As we leave behind our Covid restrictions regarding working, I’m already hearing two distinct camps emerging …

Those who miss the buzz and are eager to get out, go to the office and engage face-to-face with their colleagues, clients, customers, suppliers and cafes of choice …

And those who already miss the lockdown, relishing its solitude, informality, efficiency and — it seems for a fair number — enhanced productivity.

Already, surveys — no doubt to be followed by rigorous peer-reviewed research — are emerging regarding how workers feel about their recent work experiences and future options (leaving aside for now the much larger question … will I have a job at all?!).

Employers should be aware that more is at stake here than simply ‘efficiency’ and knocking back the need for office space. For example, commentators (and workers) are noting that both employee-employee trust and existing company culture can deteriorate where there’s an absence of face-to-face engagement.

worker survey conducted for US insurer Prudential found that a majority of remote workers (59%) reported feeling as productive as they do in the office, but about half also reported feeling less connected to their company (55%), more stressed in ways that negatively impact their work (46%), and working more hours from home (47%).

And here’s a chart from that survey:

For many, clearly there’s a psychological and social downside to working from home (at least exclusively).

But there’s even more at play here at a deeper biophysical level, as we contemplate the ‘efficiencies’ of substituting the Zoom Room for our real conference tables. This NY Times article, Why Zoom is terrible, explains why video meetings often make us uncomfortable as we participate and leave us somehow drained when they’re over. Here’s what’s going on — actually, not going on — in your video meetings:

“…human beings are exquisitely sensitive to one another’s facial expressions. Authentic expressions of emotion are an intricate array of minute muscle contractions, particularly around the eyes and mouth, often subconsciously perceived, and essential to our understanding of one another. But those telling twitches all but disappear on pixelated video or, worse, are frozen, smoothed over or delayed to preserve bandwidth.”

So the medium itself messes with our perception and we unconsciously work harder to ‘read’ what is actually being communicated. Moreover, it also undermines our ability — also present in all human face-to-face interaction — to ‘mirror’ the other person’s feeling state. The article continues:

“Without realizing it, all of us engage in facial mimicry whenever we encounter another person. It’s a constant, almost synchronous, interplay. To recognize emotion, we have to actually embody it, which makes mirroring essential to empathy and connection. When we can’t do it seamlessly, as happens during a video chat, we feel unsettled…”

Experts even say that no facial cues are better than faulty ones … “Was he/she really looking me in the eye?”

Thus video meetings, while saving drive time and wear-and-tear on office furniture, are actually harder work psychologically and can be unsatisfying … even if the action items were agreed to and duly noted!

So, as you are permitted to emerge from your cocoon and (hopefully) feel your way back into the workplace, where do you think you’ll eventually land — wistful for those days of sweatpants and pyjamas solitude (bonbons out of camera angle), or happy to be chatting, face-checking (and mimicking) at the water cooler, coffee machine or in the smoko room?

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