Stop With the Video Chats Already. Just Make a Voice Call.
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Stop With the Video Chats Already. Just Make a Voice Call.

Research shows frequent videoconferences can sap your brain and deplete your energy.

By JOANNA STERN
Fri, May 28, 2021 11:13amGrey Clock 4 min

Dear colleague and/or friend:

I’d love to do a call about this. And by “call” I mean absolutely NOT a video call. Let’s do a call-call. You know, those old things where we just hear each other’s beautiful voices. Whatever you do, don’t touch that webcam.

Looking forward to (audio) chatting,

Joanna

The time has come to be bold: Stop the nonstop video calling.

Allow me to remind you of the BPE (you know, the Before-Pandemic Era), a time long ago when every call didn’t require colour-coding your bookshelf background, firing up the webcam and staring into a human tic-tac-toe board for hours on end. Video calls used to be a rare treat. Now, they’re everyday soul suckers.

Really. There’s vampirical—I mean, empirical—proof. A high frequency of video calling can cause general, social, emotional, visual and motivational fatigue, researchers at the University of Gothenburg and Stanford University found in a recent study. Even Zoom’s chief executive, Eric Yuan, says he suffers from the dreaded “Zoom Fatigue.”

Look, I’m not saying all video calling must stop. I love video calling. Instantly see and hear people with little to no delay? It’s miraculous. My mom, who is hearing-impaired, struggled throughout my childhood to hear me on the phone. Now, she can see my son wherever she is, and the visual cues help her tremendously.

I’m just saying audio calls can be more productive—and they can sound better than ever.

But how do you know when to pick voice over video? And how do you make it happen without being the meeting jerk who just refuses to turn on the camera? After talking to researchers and technologists—and cutting back on my own video calls—I present you with five steps to regain your sanity.

Step 1: Ask, should this meeting just be an email?

Fact: There are too many meetings. So I beg of you, before deciding on the technological format, simply ask: Do we really need to meet at all?

Step 2: Understand the benefits of audio vs. video

Géraldine Fauville, an assistant professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and the lead researcher on that aforementioned study, mapped out the main reasons video can be so cognitively draining:

• It’s a lot of looking at ourselves, which is unnatural and comes with self-evaluation and scrutiny. Called the mirror effect, this can be particularly intense for women. You can combat this with the self-hide option available in Zoom and Google Meet. Google has just added a number of features to address this specifically. Microsoft Teams’ new Together Mode was built to combat this, too.

• It’s a lot of close-up eye contact. In fact, the brain processes that sort of invasion of space as if it should lead to mating or fighting.

• It’s a lot of sitting and feeling trapped. You can’t get up and walk around during a video call.

• It’s a lot of nodding. “For you to communicate cues to the participant, you need to intensify the cues,” Dr. Fauville said. “So people nod more vigorously than if they were in the same room.”

No wonder we’re exhausted. So yes, limiting the number and length of video calls seems like the obvious answer. And as some of us kick-start the hybrid work life, that will happen naturally.

But voice calls aren’t just table scraps from our work-from-home buffet. They allow you to focus on what’s being said and give you real respite from the screen. I now do my weekly call with my boss on the phone. We reserve video for deeper conversations, like performance reviews.

I also still like to do video calls with colleagues I haven’t caught up with for a while, or for important meetings where reading facial expressions is crucial.

Step 3: Be clear it’s an audio call

You’ve decided that voice is the way to go for a call, now you’ve got to convey that to others.

Don’t waste precious meeting time having an awkward convo about this; be straight up before the call. “Hey, I’d like to do voice—no video—for this call. Work for you?” You can even put it on me: “I read this wonderful column in The Wall Street Journal about how too many video calls are bad.”

In a survey of employees, the University of California, Berkeley, found that 77% multitask during video calls. I called that out in a recent calendar invite: “Let’s do voice-only for this one,” I wrote to my colleagues. “We’re all going to cover each other’s faces with other windows on the screen anyway!” (Yep, we can see all of you, looking over at your second monitor!)

Step 4: Make the call

Even though I made my voice-call preferences known to my colleagues, I’m not just reaching for my phone. In fact, I’ve used all the big videoconferencing services—sans video. Zoom, Google Meet, Slack, FaceTime, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger all produce stable and clear calls if you have a good connection. Most sound better than cellular—especially if you have a good mic. But the best choice is however you can most easily reach your contact.

Slack has become my go-to for work. Since most of the folks already are there all day, it’s great for mimicking the quick desk drop-by. Hit the phone button and it automatically defaults to a voice call. (To add video, you have to tap the video icon.) With Slack audio use surging in the past year, the company has been piloting new group-audio features, an office variation of Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces.

Slack is also looking at ways to improve audio quality and make it easier to switch between desktop and mobile calls, Ali Rayl, the company’s vice president of product and customer experience, told me.

Call-quality-wise, FaceTime audio consistently sounds the best to me. I often talk to my editor via Apple’s service and he sounds crystal clear. The downside? Apple devices only.

Step 5: Try no-video days

“The responsibility of limiting Zoom fatigue is not just on the individuals,” Dr. Fauville told me. “We hope our findings inspire companies to rethink videoconferencing.”

So far, so good. Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser has started “Zoom-free Fridays,” a day free of internal video calls. The University of California, Berkeley, for the past year, has said no recurring meetings—of any kind—on Friday afternoons.

You may want to try a similar policy. Or at the very least start perfecting those extremely polite “You don’t want to see my face and I don’t want to see your face” emails.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: May 26, 2021.



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Why Prices of the World’s Most Expensive Handbags Keep Rising

Designers are charging more for their most recognisable bags to maintain the appearance of exclusivity as the industry balloons

By CAROL RYAN
Tue, Mar 5, 2024 3 min

The price of a basic Hermès Birkin handbag has jumped $1,000. This first-world problem for fashionistas is a sign that luxury brands are playing harder to get with their most sought-after products.

Hermès recently raised the cost of a basic Birkin 25-centimeter handbag in its U.S. stores by 10% to $11,400 before sales tax, according to data from luxury handbag forum PurseBop. Rarer Birkins made with exotic skins such as crocodile have jumped more than 20%. The Paris brand says it only increases prices to offset higher manufacturing costs, but this year’s increase is its largest in at least a decade.

The brand may feel under pressure to defend its reputation as the maker of the world’s most expensive handbags. The “Birkin premium”—the price difference between the Hermès bag and its closest competitor , the Chanel Classic Flap in medium—shrank from 70% in 2019 to 2% last year, according to PurseBop founder Monika Arora. Privately owned Chanel has jacked up the price of its most popular handbag by 75% since before the pandemic.

Eye-watering price increases on luxury brands’ benchmark products are a wider trend. Prada ’s Galleria bag will set shoppers back a cool $4,600—85% more than in 2019, according to the Wayback Machine internet archive. Christian Dior ’s Lady Dior bag and the Louis Vuitton Neverfull are both 45% more expensive, PurseBop data show.

With the U.S. consumer-price index up a fifth since 2019, luxury brands do need to offset higher wage and materials costs. But the inflation-beating increases are also a way to manage the challenge presented by their own success: how to maintain an aura of exclusivity at the same time as strong sales.

Luxury brands have grown enormously in recent years, helped by the Covid-19 lockdowns, when consumers had fewer outlets for spending. LVMH ’s fashion and leather goods division alone has almost doubled in size since 2019, with €42.2 billion in sales last year, equivalent to $45.8 billion at current exchange rates. Gucci, Chanel and Hermès all make more than $10 billion in sales a year. One way to avoid overexposure is to sell fewer items at much higher prices.

Many aspirational shoppers can no longer afford the handbags, but luxury brands can’t risk alienating them altogether. This may explain why labels such as Hermès and Prada have launched makeup lines and Gucci’s owner Kering is pushing deeper into eyewear. These cheaper categories can be a kind of consolation prize. They can also be sold in the tens of millions without saturating the market.

“Cosmetics are invisible—unless you catch someone applying lipstick and see the logo, you can’t tell the brand,” says Luca Solca, luxury analyst at Bernstein.

Most of the luxury industry’s growth in 2024 will come from price increases. Sales are expected to rise by 7% this year, according to Bernstein estimates, even as brands only sell 1% to 2% more stuff.

Limiting volume growth this way only works if a brand is so popular that shoppers won’t balk at climbing prices and defect to another label. Some companies may have pushed prices beyond what consumers think they are worth. Sales of Prada’s handbags rose a meagre 1% in its last quarter and the group’s cheaper sister label Miu Miu is growing faster.

Ramping up prices can invite unflattering comparisons. At more than $2,000, Burberry ’s small Lola bag is around 40% more expensive today than it was a few years ago. Luxury shoppers may decide that tried and tested styles such as Louis Vuitton’s Neverfull bag, which is now a little cheaper than the Burberry bag, are a better buy—especially as Louis Vuitton bags hold their value better in the resale market.

Aggressive price increases can also drive shoppers to secondhand websites. If a barely used Prada Galleria bag in excellent condition can be picked up for $1,500 on luxury resale website The Real Real, it is less appealing to pay three times that amount for the bag brand new.

The strategy won’t help everyone, but for the best luxury brands, stretching the price spectrum can keep the risks of growth in check.

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