Social distancing, travel restrictions, and WFH have increased our use of digital collaboration. From less than 5 million in January, popular apps like Zoom and Skype saw a massive uptick, registering 26.9 million and 6.2 million users in March respectively.
But where does this leave the traditional, impromptu telephone call?
While WFH turns our home into a place of work, it doesn’t take away from a home’s inherent personal nature. Employees are likely to view the time spent at home – even if they are working – as more autonomous than they would in a physical office. This means that they want more control of their time, and are less open to unexpected intrusions. One important ripple effect of this trend is the growing popularity of scheduled communications, even if it is a 15-minute chat between two participants.
Scheduled meetings let employees plan well ahead and fit a conversation into their professional as well as personal workflow.
For most of us, our workloads in both personal and professional spheres have increased manifold during COVID-19. The lack of external service providers (e.g., childcare), complexities around household shopping, limited recreational options, and personal or family healthcare support takes up a lot of additional time.
A WFH employee might squeeze in a few minutes to help with their child’s homework or prepare dinner in the middle of a workday. This leaves them too busy to attend impromptu telephone calls. Instead, scheduled meetings offer visibility into the workday, empowering employees to use their time in the best possible manner.
On the downside, scheduled meetings can take a greater toll on our mental and physical health than a quick chat over the phone. Employees out in additional hours of prep, meetings might require a formalised agenda/minutes, and coordinating meetings across timezones can stretch well beyond a healthy 9-to-5. A WEF report discussed this issue in detail, attributing this fatigue to excessive self-awareness and over-scheduling.
An effective countermeasure suggested by WEF is the traditional phone call!
Calls can protect employees from excessive onscreen stimuli, and the pressure of having multiple viewers observe your reactions. Telephonic conversations are also shorter, which reduces the chances of fatigue cropping up.
As discussed, there are several reasons for switching to scheduled meetings and conferences instead of calls. But this adds to an already stressful WFH workday and expects employees to be available with very little margin for error. Telephone calls can bring in that necessary spontaneity and collaboration speed that enables efficient problem-solving.
We’d recommend a simple rule of thumb: for internal conversations with three participants or less, it is okay to call up unannounced (within the 9-to-5 hours). For everything else, there are several communication platforms to choose from – which can come in handy for external/customer-facing communications in a different geography.