Since the dawn of the technological age, the man vs. machine debate has manifested in all walks of life; business, entertainment, transport and so on. Though multifaceted, its core premise is simple: is technology good or bad?
This is a question that continues to arise with each landmark development. For instance, and perhaps most recently, the integrity of artificial intelligence and ‘big data’ has been called into question in the business world.
In 2020, the debate comes into focus once more. A major by-product of the global pandemic, technology has become the crutch on which much of the business world currently rests. More specifically, this trend is being referred to as ‘Zoomification’; the absolute reliance on digital practices for corporate life to continue functioning.
In a sense, the sophistication of modern technology has spared us from even greater turmoil during this harsh period, but once again, it must be held to account. In this case, leaders must question whether this is a challenge or an opportunity, and devise a strategy for managing the situation.
What is ‘Zoomification’?
From cloud storage to word processing to virtual reality headsets; be it simple or complex, technology plays a fundamental role in 21st century business. In fact, in 2018, the World Economic Forum even predicted that AI would create 58 million new jobs in the next five years.
In a sense, Zoomification is merely an extension of this. It serves as an acknowledgement that technology is becoming an even more crucial element of our working lives, and that it will continue to play a major role in shaping our day-to-day practices in months and years to come.
More specifically, the term highlights the radical shift in the way we now communicate with colleagues. Though instant messaging and video conferencing software is not particularly new or ground-breaking, the fact that our communication now solely relies on it feels like a seismic jump.
HRD Thought Leader Kevin Empey offered some thoughts on this, helping us to more clearly define the term.
“‘I will zoom you’ is one of those phrases you hear and people seem to pick up on its meaning almost immediately, even if they then get a meeting request via Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts or Webex,” he said.
“But I think it also reflects the broader aspects of remote and technology-enabled working culture that we have been experiencing and that we will see more of in the future.”
Expanding on his explanation, Empey goes on to point out that Zoomification could be the hallmark of a new era of work entirely.
“This has truly now arrived as a ‘normal’, mainstream way of doing business and is no longer restricted to the particular sectors and work cultures where it had already existed for many years,” he said.
“It is now an open question as to what the Zoomification of work will mean for employers and workers as we shape the post-pandemic world of work.”
Technology, by its very nature, can generate considerable excitement and encouragement. It’s new, exciting, and often makes our lives easier, and so the assumption that it will lead to the betterment of our lives is natural.
However, logic would suggest that this is not always the case. So, in order to make the most rational, measured decision, leaders must first consider the potentially damaging and counterproductive effects of technology.
In this case, it is highly plausible that new hurdles and challenges will result from the absolute Zoomification of the working environment.
For instance, there is unlikely to be any variance in outcome when attempting to attend a meeting in an ordinary, office setting. This scenario simply requires you to enter the room and sit down.
A digitized version of this scenario may be different. As we have all experienced, there are numerous variables when it comes to operating technology correctly, and this is no different when it comes to digital correspondence.
Figures released by OfCom in 2019 even revealed that just 10% of all UK homes have a fibre broadband connection. Though just one, isolated example, this is something that could undoubtedly impact the practicality of a ‘Zoomified’ working environment.
The specter of isolation and loneliness is another prominent challenge to overcome in this new era of work.
According to a survey by the global financial services company Jeffries, 61% of UK respondents said they would return to work immediately if they could. Among other things, this may indicate a growing frustration with the isolation of lockdown and remote working.
“There will be challenges if remote working is not thought through and managed carefully,” said Empey.
“Professional and personal isolation has been an issue for many during COVID. Team management and productivity is more complex then ever. Various aspects of work where it is simply best for humans to be together are compromised and need to be accommodated in different ways.
“But there is no doubt that employers and workers alike will learn from experience and find the right balance in future.”
As we know, the benefits of technology are potentially endless. A study from McKinsey even found that by digitizing information-intensive processes, costs can be cut by up to 90%, and turnaround speeds bolstered significantly.
Naturally, this also applies to Zoomification. Whilst lacking the same degree of sociability and reliability of co-located working, a ‘Zoomified’ workplace can produce all manner of benefits, from a healthier work life balance to a richer talent pool.
“This era has broken the myths of many aspects of work that were seen as needing to be done in traditional ways and in the physical office,” said Empey.
“We have shown that remote working can work, even in a pandemic. It opens up all kinds of new possibilities for access to wider talent pools, improved diversity and inclusion outcomes, higher levels of retention, attraction for employers and much more.
“Perhaps this will signal a more human and authentic world of work. One where there is a more mature employment relationship built on principles of genuine partnership, empathy, trust, and servant leadership. Where technology serves us as a toolkit for flexible working lives and a final challenge to some of the more inflexible work practices of the 20th century.”
How should leaders approach this new era?
As is often the case in business, this new development has the potential to bring good and bad in equal measure. In order to overcome the challenges and turn Zoomification into an opportunity, leaders must carefully manage the change in order to leverage the situation to the greatest extent possible.
Quite simply, this is an opportunity for organizations to fashion a more agile and efficient way of working for all involved.
“Learn from the best of what has been experienced in recent months and from good remote working practice over the years,” said Empey.
“Beware of the risks and downsides that have also been experienced in the past, causing the likes of IBM and Yahoo to row back from some of their remote working practices and experiments.”
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