“You are on mute.”
“Sorry I was muted…”
“Oh, sorry you go. No, I will wait, you go.”
“You are frozen. Please leave and join again.”
The standard glitches of virtual meetings.
Combined with other difficulties of remote work, they usually make you feel that others cannot hear you or you don't hear what the others are trying to say. If things get really wrong, they may lead to whole teams feeling disconnected, people having the impression they are on a different planet or talk different languages.
We need to accept that remote work is becoming more present. Many of us switched into a hybrid model or work just from home, yet none of us was taught how to effectively communicate and make impact when all we have is a screen, phone or email. It is harder than seeing colleagues in person every day, simply because of the lack of face-to-face contacts.
So here is how to master the art of remote interactions.
Choose the right communication channel
It might seem obvious, but this is even more important when working remotely. Could it be an email? If so, don’t organize a meeting. Zoom fatigue is becoming a common “diagnosis” we all suffer from, so if a matter can be resolved via email, avoid the meeting. Emails should always be used when evidence that something has been communicated is required.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to communicate just simple facts, but a call for action, emotions or influence someone, it is better to organize a meeting. When you are afraid that information will be lost in the mass of emails or want to communicate something personal, opt for a call.
Make sure people listen to you
Share what you want to say clearly and confidently. Don't hide your opinions or apologise for having them. Use strong language and avoid weak words such as maybe, just, perhaps. Make sure you don't speak too quickly. As always, less is more. The power of what you are saying is not multiplied by the number of the words, so make it short and apt. Pause and allow others to digest your message. Structure your narrative so that others can easily get it and consider using metaphors or examples to demonstrate your point. When in doubt, check whether it was understood and rephrase it if it wasn't.
Whether we like it or not, in big corporations it is good to be seen. As you don't have the opportunity to impress your boss or CEO with your elevator speech, be visible in another way and contribute during calls and meetings as much as you can.
Let them speak
Give space to others to express their views and let them finish. As Stephen Covey said, do not listen to reply, but to understand. Interrupting a speaker during a meeting is an even bigger crime during the virtual meeting as it is harder to find alignment between participants. The biggest problem of meetings with many participants is that people are talking over each other. Everyone is commenting on what just occurred to them, so there are many ideas “popcorned” at the same time. The best way to avoid it, is to nominate a facilitator. They should be driving the discussion and giving a space to one participant at a time. Alternatively, you can agree a certain order that people will be contributing or a person speaking will always nominate a person whose turn is next. Also, use a chat functionality to gather non-critical points and polls for voting. Breakout rooms are a great solution for separate discussions.
Break the distance
Express genuine interest in others, show respect and appreciation. Don’t hide emotions and offer emotional support. Be you, a living and caring person, not just a “head” on the other side of the call.
Keep it personal and make it informal, when appropriate. We sometimes tend to focus on the “operational stuff”, but especially with remote work, we need to find time to create proper connections. Follow up with a colleague who seemed distracted during a team call or ask a member of your team how their holiday was.
And bring fun to the conversation, a good laugh is the best connector. I did it once accidentally when I forgot to unmute myself while I was enthusiastically persuading my daughter to eat her breakfast.
Virtual meetings basics
- Solid WIFI and proper working space are necessary. It is impossible to come across as professional when joining from your bedroom. If you don't have a fancy study, use any desk placed in front of a least disturbing background or upload images for backgrounds when on Zoom or Google meet. You can also use an ironing board as a standing desk. It is slightly punk, but a simple and portable solution. If your options are limited, for super important meetings rent a room in a coworking hub.
- Don't be late and if you need to leave, inform others.
- No video is a big No. You cannot make an impact when people only see your initials or your avatar.
- Stop looking at yourself, but camera instead.
- Stop answering emails. Or cooking. Or watching Netflix or simply doing anything else then participating in the meeting during the meeting. Be present.
- Don’t feel like you must fill in the pauses. Sometimes silence says it all.
- Dress for the occasion. Casual is OK, but dress completely. A colleague of mine once exposed his underwear after he stood up during the call. I am sure he didn't want to make such an impact! Dressing properly is also important for your mindset and productivity. Some people even recommend wearing shoes so you don't feel too relaxed. I cannot imagine sitting in high-heels at home, however, it is a valid point.
- Manage interruption. Kids and pets disrupting meetings are sometimes unavoidable and might actually be refreshing. In any case, limit them to minimum and address them appropriately. Interruptions, not kids and pets.
When possible, meet 3D people
Don't forget traditional human interactions. Shaking hands and going for a drink with colleagues should still be part of our lives, even if limited to extraordinary occasions.