There are not enough hours in the day (or night) for all the mushrooming webinars
Since it dawned on the majority of business people that they can not sit back and wait for the lockdown to destroy their livelihoods, a slowmotion digital explosion of sorts has taken place.
Before the lockdown, a webinar was a quaint way of saying that a company has arrived, or that it needs to conduct meetings across international borders, in other words, the concept hinted at achievement.
Since the lockdown damage started surfacing in just about every type of business, webinars have now become the new buzzword of the digital age. There is literally a couple of webinars daily, so much so that it is impossible to pay attention to all of them.
Until a month ago, only upper echelons of very large companies conducted digital, or “virtual” meetings. Now it is done daily by everybody from the chief executive to the janitor. Similarly, Zoom and Microsoft Teams were known and used by only a few organisations, typically those where their footprint covers large geographical areas but of late, even learners at school have become adept at surfing in the virtual classrooms.
The one thing the lockdown has shown us is that humans have an uncanny ability to adapt and to do it fast, especially if their survival, both commercial and existential, depends on it. This is what I have seen happening in the local, often laid-back business environment in the very short timespan of only two months.
We are now in the adjustment phase of the digital learning curve. At first we had to become accustomed to the technologies that enable us to continue communicating on serious issues, but lately I sense a measure of accomplishment, even for the slowest uptakers, albeit very reluctantly sometimes.
Being able to maintain some modicum of communication is good. Over the past month, more and more voices have been heard saying that all the miles we travelled, all the hours spent on the road or in traffic, and all the elaborate settings we chose for important meetings, have somehow faded. Now it is a matter of achieving a specific result, and that all revolves around the outcome of a meeting.
In a sense, it appears most of us who has spent hundreds of hours in meetings over decades, realised that the exchange at the meeting, and then the resolutions, are far more important than the power-tie I am wearing, or the feeble attempts to fathom the new corporate faces.
But the learning curve is not complete and all those companies that switched to digital in the blink of an eye, are gradually realising digital is also beset by a myriad of both user and technical problems. The learners and children who were forced into virtual classrooms are still adjusting to the physical absence of a teacher while the more advanced users only realised after the webinar that the untidy cupboards and shelves were only too visible in the background.
On the comical side, it is really funny to be with another person in a virtual meeting and in drops a toddler with the revealing statement that he has just had a very successful poopoo.
On the practical side, digital is not the panacea it is proclaimed to be, yet. Broadband that suddenly collapses, gateways that refuse to accept log-in credentials, Zoom that is offline, video that evaporates while audio blares over the headphones – all these we are only now coming to terms with and only as we encounter them. One step at a time, or more appropriately, one webinar per day.
One thing I do find positive and this pertains more specifically to our trade, i.e. media, is that webinar invitations provide some form of filter. After all, the people hosting the webinar have to tell you what it is all about. And seeing that suddenly there is such an overwhelming number of webinars, journalists can now be far more selective what they want to attend and what they want to shun.
And as a last resort, if the webinar turns out to be a dud, it is easy to leave and then claim some technical malfunction. This would have been inexcusable only two months ago, but now everybody suffers the same information overload and everybody knows, “sometimes a guy just has to leave.”