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Reading the Zoom: “We Can’t Ignore Inequalities Exacerbated by WFH”


Anna Green, planner at ad agency Recipe, contemplates the failings of outdated meeting etiquette and the chance to establish new, inclusive ways of communication

Reading the Zoom: “We Can’t Ignore Inequalities Exacerbated by WFH”
Imagine a meeting room where everyone held equal space. There’s no physical power plays or seating plans or tension over who was handing out the tea and coffee. No back-row seats or forgetting names or bumbling French kisses. And you could wear trackies rather than ironing your only shirt at 11pm the night before.

You could call this imaginary place, Zoom.

After 10 months of staring at a screen, our e-conferencing tools might not seem like the angel sent from heaven to solve social issues. But just imagine, for a minute, that it is…

I don’t need to remind you that since last March, the number of meetings in people’s calendars has reached dizzy and exhausting heights. With no chair limits, this has also increased numbers of attendees, so that whilst we have all been apart, more of us have been brought together, professionally speaking.

But the workplace hasn’t been all Thursday night clapping and cookouts. Instead, the homogeneity of white or male teams has been laid out in plain pixelated tiles. People are managing workloads alongside full households or high-risk households or households filled with little people. Voices that aren’t loud or low-pitched have found that their point is interrupted or redundant 10 minutes later when the conversation break emerges. 

There’s also been disconnect on an emotional plane. The inability to read or project uncomfortable body language through a webcam means another level of communication is cut off. Support, validation or relief has to be requested through e-invite, leaving certain members of staff perpetually out of their comfort zone.

In this imaginary land of Zoom, however, it doesn’t have to be like this.

This could be a place where we don’t let the comfort of our homes push us into a comfort of acceptance or ignorance. Equity is built into meetings in the same way that long, West Elm desks sat at the core of our meetings before. But here there’s no head of this table because we all take up the same 1:1 square on screen, and the thin green box that dictates the speaker is passed around democratically rather than by loudest decibel or lushest background.

Imagine the creativity that could come out of this collaboration, not only in terms of straightforward output but also in all sectors of the business – from unexpected strategies to relatable creative to sincere and sensitive wellbeing programmes. 

Because here, we ask people how they feel, we invite them to share what they think, we acknowledge the points that might look a little different to the majority, we seek out perspectives we hadn’t considered, we uplift them, amplify them and reflect on them. Across the whole company.

At Recipe, we’ve been working to un-build those walls. We did this literally in our office and we’ve been learning to do this virtually too. Our maxim of Never Satisfied acknowledges not only our energy and determination, but also that we’ll keep going to make things better for everyone. And never being satisfied is more important than ever in a time when it’s easy to let things slide.

I know we’re all working hard, but this year, we can be better. If there was one thing we learnt in 2020, it was you have to be proactive about the things you care about, rather than sitting on the side-lines. So as we try to reignite the creative flames or company morale in 2021, we can’t ignore inequalities exacerbated by WFH. 

What we could do is use virtual working as a way to address these, to instil ways of working and talking that treats everyone the way they need to be their best, and keeps developing the inclusive culture that will bring more of us together again soon – or at least let us ride out the rest of this rollercoaster on a more even playing field.

We’ve had a glimpse of what this imaginary world could look like, but, like how we feel at Recipe, the “new normal” is not goal posts set in stone. Our old meeting etiquette is, in many respects, out-dated, and this year we have the chance to establish a new, virtual one. 

And (for now) we can do it in our slippers.

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Recipe, Thu, 21 Jan 2021 10:40:39 GMT