It must be said that screen times of adults have increased manifold — the video conference now the preferred mode of corporate contact. Our importance in professional hierarchy defined by this brand-new metric — an abundance of naptimes surely a signal of imminent employment vulnerability. Schools are emulating this pattern, the online class literally a class apart and that is the beginning of my story.
Just last week at the crack of lockdown dawn, 9 am or so, I was the technology accomplice for my five-year-old’s digital class. Children are way friendlier with innovation than the weary us, so quite truthfully his group seemed perfectly at ease. Except one soft or rather, loud aspect — an understandable distaste for the counter-intuitive ‘mute’ button. Surely communicating is an incorrigible birth right and how dare nobody can hear me when I speak? Videos of course are perpetually on, not just by tutorial decree but also by a fond willingness to be publicly demonstrative. Although silence, both audio and visual, is much coveted in the adult world of boardrooms, concealment is more attractive than revelation as we clock the years.
On this afore-mentioned silence, there will be a bagful of learnings after the virus succumbs to the vaccine — providing vital clues for the future of working. Much has been observed already on the pants-off culture — just the shirt or kurta necessary for making the suitable impression of formality. But not enough has been debated on the optimal expression, now that we are all in close-up mode how exactly does one balance the spark and the smirk. The teeth can play a notable part, subject to availability and white-washing, or does the stretch of the muscle sufficiently convey desired amusement or consent. Rage, such a potent leadership tool, must choose its graded façade since voices can be digitally subdued, emoticons can easily be suitably seconded. Necessary to be mandated is the face crop, the more junior the more visible seems to be an acceptable equation, ‘right to edit’ available only for Senior VP and above.
The art of employment termination, well known to many a maestro, deserves its unique expression in this closely-distant world. While the dramatic moment of truth, or lie, can be delivered adequately through well-nurtured vocal techniques, how does the victim symbolically leave the room, as a surrogate for leaving the company? Surely, there can be multisensorial features — a continuum from mellow to deafening, as banging of the door when leaving the meeting. While equally, the recruitment interview must duly evolve, a table-like screen setting physically unifying the inquisitors ensuring the power distance. Perhaps mandatory will be the full-body shot, a pre-defined ritual where the candidate must enter from afar and only then settle in the couch.
A super-premium added feature for all engagements, especially pitch meetings, will be the expression evaluator — an AI-led software predicting the judgement response of attendees. Thus, enabling the recipient to analyse and formulate the forthcoming bullet, the aim rendered both insightful and accurate. Psychologists will team up with interior designers to recommend the perfect backdrops for each kind of conversation — mellow yellow with Costa Del Sol photo frames for the motivational talks, bright red with Masai Mara masks for the tough reviews and Belgian mirrors with Kirti Nagar carvings for the evening team drinks. In future, homes will be evaluated for their webcam corners pampering every constituency, including the school-going child, customised yet flexible.
Gillette will truthfully do greater business than before as the forested visage will soon turn from cool to clumsy, in tune with the new norm. I do suspect that formal round necks or turtle necks, quite like the Issey Miyake of Steve Jobs, will dominate ‘Zoom Fashion’ trends, the necklines of men usually not photogenic. While for women, the possibilities are truthfully endless, a two-way mirror responding to every fashion ambition, marinated by corporate dreams. I do pity the perfumeries though, till the date scalable technology permits the sense of smell in distant encounters. The eyes will be the subject of extraordinary focus, evoking suitable responses from make-up artists discovering a visionary stream of business.
Another emerging ritual is understandably the virtual drink, a delightful proposition for the penny-loving Houdini of the corporation, the CFO or the empowered administrator. Everybody has a party, the company pays for nobody’s drink or shawarma, while the spirits of the team both rise and diminish in concurrent tandem — the first emotional and the second in terms of bar stocks. An equally compelling comparable is the joint team exercise, the pyrotechnics of the leadership now extending to yoga, the sadistic 7 am review now camouflaged by health and well-being — deceit most imaginative.
As a dramatically lateral business idea, airlines must consider getting into the video-calling business, especially the inter-city or international legs. Current leaders like the spectacular Microsoft Teams appear from a technology foundation — an engineer’s invaluable interpretation of a connected world. Now, if say, Indigo Airlines or the Star Alliance were to diversify through borrowed technology, the interfaces would be diametrically different. To log on to a call to London from Mumbai, my virtual avatar would fly on-screen, check in to a hotel and then join the meeting room — a short 30-second video ritual. Business and First would get preferential access, unlimited call times with special features, while the cattle would deservedly pay for services — everything from subscription packages to the sensorial experience borrowing from familiar travel-and-hospitality codes.
You may rightfully think that the preceding paragraph is the output of a deranged mind, but you actually may be wrong. Quite like restaurants sharing recipes, an experience as such will rekindle the passion of travel benefitting the bleeding industry — eventually leading to a virtual-real business-engagement-equilibrium which is sustainable and profitable for all. We are all being ejected from our often-enforced comfort zones, a fresh wave of innovative customer-centric thinking necessary to stimulate the economies of the universe.
Freddie Mercury had envisioned this much earlier, with ‘Video killed the radio star’ — the efficient con-call rendered underwhelming by the officious Zoom invite. Seeing each other restores our sense of routine normalcy — an inimitable prescription, albeit placebo, for these troubled times. When embellished by a few bright ideas, the future will indeed be brighter.
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