alerts related to social distancing and cleaning schedules.
At its Ignite user event, Microsoft highlighted a number of offerings for returning to the office, including touchless meetings experiences, mobile Room remote for Microsoft Teams Rooms, Proximity Join on Surface Hub, and meeting room capacity notification alerts.
Mindfulness Techniques to De-Stress
We’re all dealing with additional stress brought on by “video fatigue” and the lack of balance between work and home life due to working from home. Organizations are tasked with figuring out how to maintain worker productivity while ensuring worker safety and well being.
Several vendors are adding mindfulness techniques and tools to help employees throughout the day. For example, Microsoft has partnered with Headspace to bring mindfulness experiences and science-backed meditations into Teams. Microsoft Teams will also offer a Virtual Commute experience to help workers transition into work mode and get ready for the day. In addition, using Workplace Analytics, Teams users and managers will get insights into their activities along with recommendations to help reduce stress and increase focus.
At Zoomtopia, Arianna Huffington, Founder & CEO of Thrive Global, a behavior change technology company, announced a partnership with Zoom to introduce the Thrive Reset Zapp (Zoom third-party application), an “in-meeting app that helps you de-stress in real time directly in the meeting in just 60 seconds.” Aimed at preventing virtual fatigue, the Thrive Reset Zapp includes brief guides on topics such as stretching, gratitude, and mindfulness, and allows users to create their own personalized Reset with photos, quotes, and sounds.
Tools to Help Deal with Unprecedented Times
These really are unprecedented, challenging, crazy times, but thankfully new tools and capabilities will help relieve some of the stress in our professional and personal lives. And when all else fails, take a meditation break or have a Quarantini.