Is there life on Zoom?
When David Bowie brought out his hit “Life on Mars” who would have thought that in 2020 we would be trying to make sense of new way of existing and communicating on our own planet Earth. The changes in our world have brought about social distancing and working from home for most of us. All of a sudden we are communicating from a 2 metre distance when we go to get our groceries, walk in the park or speak to the postman.
Communicating with friends, bosses, customers and colleagues is now through a technological tangle of WhatsApp, Skype and the ever popular Zoom, amongst other platforms. And with ways of working having changed forever due to a seismic market shift, it seems like we have all suddenly arrived on a very different planet. Whilst life had become steadily virtual in the last decade, the acceleration of digital communication in the face of a global threat has no doubt speeded up and permanently changed the way we interact with others. Luckily we aren’t on Mars as communication to Earth would be via satellite and because it travels with the speed of light would take about 15 minutes to reach Earth! I guess we should count our blessings to have quicker communication. Or not?
Workplaces around the Globe will have to embrace technological communication in order to survive, pivot and adapt to new marketplaces and lifestyles. Leaders will have to motivate, inspire, direct and communicate tough messages and do this well – otherwise there may be dire consequences for productivity and engagement.
Virtual interaction requires a different form of communication which to us as humans is quite alien.The problem is that when we communicate only 7% of communication is verbaland the rest is non-verbal such as voice tone and body language (Mehrabian,1971). As a leader, trying to decipher how engaged someone is in the conversation is tough, especially with screen freeze, time delay and not being able to see most of the person! So how do we get results from our employees in this strange new world?
Leaders will need to get creative with their virtual meetings to avoid the artificial formality of Zoom or Google Meet amongst others. Having a mix of telephone, email, DM and conferencing platforms will help keep interest up. There are four main learning styles: visual, kinesthetic, auditory and reading/ writing (VARK model, Mills & Fleming, 1992).Try and discuss a neutral topic in order to bond with your individual team members. Getting to know them better will help relax them and build trust. When outlining tasks share visual data to take the attention off the employee, allowing them to relax and listen to what you are saying.
Ask open coaching questions to develop them as you need them to be more independent. If things go wrong, resist the temptation for multiple video calls. If there are capability issues address the problem and indicate standards and timescales for improvement (this should be given in writing after discussion) – however, multiple video calls – micromanagement will only make things worse.
When dealing with a group of employees allow a free flow of conversation without mute buttons when you need a brainstorm or a more natural discussion. Have a dashboard to pull together the objectives and overall goal you are trying to reach. Have a colour or an icon for each team member’s contribution to show their identity.Using virtual whiteboards should help those with the need for getting practical. Take your laptop into different areas of your home e.g.the garden, to vary the scene. Have short coffee breaks during the meeting where people can mute their microphone and turn off their camera. Activate chat rooms to encourage socialising in smaller groups.
The virtual world is challenging as a leader as we need to ensure we don’t overload and stress our people. But at the same time we need them to step up and meet stretching targets. Balancing the virtual and the human input is crucial to achieve this. Remember we are all just people trying to communicate on what’s becoming a different sort of planet.