Video communication needs to think outside the box to end Zoom fatigue

A recent study by Stanford University researchers added to a growing list of papers on the topic of ‘Zoom fatigue’ — a term ubiquitous with the rise of remote work.  Workers are spending more time than ever in video conferencing tools with no signs of slowing down, even as some teams return to a hybrid office future.  

Last May our CEO and co-founder, Raj Singh, put together a list of ideas to reduce Zoom fatigue in the article ‘Why Do Zoom Calls Make Us So Tired?’.  

Some of the ideas suggested to end Zoom fatigue:

  1. Where possible, reduce the frequency and length of meetings.  Target meeting lengths of no more than 25 minutes, especially if scheduled back to back.
  2. Phone calls and/or audio-only meetings are 100% acceptable — video can be taxing if you’re on them all day long.
  3. Reduce meeting participant numbers.  Smaller meetings encourage more natural conversation, whereas large meetings tend to feel formal.
  4. If space and budget permits, experiment with an external camera that supports standing and moving around, and larger views which allow you (and ideally your teammates) to express more visual cues.

The key suggestions from the recent Stanford University research may have been more directed at the video communication community, as they think about the conferencing experience that tools provide.  The main goals, as they suggest, are to create conferencing views that increase the personal space between yourself and other participants’ faces, and it’s something which we have paid a lot of attention to in building Loop Team.  

  1. The researchers found remote workers suffered from extreme stress staring at themselves on video calls.  They suggest ‘Hiding your self-view’ if the conferencing tool supports this feature.
  2. The research also pointed out that the size of the video conferencing window is problematic.  The close proximity of faces that we typically experience in video tools usually replicates a distance more common with intimate family members.  In Loop Team, we solved this with our ‘mini-view’ which creates distance by  scaling down the size of the windows — allowing for more informal and natural communication.

As remote work continues, video conferencing tools like Zoom and virtual office tools like Loop Team, will need to continue to innovate to make work conversations more and more natural.  

 

How remote teams are benefiting from Loop Team’s ‘Automatic Status’

Good communication relies heavily on visual cues.  In the office, we can see if teammates are available for discussion or in deep focus; we know if they’re away from their desk for lunch (back in 1 hour) vs. taking a quick snack break (back in 5 minutes); we can infer the type of work they’re amidst like writing code, drafting an email, diagramming at the whiteboard, or designing in slides; and so much more. But when teammates are distributed, these visual cues are not available.  It results in teams having poor or untimely communication and also increased feelings of isolation and loneliness that stem from not knowing what teammates are doing. 

To get a better understanding of how Loop Team’s ‘Automatic Status’ is helping remote teams solve these challenges, we are sharing three user stories.

Case Study #1: Team Presence

Presence indicators for remote teams

Industry:  Insurance Technology
Remote team benefit: 

  • Office-like awareness and liveliness
  • Reduced isolation and loneliness

“Our team uses activity status to feel more aligned with each other.  We have a flexible work environment and don’t really keep tabs on what teammates are working on throughout the day, but automatic status has really helped our team morale to be able to work together in an online office.  Knowing a bit more about what teammates are doing, like ‘emailing’, or ‘coding’, are all activities that bring a deeper sense of togetherness to our team and make us feel like we’re not working isolated from our home.” 

Brent L., Operations

 

Case Study #2: Collaboration

Industry:  Startup
Remote team benefit:

  • Timely interactions stemming from knowing work in progress

“For us, we find automatic status is improving our remote collaboration.  Seeing that a teammate is available, coupled with knowing the type of work they’re amidst, makes it easier to find times to collaborate.  As a product manager, when I see that my colleague is ‘Organizing Tasks’ in JIRA, it signals to me that it’s a good time to connect to discuss the latest tickets.  Seeing teammates jump in and out of our teams’ work apps is helping our team meet more efficiently throughout the day, something we really struggled with when we first started working remotely.”

Krista R., Product Manager

 

      Case Study #3:  Deep Focus (Artificial Intelligence)

Industry:  Software
Remote team benefit:

  • Respecting deep work 

“As a remote team, we want to respect each other’s focus time, while also enabling moments for collaboration, quick 1:1s, and more time-sensitive, ad-hoc questions and issues.  The way that Loop Team is able to determine that I have gone into a focused work state without requiring me to manually change my status to ‘Do not disturb’ is super convenient. Our team is able to connect more frequently while also reducing the number of ill-timed messages and distractions.” 

— Gary M., CEO

Automatic status is setting out to make online teams’ communication simple.  We’re excited to learn how your team benefits from this Loop Team feature.

Introducing Loop Team

At my last company, Tempo AI, I had an HQ in the Bay Area and a partially distributed team across some of the US and in other countries like Argentina and India. After our acquisition by Salesforce, and after I had left, I would periodically check in with my former remote teammates. They expressed that they were feeling “out of the loop,” having to travel to a Salesforce office monthly to feel connected to their new team. 

To address this at Tempo, we would ship a second device to each team member. We ran a 24/7 video Hangout at the office and all those remote or working from home were encouraged to sign-in. Although there was some angst initially in joining a video watercooler during the workday, team members grew to love it. We felt connected as if we were all working side-by-side. As the team grew, this became harder to scale — our perched office laptop was replaced by a TV on wheels and with 15 team members sometimes remote, everyone was effectively muted, mitigating the benefit. 

Recognizing that there must be a better way to make teams feel more connected, my Co-founders and I started Loop Team. We built and accelerated Loop Team with Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and are focused on reimagining the best parts of working in an office together for your distributed team. 

Loop Team’s approach is based on our collective previous experiences, hundreds of user interviews with remote workers, reviewing volumes of research and collecting survey data from distributed teams. Even alongside heavyweights such as Slack and Zoom, data shows significant pains with remote work including a lack of: casual interaction, reduced communication and collaboration and increased feelings of loneliness. 

Loop Team is focused on solving these unique remote work challenges. We believe that the best way for a team to stay connected is through more real-time communication and the best way to foster more communication is via rich presence that makes it feel like you’re working with your teammates right by your side. This is why with Loop Team, we have made “presence” a key part of our experience, beyond other virtual office platforms, focusing on features that replicate the best parts of working in a physical office.

Other research that we have leaned on shows that the best performing distributed teams have bursts of rapid-fire communications and that deep work is better suited to calendars that follow an office-hours model. This virtual mode of working is much more representative of how folks work when in an office — meetings, followed by flow time with spontaneous ad-hoc interruption

To support these trends and the future of remote work, we built Loop Team and today, myself along with my co-founders Jag Srawan and Rolf Rando, are excited to share that we are officially launching Loop Team 1.0 for Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android! We are reimagining the best parts of the office environment to address specific pain-points with remote work and to show where we believe the future is going with remote work culture.

We are also announcing that we have raised $4.75 million in seed funding from ENIAC, Crosslink, Golden, Redpoint, Precursor and others to solve the future of remote work. We look forward to having you try Loop Team for your team please let us know if you have any questions or feedback.

You can watch a quick demo of Loop Team here

Download Loop Team 1.0 for free.

Thank you for your support,
Raj and team

What is a Virtual Office?

As employees shift to a new work from home lifestyle; companies must adopt new tools and best practices to help their teams effectively communicate, collaborate and stay informed and connected in the absence of a physical office.  

A new category of tools called ‘virtual office’ is emerging

Virtual offices (aka: online workspace, digital office, digital workspace) serve as a digital representation of a physical office, providing employees with an online environment to meet and collaborate, while also offering a number of features designed to alleviate common pain points and frustrations shared by remote teams and employees.

Products that fall into the virtual office or workspace category typically offer distributed team members:

• A sense of presence, proximity, and an awareness of team members online availability
• Support internal communication via audio, video conferencing, and/or instant messaging
• Screen sharing for collaborative work and discussions
• Allow teams to create and designate virtual meeting rooms or spaces for ad-hoc and recurring team meetings, discussions, and check-ins

Why does my team need virtual office software?

Problem: Working remote can be lonely compared to in-office

According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2020, one of the most common employee-reported limitations of working remote is the feeling of loneliness, disconnect and isolation that stems when teammates are unable to work side-by-side. There are numerous reports and articles pointing to loneliness being a dark side of remote work.  In this article, Ben Fanning writes “If you’ve been working with people for a while and had that connectivity and face-to-face meetings and were used to that work environment, and now suddenly working at a distance with little connectivity, it really creates a huge problem.  It’s like being on a remote island.”

How can virtual offices help reduce feelings of isolation?

Virtual office solutions offer a wide variety of user experiences and designs, but they all focus on visually helping your distributed team feel more connected and aware of office happenings; commonly referred to as ‘presence’.  Virtual presence features can include:

• Profile pictures or avatars that offer ways to express oneself
• Availability indicated with text or UI (eg are they ‘away’ in ‘do not disturb mode’, or ‘available’ for conversation?)
• Work and/or activity in progress (eg are they ‘coding’, ‘messaging’, or other?)
• Meetings and/or discussions underway (ie who’s meeting and should I join if relevant), and more.

virtual office presence

 

These visualizations help to replicate some of the workplace buzz and liveliness you feel when working in a physical office. 

As an example, Loop Team shows users’ ‘activity status,’ which informs teammates about their co-workers’ true availability.  Users can opt to set themselves as ‘away’ or ‘available’, and even enable ‘automatic status’ which automatically displays the work activity (eg designing) or whether a user is in ‘focus’ meaning it’s probably not a good time to engage.

 

Problem:  Teams struggle with less communication and collaboration when remote

The other most common struggle employees report when working remote is the significant loss of communication and collaboration.  There are many great tools which in-person and remote teams have adopted but few of these tools have been specifically developed for fully distributed teams. 

Challenges with communication (too much, or too little)

Most of us that have experienced work from home can relate to either: 

1.) Too many formal, structured video calls resulting in the 2020 coined term ‘zoom fatigue’, or
2.) Too few team interactions resulting in a feeling of work disconnect.

It can be challenging for remote organizations to achieve balance and replicate the ad-hoc, informal, and spontaneous nature of conversations held when coworkers work together in a shared office space. 

The most important work discussions happen outside of formal calendar meetings

A recent internal analysis shared by Microsoft on their shift to remote work put a spotlight on this and showed that a significant increase of  shorter duration meetings across the organization was the result of employees missing office interactions  “we could no longer catch up in hallways or by the coffee machine, so we were scheduling more (video) connections”  But the time-consuming, formalized nature of scheduling quick, ad-hoc meetings and discussions is itself a main challenge with remote work that even teams like Microsoft struggle with.  

How do virtual offices help improve communication?

By providing an online sense of team presence and status, virtual office’s are uniquely positioned to accommodate spontaneous video or audio-based check-ins, desk drop-ins, and casual conversations virtually.  Akin to a ‘virtual shoulder tap’, users simply look at their workspace, check the real-time availability of a coworker or group of coworkers, and tap teammates to initiate an immediate call with them; eliminating many of the barriers that typically prevent coworkers from communicating more frequently in their day. Gone is the need to pre-qualify or guess if a teammate is available for a call or if the timing is right to engage and with no coordination friction required.  The majority of internal remote work conversations outside of virtual offices require many time-consuming steps like scheduling, creating, and sharing a meet calendar invite or link and all of this for a meeting that might warrant just a five minute discussion.  

Conversations as fast as real life shoulder-taps

Virtual office tools enable push-to-talk style conversation.  In Loop Team, users just tap a team member and then are immediately connected If a teammate is free, they simply unmute to accept the call.  If they’re unavailable, they do not have to accept and can follow up at a later time. 

virtual office communication video call

Collaboration is key to the success of all companies, and keeping teams aligned and working towards common goals is critical.  But when teams are distributed, discussions, background conversations, serendipitous hallway interactions, and paired work moments are limited, if not possible at all due to team structure and time zones.  When remote, much internal communication becomes siloed within departments, and teammates often struggle to know what’s happening in other parts of the organization due to limited cross-departmental interactions.

How do virtual offices help teams collaborate? 

Time zones

Many distributed teams have employees working across many time zones.  A common collaboration challenge for remote workers is the ability to quickly determine where teammates are located and their current time.  Layering in calendar events and country specific holidays makes this an even more onerous chore in that scheduling becomes difficult but also you lose a sense of time in general and end-up pinging a colleague at the end of their day when it’s important to be empathetic.

As teams become more globally distributed, and as employees benefit from flexible work schedules within their time zones, organizing teammates by time zone and providing further presence such as using AI to predict when a user will next be online or return is critical. 

Know teammates better

The missed water cooler moments as mentioned earlier not only impact collaboration but they also significantly impact opportunity for  coworkers to form bonds, build camaraderie, and create a cohesive team culture.  According to the Gartner ReimagineHR Employee Survey, 41 percent of those surveyed don’t feel connected to their colleagues when working remotely.  Virtual offices provide more opportunities for remote colleagues, particularly cross-department, to get to know each other as they do when in a physical shared office. 

Some virtual offices offer casual rooms, or the ability to create ‘watercooler’ rooms, dedicated solely for social interactions like coffee breaks, games, or simply for ‘hangout sessions’ to work with other teammates in an open room environment to feel more together.  Avatars, profile images, memes, and emojis are used in varying ways across virtual office tools to let teammates show personality and bring more fun to remote work.  Loop Team incorporates games, ice breakers such as local weather, suggests catch-ups and enables other concepts to help teammates get to know one another.

Problem: Lost serendipity and missed hallway discussions 

Serendipity lost

 “Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.” – Steve Jobs

In this recent Fast Company article, Sagi Eliyahu writes about recent shifts to remote work “A lot of the work that gets done — certainly more than we realized — requires direct human collaboration that includes decision-making, delegation, coordination, and strategy.  And much of the progress we make in that work, the leaps in innovation, the light-bulb moments, happens without us consciously planning for it.”  He adds, “Many of us took for granted just how many ideas were cooked up back when we enjoyed the luxury of working together, in person.” 

While lost serendipity is not easy to quantify, it is a commonly reported limitation of remote work. 

How can virtual offices enable more spontaneous discussions and ‘Wow’ moments?

By seeing teammates and enabling ad-hoc, on-the-fly conversations, virtual office solutions are helping to address the ‘lost serendipity’ challenge of remote work in a variety of ways.  Some virtual offices have introduced skeuomorphic representations of the office, and when your avatar is in a set proximity to another user you can ‘speak out loud’ or interact as you might in an office.  Other tools encourage ‘always on’ audio and/or video rooms where teammates can enter a communal workspace environment.  

Loop Team lets users optionally broadcast the conversations they deem helpful for their coworkers; offering teams an AI-generated, ‘real-time’  summary of topics to help bring more connection, awareness, and spark innovation. Teammates can also hover over this live conversation summary to listen into the discussion in real-time without having to join — this is the closest thing to background conversation in the office.

real time discussions

After the discussion  ends, users can then publish the discussion into a personalized Facebook-like feed with a goal of keeping teams more in the loop and aware of office happenings, especially useful for team members across many time zones missing key meetings. 

Personalized feed virtual office