From The Folks Who Brought You Boring Meetings: CEOs Want To Ditch Sterile Zoom Calls

I wonder how these assessments compare with the experience in governments. Large scale social experiment on the value of in-person versus remote work. Expect some b-school and other researchers will have ample opportunity for studies and the like.

On a personal level, given some hearing issues, I actually prefer webinars and the like to in-person sessions:

Lately, Zoom meetings have been hitting a nerve with CEOs.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon says there’s no vital “creative combustion” happening in virtual settings.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker finds Zoom meetings awful.

And Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella calls them transactional, where “30 minutes into your first video meeting in the morning … you’re fatigued.”

Early during the pandemic lockdowns, in April, many were touting the benefits. James Gorman, CEO of Morgan Stanley, said his bank would need much less real estate in the future because even though he was a fan of having teams together, “we’ve proven we can operate with no footprint.”

Now members of the C-suite have gone full boomerang on Zoom meetings. After finding them awesome and productive at first, they’re now questioning how much they really achieve and are suggesting they lead to a sterile work culture lacking in imagination.

“What we as human beings need, want, seek … is human contact,” Nadella says. He was speaking at a virtual conference organized by The Wall Street Journal last week.

Dimon is particularly worried about how working from home has affected JPMorgan’s younger employees. He told analysts that productivity had dipped, especially on Mondays and Fridays. Dimon says bringing people back to the office is paramount to fostering creativity.

The bloom is clearly off this rose.

Remote workers are using the bathroom during meetings

What Dimon and Nadella are articulating is increasingly bearing out in broader surveys. Architect and design firm Vocon, which of course has an interest in people returning to office spaces, conducted a survey in September. It found that 40% of people who ran businesses have noticed decreases in productivity from remote working staff. Among the same group back in April, 56% rated productivity as “excellent.”

As for the employees, who sit in front of a computer every day in the same spot of their homes, often on video chat, they found the experience “draining.” They missed being able to connect face to face with colleagues and had trouble setting boundaries for when work started or ended.

“It was surprising to see so many people felt this remote work fatigue, especially given the headlines of 100% remote forever,” says Sarah McCann​, a real estate strategy associate at Vocon.

Another survey by virtual tech firm Lucid found that workers didn’t feel like they needed to behave during virtual meetings when no one was looking. Most of them admitted to “questionable behavior” during virtual brainstorm meetings, including 1 in 10 who admitted using the bathroom while on a call.

Some workers also admitted to exercising, taking a shower, watching TV and cooking or preparing a meal while participating in virtual brainstorm meetings.

Nathan Rawlins, the chief marketing officer at Lucid, said that’s because virtual meetings are often a series of monologues where people are often checked out and feel “this meeting is the sort of thing where I could lift weights.”

Rawlins said workers were put off by hearing multiple voices simultaneously, which might not be that distracting in a physical setting. The survey also found that younger workers — as many as 1 in 4 — were even breaking company pandemic protocols and meeting with colleagues in person to discuss work projects.

And corporate leaders found that they had to delay major launches, campaigns, or initiatives. Rawlins says these are exactly the kinds of projects that need people to work together in person and collaborate to finish.

Companies hedge their bets on remote work with new office space

Recognizing the importance of collaboration, some large companies, including those that are offering flexible options to employees, are doubling down on office space. Facebook is leasing all the office space at an ornate New York landmark, the former James A. Farley Post Office building.

Amazon, which so far has said employees can work from home until early next year, just bought the marquee Lord & Taylor building on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue and leased another 2 million square feet in Bellevue, Wash. But these tech giants will continue to offer employees flexible options, recognizing that much work can be done at home, while betting that their employees are also driven by the human impulse to socialize.

Still, there is a recognition by workers and employers alike that more is possible with virtual settings than before.

“A lot of people have learned that they can work at home, or that there’s other methods of conducting their business than they might have thought from what they were doing a couple of years ago,” the legendary investor Warren Buffett said at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in May. “When change happens in the world, you adjust to it.”

And despite all the misgivings, Microsoft itself announced just last week that its staff will have the option of working from home permanently. It’s what many other companies are — from Facebook and Twitter to Zillow and Nationwide Insurance — are doing.

Many workers enjoy working from home and are saying so. What most surveys show, however, is that they also want to meet their colleagues. They miss the casual moments that spark spontaneous ideas. Some tasks — such as reading, research and writing — can, in fact, be done better in a remote setting. But creative brainstorming sessions, project discussions, new client meetings, onboarding of new employees are better suited to in-person settings.

As with anything, one size hardly fits all. Escaping the drudgery of work from home routines is a great attraction, with more than half saying they are most looking forward to the camaraderie with colleagues at the office. However, 23% said they are not looking forward to any part of returning to the office.

Source: From The Folks Who Brought You Boring Meetings: CEOs Want To Ditch Sterile Zoom Calls

Zoom refuses to stream university event featuring member of terrorist organization

Facing similar issues as Twitter and Facebook in terms of responsibility or not for content (and security given zoombombing):

Pre-COVID-19, colleges and universities decided which speakers were too controversial to visit their campuses. But this week’s events at San Francisco State University demonstrate how tech companies increasingly are the arbiters of who’s fit to address students.

Here’s what happened: two professors, Rabab Abdulhadi, professor of Arab and Muslim ethnicities and diasporas studies at San Francisco State, and Tomomi Kinukawa, lecturer in women’s and gender studies, organized a virtual roundtable discussion on Palestinian rights called “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance: A Conversation with Leila Khaled.”

A digital flier for the event described Khaled as a “Palestinian feminist, militant and leader.” What it didn’t say was that Khaled was one of two terrorists who hijacked TWA flight 840 from Italy to Israel in 1969, in affiliation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. No one was killed in the incident, but two hostages were held for months. Khaled was released without charges in a prisoner exchange, and she went on to unsuccessfully attempt to hijack a second international flight in 1970. She was again released in a hostage exchange.

Khaled, now a resident of Jordan, has lived a quieter life since then. But she continues to speak out on Arab-Israeli relations and against the premise of a peace process. Some accuse her of advocating violence against Israel.

“Ι am afraid I am a freedom fighter, whatever that means or whatever the media that is controlled by Zionism and the imperialists say,” Khaled told Euronews in 2017. Asked about her tactics in that fight, she said, “When you defend humanity, you use all the means at your disposal. Some use words, some use arms and some use politics. Some use negotiations. I chose arms and I believe that taking up arms is one of the main tools to solve this conflict in the interest of the oppressed and not the oppressors.”

For obvious reasons, Khaled remains controversial: she was banned from entering several countries, including Italy, in 2017, on the grounds that she is a member of terrorist organization. Khaled remains a member of the Popular Front militant group, which the U.S., among other countries, has designated a terrorist organization.

News of Khaled’s virtual invitation to San Francisco State spread fast, and the university faced intense pressure to cancel the event.

“We recognize that it is not always easy to know whether a faculty member intends to educate or politically indoctrinate students,” reads a letter to the university from 86 organizations, including the AMCHA Initiative, a watchdog group against anti-Semitism. “However, sometimes it is crystal clear, as in the case of [Abdulhadi], who organized this event and specifically invited Leila Khaled, a leader of a U.S. State Department-designated terrorist organization, who continues to make public statements in support of armed violence against Israel.”

Zoom also faced pressure to refuse to stream the roundtable. San Francisco State — which supported Abdulhadi and Khaled’s right to speak — offered Zoom assurances that Khaled was not being compensated for her talk or was in any way representing the Popular Front. Yet a day before the planned event, on Tuesday, Zoom said it could not facilitate the roundtable.

Brendan Carr, commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, praised Zoom’s decision, as did others, saying on Twitter, “Don’t need to hear both sides.”

Organizers decided to stream the event on YouTube instead. But it, too, faced pressures to censor the event. About 20 minutes into the broadcast, it cut the feed. The conversation was effectively over.

Facebook also removed promotional material about the event from its pages.

John K. Wilson, independent scholar and an editor of the American Association of University Professors’ “Academe” blog, wrote a post about the incident, saying that for “those on the left who demand that tech companies censor speech they think are wrong or offensive, this is a chilling reminder that censorship is a dangerous weapon that can be turned against progressives.”

It’s also a reminder of “how vulnerable online learning is under corporate control,” Wilson wrote. “All colleges that use Zoom ought to demand that Zoom commit to protecting free expression of academic classes and events on its platform.”

A Zoom spokesperson said in a statement that the service is “committed to supporting the open exchange of ideas and conversations, subject to certain limitations contained in our Terms of Service, including those related to user compliance with applicable U.S. export control, sanctions and anti-terrorism laws.”

In light of Khaled’s “reported affiliation or membership in a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization, and SFSU’s inability to confirm otherwise,” the spokesperson said, “we determined the meeting is in violation of Zoom’s Terms of Service and told SFSU they may not use Zoom for this particular event.”

YouTube said that it terminated the livestream in line with “clear policies” regarding content featuring or posted by members of violent criminal organizations, specifically “content praising or justifying violent acts carried out by violent criminal or terrorist organizations.” ​

A spokesperson for Facebook said the promotional content it took down violated its policy “prohibiting praise, support and representation for dangerous organizations and individuals, which applies to pages, content and events.”

Abdulhadi, director of the Arab and Muslim ethnicities and diasporas program, did not respond to a request for comment.

Some have said that Abdulhadi’s actions were criminal, in that she misused the public university’s name and resources for personal or political gain, including the promotion of the academic boycott movement against Israel, in which she is active.

The letter from AMCHA and other groups, for instance, says that Abdulhadi “deprives her students of access to vital information about complex topics of global importance, as well as their fundamental right to be educated and not indoctrinated; foments a divisive and toxic atmosphere, both inside and outside the classroom, that incites hatred and harm towards Jewish and pro-Israel students; and seriously erodes the public trust in your university to uphold its academic mission and ensure the safety and well-being of all of its students.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education scoffed at the notion that Abdulhadi broke the law, saying the idea that faculty members can’t discuss “anything that might be seen as ‘political'” is “unconstitutionally overbroad, reaching far beyond the government’s interest in limiting the use of public resources” in the narrow matter of elections.

San Francisco State referred all questions about the matter to a statement by President Lynn Mahoney, saying that San Francisco State “remains steadfast in its support of the right of faculty to conduct their teaching and scholarship free from censorship, in this instance the right of two faculty members to host ‘Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice, & Resistance: A Conversation with Leila Khaled’ as part of a virtual class.”

A university can, “at the same time, allow its students and faculty the freedom to express contrary, even objectionable, views while also condemning anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-Blackness, racism, and other hateful ideologies that marginalize people,” Mahoney said. “These are complex issues but universities above all other places should be places to debate and question complexities.”

San Francisco State worked “hard to prevent this outcome and [has] been actively engaging with Zoom,” Mahoney said, and “based on the information we have been able to gather to date, the university does not believe that the class panel discussion violates Zoom’s terms of service or the law.” Although the university disagrees with and is “disappointed by, Zoom’s decision not to allow the event to proceed on its platform, we also recognize that Zoom is a private company that has the right to set its own terms of service in its contracts with users,” she said.

Going forward, Mahoney said, “We cannot embrace the silencing of controversial views, even if they are hurtful to others. We must commit to speech and to the right to dissent, including condemning ideologies of hatred and violence against unarmed civilians.”

Audrey Watters, an independent scholar who writes about education technology and has called herself ed tech’s Cassandra, said the Khaled case reveals “what a precarious place academic freedom is in right now. Attacks are coming from the Trump administration, with its threats to withhold fundsfor those who study and teach about race and gender, as well as from the technology companies that universities have become reliant upon, particularly during the pandemic.”

While the upcoming presidential election “might give some people hope to address the censorship threats that come from the former,” she continued, those coming from tech companies “are going to be much harder to unwind. Can there be academic freedom and open inquiry when technology companies are able to control what gets researched and discussed on their platforms?”

Typically when scholars question academic freedom at their institutions, they appeal to their faculty governance bodies or administrations, or to the AAUP and other outside groups to apply pressure. Ed-tech companies, and especially general platforms such as Zoom, don’t necessarily deal day to day in academic freedom issues and may be less responsive to faculty demands. Khaled presents something of an extreme test, given her history, but it’s worth asking where else Zoom, YouTube and the like might draw the line. Would all these platforms have streamed former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial 2007 speech at Columbia University, for instance?

Watters said the discussion reminded her somewhat of “efforts taken a decade-ish ago when departments started to prepare what to do in case the social media mob came for a professor.”

“It seems worth talking about the potential for this problem now, before another Zoom censorship situation arises,” she added.

Source: Zoom refuses to stream university event featuring member of terrorist organization

‘It was like Nazis had walked into your living room’: Anti-Semitism group’s Zoom meeting crashed with hateful messages

Sigh… Always need to review security settings but deplorable that some people hold these beliefs and zoombomb:

Andria Spindel was at her Toronto home participating in a video meeting on how to stop anti-Semitism when she heard a voice from her computer say “Sieg Heil.”

The executive director of the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation says she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“It was otherworldly. I don’t know how to describe it,” Spindel said. “For a moment there, I actually couldn’t think where I was. This wasn’t my webinar. Where was I? What had happened?

“It was like Nazis had walked into your living room.”

It’s unclear how someone might have infiltrated the foundation’s meeting on the Zoom video-conferencing web platform. The link to access the meeting had been sent to the group’s master list, which includes about 3,500 people and may have been posted on social media. What is clear to Spindel is that people are exploiting technology to spread hate, and with so many people working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom has become a popular target.

Jewish organizations have also proven to be a target of what is being referred to as “Zoombombing,” in which malicious individuals crash video conferences to spread hateful and offensive content. In just the past week, the BBC, Jewish News Syndicate and news site Forward.com have all reported separate incidents of Jewish organizations’ Zoom meetings being disrupted by uninvited guests spreading anti-Semitic content.

Spindel said it highlights an urgent need for the company to address security concerns and for organizations and individuals who may not be technologically savvy to make sure they’re not ignoring any security vulnerabilities.

It was Monday when Spindel was hosting the web seminar, which had the theme of anti-Semitism as a virus that needs to be stamped out. Suddenly, she noticed rude and misogynistic comments in the chat channel. She started hearing strange background noises and marching music. Then the N-word flashed across the screen.

“That’s when I realized immediately something terrible is happening … and then, within seconds, you hear yelling, and screaming and the screen changing and somebody says ‘Sieg Heil.’”

She said she watched in horror as other participants of the web seminar reacted in shock.

“I actually thought I heard crying,” Spindel said.

She wasn’t able to immediately stop the meeting, because that function had been assigned to the guest speaker. They were eventually able to end the meeting, which had about 45 people participating.

But the damage was done. There was concern the infiltrators might have been able to steal email lists and contacts, something Spindel says a security expert has told her is possible, but unlikely.

“Do these people know who you are? … You have to sit back and say, ‘Oh my God, it’s just on my screen.’”

Retrospectively, she said the incident highlighted the prevalence of anti-Semitism in the world and the need for her organization to continue the work that it does.

Michael Mostyn, the CEO of Jewish advocacy group B’nai Brith Canada, said the organization continues to see a rise in anti-Semitism from year to year, although there was a bit of an anomaly in 2018.

Emerging forms of technology, such as social media platforms, offer those who spread hate anonymity and extended reach, Mostyn said. The crashing of a video-conferencing application such as Zoom is just another way that anti-Semitism is adapting in 2020, he added.

“It’s the morphing of anti-Semitism to modern forms of communication. … Unfortunately, those bigots and hatemongers are taking advantage of the situation and are using it to spread hate.”

Mostyn said anti-Semitism is often deeply rooted in conspiracy theories. Anti-Semitic tropes frequently portray Jewish people as a shadowy cabal with undue influence over the world. Misinformation about the source and spread of COVID-19 has been rife during the coronavirus pandemic, and anti-Semitism has been a factor, Mostyn said.

“The Jewish community has been tied into many of these conspiracy theories with respect to COVID-19,” he said.

Zoom has published several blog posts since March 20 outlining privacy and security best practices, with one titled “Keep the party crashers from crashing your Zoom event.”

In a statement, the company said it has made recent changes to tighten security, such as updating the default screen sharing settings for education users so teachers are the only ones who can share content by default. They also encouraged users to review their security settings.

“We are deeply upset to hear about the incidents involving this type of attack. We take the security of Zoom meetings seriously and for those hosting large, public group meetings, we strongly encourage hosts to review their settings, confirm that only the host can share their screen, and utilize features like host mute controls and ‘Waiting Room,’” a Zoom spokesperson said.

Spindel said the incident made her research the application to avoid similar incidents in the future. She recommends organizations using Zoom for their meetings look at disabling screen sharing, assign more than one moderator and reconsider having an open chat room that anyone can join.

She added that next week is Passover and many families will be holding virtual gatherings.

“This could be so upsetting, you’re sitting at your family dining room table by yourself … and this suddenly happens,” Spindel said. “So everybody needs to take precautions.”

Source: ‘It was like Nazis had walked into your living room’: Anti-Semitism group’s Zoom meeting crashed with hateful messages

The Dos and Don’ts of Online Video Meetings Do your co-workers really need to make their pets or toddlers part of the call? No.

My personal preference. Zoom has a great feature that allows one to choose a virtual background rather than one’s room (see settings):

In the age of coronavirus, many of us have transformed overnight from office workers into telecommuters. And we are increasingly relying on videoconferencing apps like Zoom and FaceTime to correspond with our peers.

But inevitably, with our homes and workplaces merging into one, the boundaries between our personal and professional lives are beginning to erode — and awkward situations have ensued.

By now, you may have had a few video calls with colleagues who took meetings in odd places, like their bathroom or closet, to avoid their children. Then there are the colleagues who surrender their boundaries entirely and let their children and pets be a part of the meeting.

It’s cute and heartwarming. But it can also prolong a meeting or derail it altogether.

“There’s the technical issues and the discomfort of it all — people aren’t used to being onscreen,” said Elaine Quinn, a Chicago entrepreneur who wrote the book “There’s No Place Like Working From Home. “They don’t think to look behind them and see what it is people will see.”

We all get it: No one was really prepared for this transition, and there are limitations to what we can all do. But now feels like an opportunity to bring up how to be kinder to your co-workers in workplace video calls, since they’re the ones the calls are really for in the end.

The bottom line: A bit of preparation goes a long way to making video calls more tolerable for you and your colleagues.

The No. 1 culprit of a painful videoconference is the quality of the call itself. If you can’t see or hear a colleague, what’s the point of a video call?

So before we video-chat with a colleague, the least we can do is a test run to ensure the call looks and sounds good, with minimal tech snafus. A few steps:

  • Preview your webcam. Mac users can launch the Photo Booth app, and Windows users can click the Start button, then Camera. Here, you can check your picture. Adjust your indoor lighting and camera angle to make your face look properly lit. And most important, be mindful of what’s in the background: Anything you wouldn’t want your colleagues to normally see, like your liquor collection or dirty laundry, should be out of the frame.

  • Test the microphone. Make sure you wear a headset with a built-in microphone or use an external microphone — the microphone included on laptops can sound very poor. The easiest way to make sure you sound good is to do a video call with a friend and ask how you sound, then adjust accordingly.

  • Check your internet speeds. Because so many people are staying home and using the internet at the same time, our bandwidth and service are slowing down in many neighborhoods. Visit speedtest.net to gauge your internet speeds. If your speeds are below 20 megabits per second, there’s a high likelihood your video is going to look pixelated and have audio delays. (My last column on the tech headaches of working from home goes over some solutions for slow internet.)

This may seem obvious, but plenty of people forget to mute their microphones before joining a call with multiple people.

That can lead to sounds like barking dogs and screaming children interfering in the call. On video-chatting services like Zoom and Google Hangouts, you have the option to turn off the microphone before joining a meeting, and everyone but the person leading the meeting should do it. Unmute only when it is your turn to speak.

With constrained internet bandwidth, you could even take the extra step and turn off your camera by default until you want to speak to the group. There’s no practical value in people watching you silently look at your camera.

Our families are more important than anyone, but that doesn’t mean our colleagues want to see our partners in their bathrobes, our cats sitting on keyboards or our children throwing toys.

That’s why it’s important to take a video call in a place where you can draw boundaries, if possible. The simplest physical boundary is a room with a door, which can be shut when you are on a video call.

Many of us who are now being required to work from home never had much physical space to begin with. But there are workarounds.

I lack a home office and work on my dining table. On video calls, I have made it a habit to point my web camera at a blank wall, away from common areas like the kitchen and hallway, and my earbuds are a visual cue for being on a video call.

The onus is on managers to make virtual meetings concise and engaging. That was already true for in-person meetings, but for virtual meetings, setting an agenda is even more crucial, said Ms. Quinn, who managed remote employees at pharmaceutical companies before starting the Solopreneur Specialist, a website for remote workers.

“You’re in private, and it’s easy to drift off,” she said.

Managers can take a number of approaches to make videoconferences more organized. For one, they can ask each employee ahead of the meeting to plan to talk about something specific, so that everyone has something to do and can stay engaged.

Conversely, if you have something better to do than be on a video call, it’s more polite to excuse yourself than it is to remain on the call and obviously stop paying attention.

If you do drift off and switch to a different app, like Twitter or Facebook, be aware that people may know. The Zoom app, for example, has a setting that lets hosts see if you have switched away from the Zoom app for more than 30 seconds — a dead giveaway that you aren’t paying attention.

In offices, businesses may feel tempted to rope people into conference rooms for back-to-back meetings. But with remote work, we don’t need to replicate all those meetings into videoconferences, said Jason Fried, a founder of Basecamp, a software company in Chicago that makes remote-working tools.

“That’s not what remote work is about,” said Mr. Fried, who co-wrote the book “Remote: Office Not Required.” “It’s about respecting people’s time and attention and space and giving people room.”

That’s partly because asking your colleagues to join a video call involves more than you might think. Not only do they have to test their tech setups before joining the call, but they have to make other arrangements, like getting a caretaker to take their children on a walk outside.

A good rule of thumb is to book video meetings sparingly. Ideally, reserve them for discussions that require visual aids, like presentations and documents.

There is no universal rule requiring you to use video chat to work from home. The old-fashioned telephone is just as good.

Last year when Mr. Fried’s team used videoconferencing to vet candidates for a marketing position for Basecamp, which is composed of remote workers, their final interviewee joined the call with his camera off. The candidate explained that he had his best conversations when he was walking around instead of sitting stiffly in front of a camera.

“He was like, ‘I want to be looking my best right now, and I’m better moving around,’” Mr. Fried said. “I really appreciated that, because he was just being himself.”

The company ended up hiring him.

Source: The Dos and Don’ts of Online Video Meetings