Zoom, the video-conferencing platform that became a household name during the pandemic, is facing a paradox: its own CEO does not seem to trust its product for fostering collaboration and innovation among his employees.
Earlier this month, Zoom announced a surprising decision to require some of its employees to return to the office for at least two days a week, starting from September. The policy applies to those who live within 50 miles of an office location, which includes San Jose, Denver, New York, and Sydney.
The move sparked controversy and confusion among Zoom’s staff, who had been working remotely since the onset of the pandemic. Some employees expressed their frustration and disappointment on an internal forum, questioning the rationale and logic behind the mandate.
Leaked audio reveals Zoom CEO’s doubts about remote work
Now, leaked audio from an internal Zoom meeting shared with Business Insider has revealed that Zoom CEO Eric Yuan called employees back to the office because he believes that “remote work didn’t allow people to build as much trust or be as innovative as in the office.”
“Trust is a foundation for everything. Without trust, we will be slow,” Yuan said, describing a situation that many companies that continued hiring through the pandemic can likely find relatable. In 2022, Yuan told the Stanford Business School that Zoom’s employees tripled during the pandemic, from 2,000 to 6,000.
But Zoom is supposed to be the product that makes it possible to build trust and relationships with remote employees. Its own homepage boasts that Zoom helps teams become “more connected, more collaborative, more intelligent” and “do more.” On a page promoting Zoom’s Meetings feature, the company said that 95 percent of “customers who switch to Zoom report an increase” in performance and trust among team members.
Now it seems that Yuan has revealed that Zoom as a company found that that promise did not bear out.
Claims friendly Zoom calls stifle creativity
Another reason why Yuan wanted to get employees back together in the office was to drive innovation that he claimed results from having more heated conversations and debates that just don’t happen as often over Zoom. Yuan said that instead, to the seeming detriment of the company’s ability to generate new ideas, “everyone tends to be very friendly when you join a Zoom call.”
“Quite often, you come up with great ideas, but when we are all on Zoom, it’s really hard,” he explained. “We cannot have a great conversation. We cannot debate each other well.”
This contradicts the image of Zoom as a platform that enables “immersive in-office collaboration right from home.” It also raises questions about how Zoom plans to compete with other remote work tools that claim to foster creativity and innovation among distributed teams.
Blessing to anyone who wants to leave
Yuan acknowledged that some employees might not agree with his decision and gave his blessing to anyone who wants to leave the company. He said that he respects their choice and hopes they can find happiness elsewhere.
He also said that he understands that some employees might have personal or family reasons that prevent them from returning to the office. He said that those who need an exception can apply for one through their managers or human resources.
However, he emphasized that his main goal is to make sure Zoom employees are happy and productive. He said that he believes that returning to the office will help them achieve that.
“I truly believe this is good for you,” he said. “If you don’t think so, it’s OK.”