“Miloš, when will you come to the office?” “Boss, I’m sitting literally across from you.”

Zoom is great, but do we want it to be the only future for formal hybrid workspaces?

Photo by Shridhar Gupta on Unsplash

Communication and mutual understanding are the cornerstone of success in any domain. Just think of business, meetings, hybrid workspace — someone at the office, someone working from home, international clients and colleagues. Important deals, hours of talking weekly, building relationships.

My brother told me about this anecdotal situation from the other day. He was sitting at a conference table together with others in the office and opposite him, there was his boss. Everyone had joined a video call. One hour in and after having talked several times, he smiled in disbelief as he heard his boss say:
“Miloš, when will you come to the office?”
“Boss, I’m sitting literally across from you.”

He laughed and lifted his laptop over his head to show the office room to those who’d joined the meeting remotely to prove his point.

I hope this is not a common experience for many, but it makes me think of presence. Which makes me think of eye contact and connection. How often do we experience it during video conferences? Or, in other words, do we at all? Not only with those we see on our screens but also with those we share the office with. What is the point of being in the same room if we are only staring at our screens anyway?

Hybrid workspaces are becoming more and more common, both because of the pandemic and because of the international nature of many businesses and collaborations. We are now used to being able to talk to those who are physically far away from us. And, even seeing them if the connection is good enough. It has become a part of our daily lives and, from the very start, a good way of making up for the missed time with our loved ones. For many people, it has turned into a daily routine during their working hours. These tools have not yet been adjusted to being in use for hours-long stretches at work, however. What does that imply?

It is time for innovation, improvement and optimisation. That’s if we wish for the communication to be smooth and leave us with more than 5% of our mental battery left. I personally value my mental battery. I am down for innovation.

Original illustration for MATSUKO by Maria Makeeva

There are many video conferencing tools out there at the moment but let me just refer to all of them as Zoom to make it simple, as that is the one most of us are familiar with. It is also the one tied with the expression “Zoom fatigue”, which I will get to shortly. These tools are great and many of us are currently dependent on them. We all know their benefits and how much they’ve helped us, especially during the pandemic and this article is not against Zoom :).

We don’t have to settle for just one solution though. We use and abuse Zoom these days and there is an option that can suit us better, connect us more and drain us less. This option is called MATSUKO.

Zoom fatigue is real and we know why. If you wonder why you feel so drained after online communication with your colleagues, Zoom fatigue is probably the answer. It is what you can call your tiredness, frustration, worry or burnout associated with one too many video calls.

MATSUKO can help you smartly navigate the communication and avoid the crucial fatigue triggers. It is good at more than just that. Let’s first see how it can protect you from feeling drained and then talk more about its uniqueness.

There is one bit of information you may be missing:
MATSUKO is holographic communication.
It means you have your phone in front of you for the camera to see you, you put on XR glasses, and you can see your remotely working colleagues sitting close to you, your room and everyone who was in it already. That’s all you need to know for now.

Original illustration for MATSUKO by Maria Makeeva

There are plenty of articles on Zoom fatigue. They discuss the different causes supported by research and experience and it sure makes a lot of sense. I will now bring up the most crucial ones and why they won’t be the case with MATSUKO.

Lack of direct mutual eye contact? We don’t think we are losing that much when in a video call, because we can still see each other, right? Our eyes don’t meet though, never at the same time at least. We take it for granted in face-to-face communication because it is just so natural and we don’t realise how big of a role it plays.

“There is robust evidence on how eye contact improves connection — faster responses, more memorization of faces, and increased likeability and attractiveness.”(1)

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Direct mutual gaze is one of the factors that promote bonding between people too, which is a form of reward for our brains. The lack of it lessens the reward we get from social interaction through a video call. If you are like me, you would think that the social aspect of a work meeting is not the most important thing. It should be about getting the work done and not bonding with others…or? But whether or not we are aware of it, we benefit from oxytocin — the hormone involved in social bonding — even in a work setting, and it helps us to stay more alert.

And what is the benefit of the increased alertness? Well, getting work done.✔ So, even if you are like me and your personality is bordering on the Shark type in conflict resolution (2) and completing the task is often way more important to you than creating relationships, you have your reasoning for why eye contact and bonding is not negligible even in work meetings.

Short- or long-term, both yours and others’ well-being affects the productivity at your workplace, which I am sure you have noticed yourself. With regards to this and the following aspects of communication, the different communication options or platforms can either put the well-being in danger or create supporting conditions for it.

Holograms of your colleagues are positioned in a clever way with MATSUKO, so that you are not robbed of the fundamental aspect of our non-verbal communication — direct mutual eye contact. It is simple and it is rewarding, for you to experience connection and presence where there would normally be distance.

This article explains a lot with this one sentence: ”Simply put, videoconferences can be associated with low reward and high cost.”
Most of the factors mentioned in this article are related to both low reward and high cost. In the case of eye contact, we have already explained that the reward we get is low in video calls. It is also true that the cost is high because we still put in a lot of mental effort to search for and try to interpret others’ gaze and to filter through accidental cues.

Unnaturally large faces? At least we see their faces. That too can tell us something, even if we have already lost eye contact, you might think. It does, but it does so in an intense way that we are usually not consciously aware of. We want to see the people as well as possible so we try to make their videos as big as possible. There is one catch with the sizes of the faces of those we video call with. They become unnaturally large, when we consider how close we are to our screens. Is that bad? Well, in normal life, it would correspond to intimate contact or conflict. That causes us to become hyper-aroused throughout the video calls. Our brain perceives it as intimate contact or conflict, with multiple people at once. Intense.

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

In a MATSUKO-call, the holograms of others are big enough for you to see them well and at the same time they are at a comfortable distance from you, so that your nervous system can relax. Simply, it is how it’s supposed to be. There seems to be art in not doing certain things, like not overwhelming our nervous systems. So MATSUKO is just not going to do it. Easy.

Seeing yourself all the time? Most of the time, in order for others to be able to see you, you also have to see yourself — the small video representation of you. Unless you have narcissistic tendencies and enjoy looking at yourself all day long, this too comes at a cost. It does not matter if your self-esteem is high or low, looking at ourselves for prolonged amounts of time is both distracting and fatiguing. We might even be more critical of ourselves when we see ourselves constantly. There is not really much more to say here, it is just not natural.

“In the real world, if somebody was following you around with a mirror constantly — so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback, getting feedback — you were seeing yourself in a mirror, that would just be crazy. No one would ever consider that.” (3)

When using MATSUKO, others can see you (and they can see you very well) and you don’t have to look at yourself. As you wouldn’t in a normal, in-person conversation either. Plus, if you get out of frame or there is anything wrong with how you are appearing, you would notice that from the reactions of others, compared to videoconferencing where you would usually not know if people are looking at you or did not even notice your disappearance.

So again, MATSUKO is just not going to add to your stress. It wants you to connect with others and have a meaningful experience with them instead of slowly but steadily provoking your anxiety. The others will see you. The focus for you is on seeing them.

Lacking other non-verbal cues? We can talk both about sending them and interpreting those of others. Too much effort needs to go into both and the reward is, again, rather low. We exaggerate and put extra thought into actions we would not normally think about, such as nodding excessively, saying people’s names even when we normally wouldn’t, because we can’t turn our upper bodies into their direction or similar. We look for new ways to indicate we are about to say something, because others rarely notice our inhale with an open mouth, or need to click on icons to do so. We need to ignore the accidental cues as well as people seemingly leaning towards each other in the grid view for example or looking in weird directions when they are really looking at their dog.

MATSUKO allows you to see the participants from the waist up, in 3D, which gives you and enables you to rely on non-verbal cues as you would in a usual conversation. Face-to-face meetings work best. MATSUKO is the best alternative to them when there is physical distance involved.

Example demonstration of a MATSUKO user’s view

Some of the main insights are taken from here, but there is more to be found on Zoom fatigue if you are interested. However, this article is about more than that. It informs you about a different option for the future of hybrid workspaces. About holographic communication with MATSUKO.

I have talked a lot about what MATSUKO is not and does not do. These “does nots” are extremely important, but I also have to name a few phrases for what MATSUKO is.

Overcoming physical distance in a way you have not yet imagined by bringing holographic representations of others into the same space as you, so you can be present together.
Giving you space for real human connection by making sure our natural ways of communication are preserved and we can experience rewarding social interaction.
Enabling you to work efficiently and professionally by being suitable for business environments and protecting your nervous system from additional fatigue-triggers to leave more room for productivity.

In addition to this, when using the AR version on holographic glasses, you can see both those who are and who are not physically present in the room, as if everyone was there, together. You don’t have to choose between talking to your screen and talking to the real people in the room. You no longer have to arrive at your office only to have more video calls.

With MATSUKO you can see and feel seen.

Try it, and maybe you will even see Miloš during the next meeting.

Yours, Michaela, UX intern at MATSUKO

References

1 https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/psychological-exploration-zoom-fatigue/

2 https://nobelexplorers.com/conflict-management/

3 https://news.stanford.edu/2021/02/23/four-causes-zoom-fatigue-solutions/

Holographic Communication