On April 2, Zoom's Chief People Officer Lynne Oldham joined Fairygodboss President Romy Newman for a conversation well on everyone's minds during the COVID pandemic and its shelter-at-home orders: What are the best practices for working virtually? How can we work and manage via video in an efficient way?
As you may expect, Oldham is the perfect contributor to this conversation. Oldham has over 30 years of experience across industries, most of it centered on what she loves: people.
"I like to say I help business leaders achieve results through people, that's my mantra," she shared.
Oldham joined Zoom, the skyrocketing video conferencing company, in 2019. While her previous experience with video conferencing was "limited and frustrating," her experience with the Zoom product completely changed her perspective on working and managing from home.
Her love of people tied with her love of the flexibility a product like Zoom gave her a great bit of advice to share with Newman right off the bat: The key to connecting with people over Zoom is acting how you'd act if you were face-to-face.
"It's just about talking to people, about creating some sense of normalcy," she shared.
She says doing the things you'd normally do helps people to feel connected, even if they're physically away from the office.
"Everything from check-ins to conversations... it's more about being a human again instead of just cranking out the work."
She shared that Zoom wasn't 100% remote before COVID-19, but they have transitioned to be entirely work from home. To nurture the culture at Zoom and connect to that human side of the workplace, its "happy crew," a group of 175 global volunteers who normally schedule events for the Zoom team, has put together a weekly open mic night. According to Oldham, talented team members have done everything from storytelling to twirling batons.
"You get to see a different side of a person. It's almost making us more connected than before, if you can imagine."
The company also has monthly events called the Zoom Rendezvous, a monthly meeting hosted in the early meeting to reach international employees. Instead of talking about KPIs, the group is posed a non-work-related question that they break into groups to answer, then get back together to debrief.
When asked the key to managing online meetings, she shared that mechanics can be important to creating connection.
"Ensuring that your video is on, your camera angle is really important, believe it or not, because you need to make eye contact with the other folks," she said. "Make sure you've shut everything off around you. The phone shouldn't be dinging, you shouldn't have your email open."
She also suggested making things more personal by trying a fun Zoom background (we've made some here at Fairygodboss!).
In some ways, the women discussed, video conferencing is more effective than meeting in the office. One example: When Newman asked how Oldham would advise women who were talked over in virtual meetings — a common experience in real life — Oldham explored the ways technology is evening the playing field of the boardroom.
"I believe this situation [virtual meetings] is the great equalizer because all heads hold the same amount of real estate on the screen, so nobody's head is bigger than the other. This gives us the change in this new all remote, all the time world to speak up and have a voice."
If you are being talked over, she suggested this: "Break in via chat. Say what you've got to say there."
Open dialogue in video meetings is highly encouraged at Zoom. Oldham says she's tried starting meetings with a check in, and gets deep from there. It allows people to approach the topic of COVID-19 and the barriers they're working through. The Zoom team is also developing a program called "Connecting Through Conversation," which encourages dialogue on the impacts of COVID-19 among teams. It asks questions like: "What's changed for you? How does it feel during this time? And what are some things we can help you with?"
When asked how she's personally dealing with working from home and drawing boundaries between work and life, Oldham said she leans on routine.
"For me it's normalcy. I have to go to bed at the same time, I have to wake up when I used to. I need to keep up my exercise," she said. "And scheduling breaks. I could sit here from 6 AM to 7 or 8 PM. It could easily happen. And now I'm scheduling time, I have a walk scheduled at 11:30 today. I will go outside, I will breathe fresh air. I need to do that."
She's also listening to a meditation series by Oprah and Deepak Chopra called Hope in Uncertain Times. She started meditating before the crisis, but says it seems even more important now.
While both Oldham and Newman agreed they hope the crisis ends soon, they also discussed the potential long-term impact it has on the workforce.
"I don't see how it won't change. People are going stir-crazy because they're quarantined, not because they're working from home. I think people, for the most part, enjoy the flexibility of working from home," Oldham said. "They're certainly more productive... I think this forced situation will allow a lot of companies to see that it works."
"I don't know what it looks like between where we are and where we were before but it's going to move closer towards remote, I truly believe that," she finished.
It seems that Zoom has a bright future ahead, not only because it may be a new part of our everyday life, but because it has a great culture helmed by a People team that preaches tolerance and humanity.
"As a company, we're preaching tolerance," Oldham shared. "Like I said, you heard my four-legged child whining... When I talk to my children, I can hear all their kids in the background. I think we just have to understand that this is the new normal while we go through this pandemic... Let people get through this rough time with a little bit of leeway. I think if you show up like that as a manager, people are going to show up when they can. They aren't going to disappoint you."