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10 November 2022

The horror of the never-ending Zoom call

Can you think of anything worse?

By Emma Haslett

Felicitous news if you are one of the 11,000 people made redundant by Meta yesterday, or the 3,400 people made redundant by Twitter this week, or indeed one of the “hundreds” of people at Salesforce who are likely to lose their jobs shortly: one Silicon Valley company is actually expanding its offering.

Zoom, the video platform loved and despised in equal measure by those banished from their workplaces by Covid, announced a range of new features at its already quite frightening sounding “Zoomtopia” conference this week. They include integrated email (because employees spend “almost four hours a week… flitting between apps”, a press release cheerfully pointed out), a “virtual coach” that gives salespeople “a practice environment to hone their pitch and obtain feedback”, and something called Zoom Spots, “Zoom’s new virtual co-working space – a video-enabled persistent space, integrated within the Zoom platform”. Yes: Zoom has launched a never-ending Zoom call.

The idea, according to the company’s chief executive, Eric Yuan, is that “you can look around, see who’s there and you can join these conversations and you don’t have to schedule meetings”. Which gives it a cool, millennial, pot plants and flat whites kind of vibe – but actually, when you think about it, also gives your employer yet another opportunity to ensure that you are at your desk, where you should be, rather than, for example, making lunch. “I didn’t see you on Spots today, Derek.” “Sorry, gaffer. It was my connection…”

Zoom remains one of the few companies committed to keeping the post-pandemic hybrid working model alive. It isn’t going well. Since the height of Zoom’s popularity in 2020, shares have fallen 85 per cent, from $559 to $79. Most employers, meanwhile, would prefer their workers where they can see them: a report published in October by the professional services giant KPMG found that 65 per cent of chief executives want their employees back in the office by 2025; just 28 per cent said they were happy with the hybrid model.

Workers, on the other hand, are for the first time merrily performing dangerous acts of “time theft” such as doing a load of laundry during their lunch hour and picking up kids from nursery before it starts charging late fees, and are generally perfectly happy with the situation as it is, thank you very much. That’s reflected in figures from the property consultancy Remit, which found that in the first full working week of September just 31 per cent of employees were working from the office, despite attempts by businesses to entice their workers back in with free meals, “contemplative spaces” or simply Jacob Rees-Mogg-style passive aggressive notes.

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So solutions like the Never-Ending Zoom Call might put bosses’ minds at ease, but a word of warning to those tempted to use its powers for evil: last month a Dutch court ruled that forcing employees to keep their cameras on while they are working remotely could be a human rights violation. Although, given that features that already exist on Zoom mean employers can see all messages sent using its platform, can tell whether an employee has their Zoom window open or just running in the background, and can see who attends meetings and for how long, perhaps this new one isn’t as big a leap into a terrifying, surveillance-obsessed future as we thought. Maybe we’ve been there all along.

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[See also: How long does Facebook have left?

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