Happy hours and “casual Fridays”, team donuts and coffee trips fell by the wayside last year, as one office tradition after another was restricted by the reality of remote work.
Lawyers rolled out of bed in court. Managers used a good shirt. Jogging pants ruled the day.
However, Citigroup, one of the largest banks in the world, is trying to start a new tradition by the end of the week: Fridays with no zoom.
The bank’s new managing director, Jane Fraser, announced the plan for “zoom-free Fridays” in a memo sent to employees on Monday. Citi has recognized that employees have spent an inordinate amount of time staring at video calls over the past 12 months and is encouraging employees to step back from Zoom and other video conferencing platforms one day a week, she said.
“The blurring of the lines between home and work and the intransigence of the working day of the pandemic have affected our wellbeing,” Ms. Fraser wrote in the memo seen by the New York Times.
“After listening to colleagues around the world, it became clear that we needed to combat the ‘zoom fatigue’ that many of us are experiencing,” she wrote.
The memo said that nobody in the company would have to turn on their video for internal meetings on Fridays. External meetings would not be affected: “There will continue to be customer and regulatory meetings that have to take place via Zoom,” it says.
Citi – the third largest bank in America according to S&P Global and the 13th largest bank in the world by assets – urged its 210,000 employees around the world to take their vacation time and designated a company-wide on Friday, May 28 Holiday to be switched off for all employees and “reset”.
The bank outlined further steps to restore work-life balance. It recommended that employees stop scheduling calls outside of normal working hours and promised that the majority of their employees would be given the option to work from home up to two days a week if they could return to an office.
“We are all feeling the tiredness,” wrote Ms. Fraser, who took up her role as CEO of Citi this month and became the first woman to run a major American bank. Pressure is on for Citi to turn around after a banker’s mistake sent nearly $ 1 billion to the wrong people and the bank was fined $ 400 million by federal regulators last year for long-running problems.
Over the past year, however, there have been complaints of “zoom fatigue” across industries and classrooms as people who only work from home have been faced with schedules full of virtual meetings and find that their long hours of work in front of the camera are frequent Long video recordings followed – ups with friends.
The widespread feeling of burnout led Stanford University to investigate why video calls felt so stressful.
In a peer-reviewed article published last month in Technology, Mind and Behavior magazine, Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, explained several reasons why video calling can be so much more taxing than face-to-face conversations.
He found that the excessive eye contact during video calls, the unnatural situation of seeing ourselves on the screen and having to stay in the same fixed position, contributed to “zoom fatigue”.
Video calling is also harder mental work for us, Professor Bailenson said in a press release, because we need to put more effort into establishing and interpreting non-verbal communication. “If you want to show someone that you agree with them, you have to nod excessively or put your thumbs up,” he said. “That increases the cognitive load as you use mental calories to communicate.”
Dr. Aaron Balick, psychotherapist and author of The Psychodynamics of Social Networking, said a key mistake companies made in establishing work-from-home conditions over the past year was treating Zoom calls as equivalent to Face-to-face meetings. He said this did not take into account the added mental stress on workers and the downtime required to process what was said between calls.
“They require different intellectual muscles,” said Dr. Balick in an interview on Wednesday, adding that Zoom calls should be treated as a “functionally different thing”.
Citi’s “zoom-free Fridays” are on the right mind, he said, though he added, “If you do zooms in a row Monday through Thursday and then have a day off Friday, that’s still not good enough.”
Employees need more ways to block non-stop working hours without the distraction of calls and meetings, he said. Also, without the structure and routine of office life, many people have fallen into the trap of working longer hours because they have no external clue as to when to switch off, he added.
Research has found that the exposure to the pandemic and increased workload has resulted in some employees being able to work up to two hours a day more than usual.
For Wall Street, which had a notorious reputation for extreme hours even before the pandemic, Citi’s efforts to adopt a more flexible approach to work are unlikely to go unnoticed.
Last week, a survey of 13 Goldman Sachs first-year analysts drew attention to social media. The analysts said they worked an average of around 100 hours a week and felt they were a victim of abuse in the workplace.
Goldman responded in a statement that “a year after Covid, people are understandably quite overwhelmed”. It was said to “listen to their concerns and take several steps to address them”.