One of the most interesting aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic work from home experience is interacting with customers virtually. Prior to the work from home orders, most of the time when I interacted with customers it would be a phone call. Even with the different video conferencing platforms, we did not do the video portion of them. After the work at home activity began, many more customers embraced video conferencing technology – Skype, Teams, WebEx and Zoom. This gave me the ability to actually put names with faces. Some people I had dealt with over a long period of time but had never actually seen them. Now for many customers I have a face with the name. Also, I have insight into them by seeing a small portion of their home – in most calls you can see the color of the walls, the art work on the walls, and other aspects of the room. Another aspect of this is that you get to see how they dress in the work from home environment; some are casual and other still dress as if they are in the office. I am a combination of both. During the summer, I have been dressed in shorts with a button down collar shirt for the day. This gives me a sense of relaxation but still feel professional when doing video calls. You also learn if they have children, pets and whether they live in a city, suburb or rural based on the sounds heard in the background. I live in an urban environment and have to apologize for the fire engine sounds often heard in the background of my calls. I know this might sound strange in some ways, but I think the virtual meeting platforms have brought me close to my customers than I was before COVID-19.
Leidos as an organization has Skype for Business for internal use. It has its pluses and minuses. You can either call in or use the audio associated with your PC. The version of Skype we use allows for video when there are only two people involved there is not an option for video with more than two people, which can make the calls more impersonal. A plus side of Skype is that it uses the picture associated with our email so you see the person’s picture profile. However, if some people call in and others are connected through their PC, you are not always able to know who is on the call because you just get a phone number.
Microsoft Teams is the platform I am least familiar with so cannot really comment on its capabilities. I have had two customers who use teams and have had good experiences with both of them. We do not do many calls so have not experienced the pros and cons of Teams.
WebEx is the platform that I am most familiar with as it was the standard customer facing platform that Leidos uses. It has both call in and audio on the PC options. Webex has good video capabilities and give multiple options for viewing the video streams. The one aspect I find frustrating is that the video streams can look like grey boxes on the screen for people viewing you screen when sharing information such as documents or applications. Another issue that has presented itself is with multiple (25 or more people) video streams, WebEx speed seems to slow down. I think it was a bandwidth issue when so many companies started using video platforms.
Zoom was an application that I had been familiar with as a Leidos customer uses it and we have recurring Zoom calls three times a week. It is a very simple and easy platform to use. Zoom has a call-in number that you can use and its video displays are very goodand if not all people are using the video aspect, Zoom still shows who is talking which is very helpful. (As an aside, I am always willing to show my video but it is very hit or miss with groups of who are willing to show the video. Some people are adamant about not being seen.) Also, as is widely known there are some security concerns with Zoom. Many companies and government agencies do not allow the use of the Zoom platform.
Video platforms have allowed companies to develop interesting ways to stay connected with employees and customers. Our group has a weekly group meeting just to check in and interact with our team. It is nice to see the people’s faces and have the conversations.
Other companies I know have used them to set-up game nights for employees, have morning coffee meet-ups, and to interact so we feel more like we are in the office and can have virtual “water cooler” conversations.
I hope that when work returns to “normal”, being in the office more, that we will continue to use the video platforms and be able to interact in the same ways that we do now. I would not like to go back to just having phone conversations. I think the work from home requirement has taught us to be more creative and shown us the need for actual personal interaction.