In the latest instalment of his ‘Akimbo’ podcast, Seth Godin switched it up.
On the surface, nothing was different.
As always, there were no guests. Very little editing. The episode was the usual 20 minutes or so.
So, what changed?
This one was a listicle (or whatever the name is for a podcast version).t
The Zoom revolution.
18 ideas how Zoom* can – and will – change everything.
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the Zoom revolution and its knock-on effects. And like Seth, I’m certain that Zoom is rarely used properly.
There’s also a lot of unfulfilled potential to tap into.
When it comes to looking further ahead at the next portal of possibilities, we’re pretty much still on level 1. We’ll look back in 2, 3, or 5 years and even the most cutting-edge of today’s uses of the technology will feel laughably rigid and basic. Opportunity abounds.
The podcast gave me a bunch of ideas on the future of work, learning, communication and collaboration. However, as I started to scribble some notes, I realized there was an opportunity to collate my thoughts a little differently.
Instead of verbatim notes, or lightly augmenting someone else’s creation and calling it my own, here’s another approach: the stems of the original material, with my thinking woven in.
It’s not an original cut; nor is it simply turning up the volume or the bass levels.
Instead, it’s a remix.
And because I didn’t ask permission to use the parts, let’s call this a white label remix: promo only; not for resale.
You’re welcome to use it in mixtapes you may want to make; splice out a bit you particularly like; share it as is; or just engage once and move on.
To check out the original, head over here, or search ‘Akimbo’ wherever you get your podcasts.
Before we get into it, a couple of quick notes:
* ‘Zoom’ in this case is shorthand for any video conferencing platform operating at scale.
** For brevity I tend to use the word ‘meeting’ here; it can extend to almost any gathering that may take place online
Meetings always used to take a while. There wasn’t just the meeting itself, but all the other stuff: walking, biking, driving, flying. There was planning; thinking; waiting; pausing; changing. Whether it was a sales pitch or a performance review; a wedding or a doctor’s appointment, it didn’t matter: there was always some lag, some space between. There was waiting for the latecomers, having a chit chat, or shoring up the schedule slippage. It meant meetings got plonked into big chunks of time: 30 minutes; 1 hour; 90 minutes; full day.
Now, a lot of that latency has gone. What may happen next is things starting bang on time, and with that big chunk of time being trimmed. There will be less grace periods, but also shorter meetings.
Additionally, attendees’ expectations will evolve to expecting to leave earlier than the designated half-hourly or hourly end-time. Smart organizers will design so that finishing up ahead of the hour is almost expected, not a surprise. Someone always complains when it runs over; hardly anyone complains when it runs early. Leave them wanting more.
So, Zoom strips away excess timing. Perhaps the biggest excess when it comes to time is the commute. There are a few upsides (like the space and time to digest a podcast), but commutes themselves are largely made of fat: tasty here and there, but pretty bad for you every day. The purpose of commuting – and its endpoint – is more nutritious, though. It’s about being in a shared space to exchange ideas with other people.
However, Zoom – when done well – could replicate the majority of this nutritious fuel. Per the ideas that follow this one, it could even make it more nutritious still.
The obvious counterpoint to this particular diet is that not everyone is going to want to sit on Zoom all the time. And so, the balanced diet of the future will most likely be blended.
At one end of the scale, some companies will go back to everything in-person (and some have to). At the other end are those that remain 100% remote (probably with in-person gatherings every 6-12 months). The middle of the curve – and it’s a big, fat middle – will be blended: some in-person, some online. The important thing here is to get better at the stuff that commuting serves: that sharing of ideas, and connecting with others.
A phone call was typically limited to two people. Conference calls then opened it up to 3,4,5,10, 20. The problem (ok, one of them), was that it was almost impossible to create any kind of space – let alone read a room, or make a proper connection with somebody. Video calls, if you know what you’re doing, are surprisingly effective at giving you that extra information. It’s possible to detect changes in energy, goodwill and connection even with 20 or 30 on board.
The other related thing here is Zoom is misused when a meeting organizer attempts to command and conquer – lecturing relentlessly from start until end. Ironically, this approach tends to have the opposite of the desired effect.
And speaking of iron, most people still treat the platform like an iron bar rather than something with elastic properties. With Zoom, some flexibility is in-built: there’s the ability to converse; to step in and out; to expand or reduce group sizes. And that’s before gaining additional elastic from shared documents and collaboration tools. Varied group sizes are a game-changer, but they’re woefully underutilized.
As touched on in point 3, Zoom is multimodal. On a telephone, you can only talk. Video platforms allow you to talk, see, text, and collaborate.
This move to multi-modal is a big deal. It’s been coming for a while, but the level of latency allows the technology to keep up with the agility of our minds. There can be multiple conversations in the same space: sidebars can easily take place, or rapid sprints can start from nowhere. It’s possible to switch between these modals instantly, even running two or more simultaneously.
Just like the iPhone, you can use it solely as a phone if you like, but you’re missing out on most of the magic.
Speaking of magic, Zoom allows something new – and perhaps something magical – to be conjured almost instantly. The nature of multi-modal means multiple things can happen in parallel, and it’s possible to merge and connect many ideas, materials, and tools together to produce something never seen before.
A good way of thinking about this is what happened when DJs began to move from turntables to digital platforms.
A box full of vinyl typically gave 80-150 options. Sure, you could mix and scratch and chop them up, but there were a finite number of paths. Now, there are hundreds of thousands of possibilities, and brand new works can be created on the fly – and that’s without even adding any collaborators or special effects plugins into the mix.
This one is more important than it looks. Breakout rooms completely change the rhythm of any meeting or gathering online. Instead of the same old marching drum, there’s the option for breakdancing, tango, or swing. Different spaces and configurations are possible. Different types of conversation and exploration can take place. You can move between spaces, or focus in on a couple; it’s up to you.
The best bit is that all of this can take place in the same container, so everyone can easily align when it’s time to sync back up.
As we learned from another revolution – that of television – video is powerful. In the case of Zoom, people can see you when you’re on mute. There’s much more visual information available. The problem is that we’re still not quite used to this.
Another purpose of offices is so people can see you. Zoom ostensibly does this, but it’s not a good substitute a lot of time because many of us just aren’t used to being on video. However, there are a couple of ways to make this better.
First, bring energy. It’s not always easy to muster, but the difference is huge.
Second, and partly to enable the first, it’s on the organizer to organize meetings with intent, and for the right reasons.
Video opens up so much more, and gives us far more connection than conference calls, but again, it all comes back to design.
Isn’t Zoom about live – synchronous – connection? Indeed. Which is all the more reason to focus on the other side; the asynchronous. In a Zoom world, many companies are even more mindful of ensuring everyone is ‘working’, so the old system once again gets grafted across – the system of power and status; of ‘checking in’; ticking the boxes.
Instead of forcing synchronicity and causing Zoom fatigue through endless meetings to validate productivity, why not make a video, a slide deck, or a document and send it everyone in advance? Give them time to digest when it suits them best, and then make the synchronous part much shorter and efficient.
This is a great example of the importance of prioritizing design to make the actual delivery and connection part feel effortless.
Recording can instil fear, sometimes with good reason. However, recording has all kinds of upsides.
For some people, they may be more attuned to listening or watching back in their own time. For others, ideas can flow more easily within conversation than putting pen to paper. Recording means those riffs can be captured – the magic can be bottled.
There’s also accountability: in what was said, in what was shared (and what wasn’t). Counter-intuitively, recording can create a safe space, a more secure space.
And there’s quality. We’ve all heard the hold message on the phone; “your call may be recorded for quality purposes” – the same applies to Zoom. The quality of an interaction – what’s working, what’s not. How we can make it better.
It’s probably worth assuming that things are being recorded. And it’s probably worth recording.
More magic. Translation. On the fly, ship it wherever you like. Any Zoom call can be subtitled by Google, for free, and forwarded on in the blink of an eye.
Go back 50, 25, maybe even only 10 years ago, there’d only be one word for this: magic.
The ways in which we can connect can make a step-change. Dynamic translation services mean connecting Global and Local just got 10x easier. And anything that becomes 10x easier tends to get very popular, very quickly.
In the spirit of mixing and remixing, bringing ideas 9 and 10 together give us this: transcription.
A meeting can be recorded and translated. It can also be transcribed. Of course, you can do this yourself, or outsource it to another person. But what’s happening next – no, scratch that; now – is Machine Learning is doing the transcription. A computer will transcribe your conversation into a full script, which can be packaged up with a recording and shared. What’s more, it can be analyzed and extrapolated. Then it can be translated too. It’s multi-modal – both inside the experience, and after.
Building on top of ideas 9-11, what happens when a computer is brought deeper into the mix?
What happens when we don’t just run a meeting using a computer, or hire a computer to document what happened… What if we brought a computer into the meeting?
This is where our gatherings become computer-aware: information tracked in real-time; from shared documents to words spoken.
The computer could take the form of a blank image, a simple avatar, an AI generated human face, or something far more detailed and lifelike. The computer will be aware of what’s happening, even before we are.
After awareness are triggers. Perhaps a computer will know exactly when to play that video presentation, rather than a human host scrambling to find the file in their downloads folder. It could send a text, or share a file. We can start with simple triggers, like programming a music sequencer to play certain loops or sounds.
Beyond these basic triggers, we could ask a computer attendee any question. It could pre-empt the next question to discuss, or serve up some prompts for an exercise. Maybe it’ll spin up a pre-designed whiteboard activity. It could tell when someone is zoning out, or is fully engaged.
It could take the place of a co-host. The AI adjunct avatar is arriving.
Points, streaks. badges, leaderboards. Gamification elements are commonplace not just in traditional games but in all sorts of unexpected applications from healthcare to language learning. Why not work? After all, marketers play a game of acquisition and conversion. What other work games are there?
Media company OZY took a look at this on their podcast, but that was before Zoom life took hold. Now, with all the data and triggers available, there’s a different kind of gamification opportunity
It needs thinking through carefully, though. There’s plenty on why and how gamification fails – and implementing streaks and points into work activities has a bunch of potential issues surrounding it (as well as just having the potential to suck). Maybe a decent start point is from those triggers; anonymous data that tells you six of the group tuned out when you started talking.
There wasn’t a number 15. Time for a brief pause.
Thinking about the 9-5? Fuhgeddaboudit. Zoom rooms have the potential to be always on, 24/7. This doesn’t mean you need to be.
Instead, the rooms can take on different forms: libraries or co-working spaces; meditation booths or water coolers. People can drop in or drop out whenever they like. Themes begin to appear. New microcultures start to emerge. Time Zones begin to diffuse just a little. Our global groups feel just a little more local.
When something can scale to free, it invariably becomes widely adopted. The network effects then get very, very powerful. In 1985, it would seem weird if someone didn’t have a phone number. Soon, everyone will have a Zoom account – or at least know how to dial in to a video call. Once something is ubiquitous, other things start to shift – second and third order effects.
In the case of Zoom, once it’s ubiquitous, it’ll seem crazy to drive to the office, sit there for 8 hours, then drive back.
At the time of writing, Morgan Stanley have called 500 of their 8500 NYC staff back to the office. Will they demand all 8500 return?
Of all the 18 ideas, this one perhaps has the biggest knock-on effect on other seemingly disparate areas of our world.
Kevin Kelly’s now-legendary concept is at play once more. Currently, there are only small circles, and relatively few of them. As the middle (all those mind-numbing webinars) fade, the long tail opens.
The long tail opens up lots of tiny pockets, all with common values, feelings, or interests. Portable, online, circles, where geography and company are irrelevant, but they still have an urge to be connected.
It could be the 9 people who are launching a novel on Kickstarter today – that’s a circle. It could be the 7 people who are preparing for a performance review at Series B tech companies this week. The 15 people who really want to learn more about an article they read in a niche science magazine. Or the group who are going into something for the long-haul. It could ad hoc for an hour, or 10 years deep.
We’re starting to see it in places like Discord, and in cohort-driven future of learning programs. Watch out for more like this.
This isn’t going away.
It’ll continue to shape the way we work, learn, collaborate and communicate – and way beyond the pandemic period.
It’s massively disruptive, and the knock-on effects are hard to fully fathom. Transport; Real Estate; Fashion; Design; Psychology. It’s all set for change.
There’s tension, fear, and fatigue here. It’s not easy to overcome, and there are of course limitations and constraints.
But the possibilities are huge.
Remote can be magic, when done well.
It gives us the opportunity to be connected with anyone, anywhere. To make new things, to create new ideas, to make more of the time we have.
It’s worth figuring out how to become good at this.
It’s worth figuring out how to be great at this.
At Wavetable we work with brands and creators to create a new wave of online communities. We run interactive workshop programs on designing and producing online workshops and spaces.
If you want to make your remote world better, we’d love to hear from you.
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