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Zoom fatigue is real and it’s costly

A viral pandemic swept the globe. More people started working from home. Everybody started using Zoom.

Wait, what? Why?

It turns out that using Zoom for all large meetings — or even medium-size meetings — is a terrible, horrible, counterproductive idea.

In theory, it’s great. Everybody can see and hear colleagues at once and you can have “face to face” meetings while everyone is working from their homes.

[ Related: Videoconferencing vendors meet demands with free versions ]

In practice, Zoom fatigue, combined with the amount of time all these Zoom meetings takes, is doing more harm than good.

Zoom fatigue — the feeling of being drained after Zoom meetings — is caused by a wide range of technological and psychological factors:

  • During video calls, latency varies, so conversations can be halting and awkward, causing crosstalk. Studies show that a delay makes others seems less friendly.
  • It may be stressful to see video of yourself while in a meeting.
  • The brain works overtime to make sense of video and audio that’s out of sync
  • Subconsciously, the brain perceives that everyone is looking at you. It’s like a meeting where everyone looks at you, even when other people are talking.
  • Video creates close to eye contact, but not actual eye contact, which can be anxiety-provoking.
  • Seeing many faces at once causes mental overload, because the brain devotes a huge amount of “processing power” to quickly recognize, read and watch a human face, and switching between dozens of faces for several hours a day is massively taxing on the brain.
  • Studies reveal that people focus less on content and more on whether they like a person, when they interact over video.
  • People tend to be less trusting and less understanding over video.
  • People feel pressure to keep eyes glued to the screen, instead of checking or writing notes and doing other natural things for processing information.

Zoom fatigue is real.

[ Related: 5 lessons companies should learn about working at home ]

Why are we doing this, anyway?

The number of daily Zoom users jumped from 10 million in December to over 300 million in April.

When most of this growth happened, Zoom was a slightly more specialized, slightly easier-to-use and significantly less secure platform for videoconferencing than alternatives, yet the herd mentality drove everyone to mindlessly use it.

I’ve been working “remotely” for 16 years, as have millions of people. Professionals who work in offices often meet every day with people who are not physically present. Large companies have multiple locations, and meetings between people in different locations is common. People meet with clients, partners, customers and service providors remotely all the time. This is nothing new. We have remote meetings for years without Zoom overuse and Zoom fatigue.

My working theory as to why we’re all using Zoom so much is this: People who don’t like remote work have been forced to do it, and they’re the ones driving Zoom usage.

Over time, the choice for who works in offices and who works remotely — who works at headquarters and who works in remote branch offices; who is accustomed to meeting with people in real life and who got used to meeting people remotely — is biased in favor of personality types.

In other words, in general and on average, the self-driven introspective introverts have pushed for remote or work-from-home status for themselves and largely got it. Many of us have sacrificed higher pay and status for the privilege to work from home or, as in my case, abroad and traveling.

The extroverts, the gut-feel leaders, the people who need to “read the room” in meetings and feel propelled by having co-workers around them have resisted remote work, and fought for the priveledge of working in the office and, if possible, at headquarters.

An equilibrium existed, where in general both office and remote workers were happy with their workplace status.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted this equilibrium, forcing the office work fans — including the bosses, managers, executives and leaders — to work remotely. They lunged at the thing that seemed like it could come closest to reproducing the benefits of working in an office — the face-to-face meetings, the non-verbal communication, the checking in on subordinates and all the rest.

Great in theory; counterproductive in practice.

OK, so what’s the alternative?

You can listen to podcasts for hours without fatigue or other problems, yet one hour on Zoom leaves you exhausted. Instead of Zoom, just do low-latency audio phone calls instead by default.

I think a good rule of thumb is to keep Zoom calls restricted to four people or fewer and 30 minutes or shorter. And even with four people, do email if you can, phone calls if you must and Zoom only if there’s some really good reason for it.

One problem with phone calls is that if you’re meeting with more than four people, it’s often not clear who’s talking. That’s why we need a way to have what are primarily voice calls where the speaker is identified.

One solution — which I think is a major part of the future of internet communication — is to embrace the avatar. An avatar is a fake version of you, which mimics your facial expressions and body language in real time, but is not a video of you. Avatars reduce latency, identify the speaker, simplify the visual information to process and remove the pressure of being on camera.

Another way to look at avatar-based “videoconferencing” is that it’s basically a conference call where the speaker is identified and the most basic non-verbal communication is conveyed. Also: You get to make eye contact with the avatar, which is less stressful.

A company called recently launched LoomieLive, which lets you create an avatar of yourself, which represents you in video conferences. It conveys your facial expressions in real time, but keeps looking at the “camera” while you get coffee and read your notes. LoomieLive works on Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, Webex, and Microsoft Teams.

There’s also evidence that Apple may embrace avatars for video conferencing. Apple’s WWDC announcement advertises their June 22 virtual conference by showing three Memoji characters sitting in front of MacBook laptops. Memoji’s are the branded avatars that Apple users currently enjoy via Apple Messages.

Normally this would mean nothing. But Apple has a reputation for advertising conferences with cryptic but meaningful symbolism. It would be uncharacteristic of Apple to show Memoji in front of laptops unless they were set to announce support for some version of that scenario.

It seems reasonable to predict that Apple will announce the following:

  1. Face ID for laptops (which could control avatars)
  2. Memoji support on laptops; and — given the Zoom craze
  3. Multi-user meetings that support Memoji

Apple, which is known to be working on augmented reality glasses, has patents that enable 3D avatars to sit around a virtual conference table. People can meet and speak to each other’s avatars, all while making “eye contact.” They call it a bionic virtual meeting room.”

Even Facebook is getting into the act. Facebook is rolling out cartoonish avatars for US users to use in Messenger and in Stories. (They were previously available in the other English speaking countries and Europe.) I think it’s only a matter of time before they add these to group messaging video conferencing.

The big picture is that Zoom overuse isn’t working. Zoom fatigue is killing productivity. It’s a good idea to recognize this at your organization and lead the charge against Zoom overuse. While people are working remotely, favor email, phone calls or avatar-based video calls. Keep all meetings to a minimum.

Let’s all stop feeding the Zoom beast and get back to work.

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Google, Microsoft talk up security after Zoom firestorm

As video conferencing platform Zoom continues to weather unfavorable headlines about its security, two big market rivals are doubling down on commitments to keeps users safe.

In recent weeks, Zoom has faced a barrage of criticism involving privacy and security failings, culminating in CEO Eric Yuan acknowledging this week that the company “moved too fast” but is  now committed to being “open and honest with [customers] about areas where we are strengthening our platform.” He also announced that Zoom had stopped development of new product features for 90 days to focus on security.

While rival video conferencing platforms haven’t faced the same level of criticism, both Microsoft and Google pointedly outlined what their respective Teams and Hangouts Meet offerings are doing to ensure meetings remain secure.

In a recent blog post, Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, stressed all of the security features Microsoft already offers Team users, including how it encrypts data and handles enforcement requests – two areas where Zoom has come under fire. Spataro also noted that Microsoft doesn’t use Teams data to serve ads or track participants’ attention in meetings, something else Zoom has been criticized for.

“Now more than ever, people need to know that their virtual conversations are private and secure,” Spataro wrote in an April 6 post. “At Microsoft, privacy and security are never an afterthought. It’s our commitment to you—not only during this challenging time, but always.”

Google took a similar approach, publishing its own blog post on April 7, summerizing how Google Meet ensures meetings are secure. In the post, Karthik Lakshminarayanan, director of product management for G Suite security and controls, and Smita Hashim, director of product management for  Google Meet, Voice & Calendar, talked up Google’s efforts to combat abuse, block hijacking attempts, limit the need for frequent security patches and the platform’s “secure-by-design infrastructure.”

Though Zoom was not called out by name, the beleaguered platform has been criticized for problems in all of those areas in recent weeks.

“I think the moves of Microsoft and Google are partly defensive to reassure their existing users (both enterprise and personal), but also part offensive –  trying to use the controversy over Zoom to take market share from them,” said Paul McKay, senior analyst at Forrester.

“Zoom has been caught out in this regard because they have made claims in the past about their security which have later proven to be demonstrably incorrect,” he added. “This has eroded a lot of trust in Zoom specifically, but I think their error here is not practicing good product security as part of development and making marketing claims which were not technically correct.

“They now have the next 90 days to prove if they meant what they said when their CEO responded to the issues last month,” McKay said.

Jarad Carleton, global program leader in cybersecurity at Frost & Sullivan, argued that many of Zoom’s problems stem from the “move fast and break things” culture it adopted early on. That mentality was easier to overlook  because of the easy, intuitive and highly reliable nature of the platform.

But companies like Zoom that were not set up with a strong organizational security culture can later find themselves in a retroactive scramble to fix issues that should be dealt with from the outset.

Carleton thinks the recent attention on Zoom’s shortcomings will benefit users in the long run, forcing other video conferencing platforms to review their own security measures to avoid similar criticism. He also said that publicly announcing security audits could help show users that collaboration vendors take security and privacy seriously.

“Solutions such as Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Zoom and others are business tools, first and foremost,” Carleton said. “Any public criticism about security issues can impact subscription revenue, so the enhanced focus on security now as more people use them will only serve to enhance trust over the medium and long-term.”

While Zoom’s security flaws may have given a black eye to a platform that is now pulling in more than 200 million daily users, McKay believes other platforms have quickly re-doubled their security commitments because “Zoom-bombing” and session hijacking could be a danger to them, too.

“I think the impact of this is that it has forced all market participants to pay attention, not just those impacted,” McKay said. “If the industry doesn’t respond positively, then I think it could erode user trust as enterprises have now become fully reliant on these solutions to allow any modicum of productivity to be maintained in the current pandemic.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Zoom hit by investor lawsuit as security, privacy concerns mount

The challenges facing Zoom continue to mount, as the company now faces an investor lawsuit and more organizations ban the use of the video meeting app due to privacy and security concerns. The company also upped efforts to improve its security and privacy practices by hiring Facebook’s former CSO as a consultant. 

Zoom has seen a surge in use in recent weeks as self isolation in response to the pandemic ramps up the demand for video software. As its popularity has boomed – both for business and personal use – and the company’s stock price rocketed, Zoom has come under pressure on a number of fronts. 

On Tuesday, shareholder Michael Drieu filed suit in a California federal court, alleging that Zoom “significantly overstated” the degree to which its platform is encrypted, failing to disclose these “deficiencies” to shareholders.

Zoom admitted on April 1 to a “discrepancy” in its definition of end-to-end encryption from the commonly accepted definition. Drieu claims he and other shareholders have suffered “significant losses and damages” due to a drop in Zoom’s share price after the admission.

It is the second recent lawsuit Zoom faces; the company is also being sued in California for allegedly sharing user data with Facebook. Zoom said in a March 29 blog post that it “has never sold user data in the past and has no intention of selling users’ data going forward,” and would remove the Facebook SDK (software development kit) from its iOS client. That SDK, it said, was responsible for collecting device data.

More organizations ban Zoom

The list of organizations that have banned use of Zoom on security and privacy grounds has also grown. 

The U.S. Senate has reportedly directed members not to use the app, according to the Financial Times, while the German Foreign Ministry has banned its use on mobile devices to protect confidential conversations, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters. And Taiwan’s government warned against using Zoom, instead highlighting rival options from Microsoft and Google.  

Google, which has its own video app – Hangouts Meet – has also reportedly banned Zoom due to security vulnerabilities, according to an internal email cited by Buzzfeed, as has Elon Musk’s Space X.  

The FBI last week warned of unauthorized access to virtual classrooms and recommended that users change security settings to protect meetings; the app has been blacklisted by schools in New York. 

Zoom had previously drawn criticism over its security practices – even before the COVID-19 crisis – because of a flaw in its Mac desktop app, discovered last year, that let hackers take control of a user’s webcam.  

in response, Zoom has recently upped efforts to improve security and privacy, with CEO Eric Yuan promising last week to put Zoom feature development on hold for 90 days while the company directs resources to “better identify, address, and fix issues proactively.”

Yuan acknowledged in an interview with CNN on Monday that the company “moved too fast” as the COVID-19 crisis unfolded and should have enforced tighter security to protect users. The company also acknowledged in response to research from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab that its encryption efforts need more work.

Zoom hires Alex Stamos 

On Wednesday, Zoom announced that former Facebook CSO Alex Stamos has joined as an “outside advisor” to improve security controls and practices. In a post on his personal blog, Stamos said he was hired to advise and help the company “build up its security, privacy and safety capabilities as an outside consultant.”

Zoom has also formed a chief information security officer (CISO) Council to discuss security and privacy best practices; CISOs from HSBC, NTT Data and Procore are among those involved. 

One measure to improve security and privacy, put in place by Zoom on Wednesday, is to hide Meeting ID numbers from the onscreen title bar. This will prevent users from leaking meeting details if they share a screenshot on social media and is likely to reduce occurrences of Zoom-bombing, where uninvited users disrupt video meetings. 

Despite its challenges, Zoom is making the right moves to improve security and its reputation among enterprise customers, said Raul Castanon, senior analyst for workforce collaboration at 451 Research / S&P Global Market Intelligence. 

“Zoom has been in the spotlight given its meteoric growth, even more since it stepped up to the challenge scaling its platform to help millions of users during the current crisis,” he said. “Given its success, it makes sense that the company will be under intense scrutiny and become the target of malicious actions.” 

Castanon said Yuan is “skillfully navigating challenges that in many ways are unprecedented,” and that these efforts “should be acknowledged.

“Despite the lawsuit, the actions outlined in Yuan’s recent blog post, plus bringing in Alex Stamos as a consultant, should help Zoom improve its security and privacy practices and restore confidence to enterprise users and investors,” he said. 

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Zoom clamps down further on security weaknesses

Zoom, which on Friday stopped development of new product features so it could focus on fixing various privacy and security issues, clamped down even further on security weaknesses over the weekend.

The company on Saturday switched on default password settings and waiting rooms for users of its Free Basic tier and those with a single account on its cheapest paid tier, such as K-12 eduction accounts. All meetings that use a Personal Meeting ID (PMI) will now need a password, and password settings that had been disabled will be re-enabled. As a result, passwords will be required for instant meetings, for participants joining by phone and when a new meeting is scheduled.

Zoom CEO Eric Yuan acknowledged in an interview with CNN on Monday that the company “moved too fast” as the COVID-19 crisis unfolded and should have enforced tighter security to protect users.

The company has seen a surge in the use of its platform in recent weeks, as self isolation in response to the pandemic ramped up the demand for video software. As its popularity has boomed — both for business and personal use — and the company’s stock price rocketed, underlying vulnerabilities in the platform have become apparent.

Referring to the latest security changes, Zoom said schools using its software will have the new password settings locked permanently, while others with free accounts, or paid accounts with a single licensed user, can remove the requirements if the want.
(Zoom’s waiting room feature has also been enabled by default to let hosts vet participants before letting them in to a meeting.)

“Zoom-bombing,” where intruders have been able to access video meetings that were not password protected, has led to serious privacy concerns, with uninvited attendees harassing online A.A. meetings and church meetings, for example. The FBI last week warned of unauthorized access to virtual classrooms and recommended that users change security settings to protect meetings. 

Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s SpaceX aerospace company apparently banned the use of Zoom by its 6,000 employees because of privacy and security worries, according to  Reuters. Zoom has also come under fire for a vulnerability that enabled hackers to steal passwords on Windows devices, though that flaw has since been addressed.

More recently, New York’s Department of Education also banned the use of Zoom, with teachers and administrators barred from using it due to concerns about Zoom-booming, according to The New York Post. A letter to staffers said Zoom should be replaced with Google Hangouts Meet or Microsoft Teams.

Zoom CEO apologizes for recent issues

In response to the growing concerns, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan published a blog post Wednesday detailing the company’s response. He said that over the next 90 days Zoom will direct necessary resources to “better identify, address, and fix issues proactively.

“We are also committed to being transparent throughout this process. We want to do what it takes to maintain your trust,” he said. 

Measures include a “freeze” on feature development, with Zoom engineers told to focus on “trust, safety and privacy issues.”

The company also plans to work with “third-party experts” to review security for consumer use of its platform; create a council of CISOs to discuss security best practices; create a transparency report in relation to “requests for data, records, or content;” expand Zoom’s bug bounty program; and conduct white box penetration tests to identify other security issues. 

Yuan will also host weekly webinars to provide privacy and security updates.  

Zoom needs to prove it’s enterprise-ready

Zoom is going “above and beyond” by putting its roadmap on hold to address recent concerns, said Raul Castanon, senior analyst for workforce collaboration at 451 Research / S&P Global Market Intelligence. “This should help restore confidence with enterprise users, assuming the company comes up with a clear list of improvements after the 90-day period.

“Zoom is getting a lot of attention with the pandemic, and the security issues could actually be an opportunity for the company to prove it can address privacy and security for its enterprise customers,” he said.

However, Zoom still has a way to go in terms of ensuring that its platform is ready for enterprise use.

“Yuan contradicts himself with his comment about Zoom being developed for enterprise customers ‘with full IT support’ and not a ‘broader set of users,’” Castanon said. “It is true that the pandemic is uncovering opportunities for improvement — not just for Zoom, but for most vendors — but the security flaws that have come up show the platform is not quite enterprise-grade. Yuan could have been better off without that remark.”

In another privacy incident, Zoom is being sued in California for sharing user data with Facebook. Zoom said in a March 29 blog post that it “has never sold user data in the past and has no intention of selling users’ data going forward,” and would remove the Facebook SDK (software development kit) from its iOS client, which it said was responsible for collecting device data.

Castanon commended the way Zoom handled privacy issues related to the Facebook SDK.

“Zoom will be okay, but this incident will further damage Facebook’s reputation,” he said. “Mark Zuckerberg should pay close attention to Eric Yuan’s detailed response about how Zoom is addressing security and privacy concerns.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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12 Zoom alternatives for secure video collaboration

If your enterprise demands a more secure video collaboration system than Zoom seems to provide you may want to take a look at these.

Group Facetime

If you use Apple products you can use Group FaceTime to replace Zoom meetings. This supports up to 30 callers and has some intelligent features, such as placing the window belonging to the person currently speaking at the front. It’s also highly secure with end-to-end encryption. The big problem is that it is not cross-platform, which makes it a fairly ineffective choice much of the time.

Microsoft’s Skype and Teams

Microsoft offers two video collaboration tools, Skype and Microsoft Teams. Both have advantages that make them worthy alternatives to Zoom.

You can now use Skype without an account. Skype handles up to 50 people in video conference or 150 people in group text chat), and it supports group video chat. It’s solid, free to use and you can now use it without an account or download. Available on most platforms, Skype offers a range of useful features, including document and screen sharing.

However, Skype conversations are not end-to-end encrypted.

This is why so many enterprises use Microsoft Teams. That highly secure solution supports 2FA security, data encryption and meets dozens of national, regional and industry-specific security/privacy compliance regulations. It also integrates extremely well with Microsoft’s other productivity products, including Office 365.

For the enterprise pros

There are a range of high-powered solutions for enterprise users, including Cisco Webex Meetings, TeamViewer and GoToMeeting.

Prices on these vary, but both Cisco Webex and TeamViewer offer free personal accounts, which may be seen as an advantage when working with socially isolated teams. If security and privacy matter to your business, it is worth pointing out that Webex Meetings offers end-to-end encryption as an option.

It is worth considering if your enterprise needs end to end encryption. While this will be mandatory for some tightly regulated industries, it may not be necessary for everyone, particularly those employing RPA systems, as NoJitter observes.

BlueJeans and Jabber also see use across the enterprise. The former is a fee-based system that’s eminently cross platform and supports up to 100 users (BlueJeans Enterprise); the latter is a Cisco product. It may also be worth taking a look at new solution, Challo, which I’ve noted in the past.

[Still use Zoom? Then you may want to explore 7 Zoom tips]

Always highly secure: Signal

Another highly secure solution, Signal supports video collaboration and offers best in the business end-to-end encryption. It’s a full-featured collaboration solution, however, works on most platforms and lets you share all messages, photos, videos, files and chat using video. It also supports group chats, though this doesn’t extend to video collaboration which must be one to one. Best advantage, other than world leading security? It’s free.

An open-source tool for self-hosted systems

Jitsi is an open-source video collaboration solution that has picked up a fair amount of attention in the last few weeks. While I’ve not used the service, its advantages include the capacity to set up a self-hosted collaboration system, while some reports claim video can be a little jittery at times.

The great thing about the system is its price (its free) and high degree of security – though it does not support end-to-end encryption. Jitsi is available via mobile apps and using Slack and can be self-hosted, though you can also use the service’s own offering.

That Jitsi can be self-hosted may be a major advantage, given around 13% of enterprises already rely on collaboration tools they maintain on their own servers, according to Nemertes.

I guess there’s always Google Hangouts Meet

To help get through the pandemic, Google has made the premium version of Hangouts Meet available to $6/month/user G Suite users for free.

One of the best things about this is that it supports up to 250 participants in a call, which makes it useful for big meetings. You can also live-stream meetings to up to 100,000 people, good for larger enterprises attempting to reach large groups.

The biggest negative factor is its lack of support for end-to-end encryption, which should be a red flag for any tightly regulated industry.

More info for remote workers

Feel free to explore these guides that should help Apple-using remote workers and the enterprises that employ them:

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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