In pandemic situation Video conferencing has brought about a cultural shift
Posted: Nov 08, 2020
I laughed when Sudhir Sethi, author of investment firm Chiratae Ventures, proposed a "virtual beer". We had strayed from the set subjects of conversation and run out of the 45 minutes Zoom permits its free clients.
"Gracious, I have done this multiple times," he said. "Since the majority of my day is spent over video calls, it makes sense to add an element of leisure sometimes."
Kunal Khattar of AdvantageEdge Founders, a beginning phase VC firm, do five to six video gatherings every day. As far as he might be concerned, these now are as basic as in-person gatherings. At the point when I whined during a call as of late that there weren't sufficient gatherings to go to nowadays, he speedily made and sent a Zoom meeting join.
It's not simply VCs. Practically everybody appears to have acclimated with video calling, the most obvious methods for holding gatherings nowadays. Since March, when lockdowns were forced wherever to control the spread of Covid-19, everything from executive gatherings and talks, to ridicule medical procedures and pitch gatherings, has moved to video conferencing. Indeed, even the way toward drafting recently recruited employees, directly from meeting to their joining an organization, is completely led over the video.
Cooped up at home, people are also using this avenue creatively and beyond the purpose of business. It’s hard to find anyone who has not been on a video "re-union" or a "virtual birthday bash", even if they often have to scramble to be heard, with almost everyone speaking at the same time. Some would have also been part of marriages streamed over Zoom, with attendees sending "heart", "smile" and "clap" emoticons over the live stream to convey their affection.
A shift to video has brought a cultural shift of sorts, complete with the good and the bad that come along. There are concerns of "fatigue" from prolonged video streaming, but people recognise the boon of joining meetings from the comfort of their home, and this often resulting in meetings starting and concluding on time. On the one hand, executives argue that instant video call requests are sometimes hard to accept, as these invade privacy. And on the other, people say video conferencing has moved teams beyond the barrier of distance and helped increase productivity.
"Had it not been for something like Zoom, I would not have met this gentleman from school whom I had not seen for 30 years," said Velchamy Sankarlingam, president (product and engineering), Zoom Video Communications. California-based Sankarlingam, who spoke to me over a Zoom call, was referring to a recent reunion of his mates from a school in Yercaud (a small hill town in Tamil Nadu) that he attended in the 1980s.
Young students who plough through hours of video lectures, perhaps face the biggest burden of staying at home. A 20-year-old student came up to Bhartendu Om, an English instructor at language-school Inlingua International, and shared she was having suicidal thoughts. Om did not know what to do. "Students feel lonely and sometimes they only have their teachers, whom they see every day, and confide in," said Om. He later referred the student to a female colleague, and both teachers ensured they spoke to the student privately over the next 10 days.
Zoom vs Microsoft Teams
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, two services that gained currency the most were Zoom and Microsoft Teams. While Zoom started in 2011 and is based in San Jose, California, Microsoft Teams is the extension of the Microsoft suite of productivity tools. Before the pandemic, Zoom was popular among individuals mainly for the ease it brought to the setting up of video meetings. One has to simply generate a meeting link (for a particular time slot) and share it with other members over chat. Once attendees click on it, they join the virtual video conference.The more feature-rich Microsoft Teams, on the other hand, was popular with companies working with remote employees and institutions offering remote learning.
video conferencingDoctors consult with patients remotely over Microsoft TeamsNow, while Zoom continues to be used by independent users, it has also made big forays in the enterprise space. And Microsoft Teams has gained even more control of the education sector. Both have also added newer features to cater to the needs to various industries and audiences."Around the world, more than 183,000 educational institutions use Teams," Samik Roy, country head, Modern Workplace team, told Business Standard in an emailed response. "In India, Microsoft Teams is currently being used across industries like healthcare, education, information technology, manufacturing, banking and financial services, and governments."
Teams is used by organisations and business houses like Wipro, Mindtree, Aditya Birla; educational institutions like The British School, Amity Institutions, Delhi Public School International; and medical care companies like Fortis Healthcare and HealthCare Global, according to Roy.
"Until late last year, Zoom was built as an enterprise product," said Sankarlingam. "Because it’s an enterprise product, all controls lie with the administrator. Every enterprise has an IT team that decides whether there should be a password protection, who should get access, etc. But since Zoom was so easy to use, a lot of people started using it. We had never anticipated that."
"Schools don’t have IT departments. We make sure that the teacher has all the controls. For example, in a virtual classroom, if all students are in, you may want to lock the classroom. You also want to have the ability to mute and unmute somebody. You can even chat privately without disturbing others. The host can decide whether other people can chat privately or not," said Sankarlingam, explaining some of the newer Zoom features.
To get a leg-up in the education space, Zoom has offered its full-feature product to 2,300 schools in India free of cost. It has also included features to host webinars, where up to 40,000 attendees could join.
Microsoft, meanwhile, is getting deeper into the enterprise space. Roy gives the example of Fortis Healthcare, which integrated telephonic and video consultations via Teams with its existing booking system. Patients book their appointments as usual, but they now receive a URL along with the time of appointment. All they need to do is click on the link at the appointed time to talk to their doctor over Microsoft Teams.
Suramya Bhatnagar, a student at New Delhi’s Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute of Management, spends six to eight hours on Teams daily. His favourite feature is a chat-window where teachers share PDFs with students. This is adjacent to the video conferencing window. "There is a bunch of useful tools. For example, during attendance, students can just post the "palm" emoticon to show that they are present. Teachers can conduct real-time polls during the lecture, and so on," said Bhatnagar. To check if students are paying attention and not surfing other sites, teachers might ask students to share their screen (send a screenshot on Teams), "which is hilarious", chuckled Bhatnagar.
Plane X: Inside story of India's dead civilian aircraft development projectIn the wake of the pandemic, webinars have also become more commonplace. In early August, TiE, an enterprises collective, organised one on the occasion of the World Internet Day, with several sessions taking place simultaneously. It was powered by an Indian webinar start-up called 10times.Many elements of the webinar’s virtual screen gave the audience the feel of a real-life conference. The left pane had elements like "Floor", "Stage", "Lobby", "Lounge" and "Booth"— each with a different set of people to communicate with. Sample this: If you click on "Lobby", you are given the option to enter any of the listed "Stages". Each Stage has a panel talk going on. And you essentially tune in to the real-time livestream for that Stage. Similarly, "lounge" is where only select attendees are allowed. They can talk to speakers who have just come off the stage — just like it happens in the real world.
"The social lounge enables attendees to interact virtually with other attendees," said Prashant Pansare, head of business at Airmeet, a webinar platform. "The learning in today's post-Covid world has largely moved to the virtual world and Airmeet as a product enables that very effectively through a highly engaging experience of social lounge interaction, as well as controlled access to the stage for hassle-free webinars."
Airmeet, which raised $3 million from investors led by Accel in March, has hosted over 10,000 events since its launch in July 2019. Just like Airmeet attuned itself to the needs of webinar hosts and audience, Microsoft and Zoom have introduced features that cater to the needs of the audience. Microsoft lets users open and edit files on MS Word, PowerPoint and Excel in the same window as Teams. Zoom has added a security feature that alerts participants if a call is being recorded. Both offer abilities to set up virtual backgrounds.
However, Microsoft has taken it a notch higher. It recently announced a feature called the ‘Together Mode’. In boardroom meetings, for instance, using the Together Mode allows live video streaming of persons (sitting at home) to appear on a background that resembles a boardroom. The National Basketball Association (NBA) in the US has already adopted the Teams Together Mode for its new season. So, people watching from home appear in the stands, as if though they were actually present there. Microsoft said this "makes meetings more engaging by helping you focus on other people’s faces and body language and making it easier to pick up on the non-verbal cues that are so important to human interactions."
With increased features and workflows, video conferencing platforms have removed every friction imaginable. However, people are still yearning to go back to the old times of more human interactions.
video conferencingSequoia Capital's Douglas Leone and Mohit Bhatnagar speaking at a TiE webinar hosted on 10Times platform. The left and right panes here show multiple features mimicking real conferencesAkshay Sagar, who recently joined the payments start-up Highradius – he is posted in Hyderabad but currently working remotely from Delhi – said his entire on-boarding process took place online. He hasn’t met any of his team members and that will remain so until at least next year. "It is difficult to get to know people like this, there are no water-cooler discussions." said Sagar. "The closest it comes to a personal interaction is somebody asking about your weekend plans. The answer would mostly be about TV shows people have downloaded to watch."
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