Zoom’s CEO recently announced that the company will ramp up it’s return to office (RTO) policy. Staff members who are happy and productive working remotely can’t be happy with this news. But it’s the other details that the CEO let slip that sound like a greater cause for alarm to my ears.

Here are some of the lowlights:

“Over the past several years, we’ve hired so many new ‘Zoomies’ that it’s really hard to build trust.”

Familiarity is one ingredient of trustworthiness. But when you’ve achieved lack of trust at scale, that’s a significant problem – one that I doubt is solved by bringing people into the same location. How was this measured? Aside from reviving the office, this is a big cultural issue – how is the company planning to turn this around? How will Zoom know that their efforts are successful and the result of physical proximity?

“Quite often, you come up with great ideas, but when we are all on Zoom, it’s really hard. We cannot have a great conversation. We cannot debate each other well because everyone tends to be very friendly when you join a Zoom call.”

This statement is so damaging to Zoom the product and Zoom the company, I have a hard time believing the CEO would say this. Let’s break it down:

  • Zoom has a hard time making great ideas work on Zoom.
  • Zoom is an inadequate tool for conversation.
  • Zoom doesn’t support productive debate.
  • People are too friendly(?) on Zoom.

My questions:

  • What does “very friendly” mean?
  • What’s the right amount of friendly?
  • Can good ideas come easily when people are friendly (i.e. they feel psychological safety) or even “very friendly” (when they have a high degree of psychological safety)?
  • How did you arrive at this thesis?
  • How will you measure that RTO is conducive to an ideal amount (which is less, I suppose?) friendliness among teammates?
  • Can you name some projects that didn’t happen – or didn’t meet/exceed expectations – because people were very friendly?
  • Are you saying that good ideas are easier when people are adversarial versus collaborative?
  • What does this stance mean for Zoom as a product?

There’s not much positive to say here. It would appear that in the opinion of the CEO, Zoom is both full of people who don’t trust each other enough, yet are are so friendly that it’s stifling innovation. The juxtaposition in these statements, and the fact that Zoom (the product) isn’t enough to solve it raise concerns about Zoom the product and Zoom the company.

I can only hope that people are asking these questions and getting clear answers. These are among the people who are shaping the future of remote work.