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Whilst “they” say 90% of communication is non-verbal, and the science says otherwise, there’s no doubt at the moment we’re all spending far more time on video calls than previously.
There are plenty of articles (and indeed research papers) exploring the benefits of seeing someone’s face when you’re having a conversation, but equally many of us are finding the endless stream of streaming becoming tiring, and none of the problems of stepping on each other speaking, people being on mute, or even the occasional naked participant or visit to the toilet, seem to be going away. For those who might be more introverted, video calls can create anxiety, and getting your ideas across is often confidence-denting at the best of times, yet alone when half the room is buffering.
Technology can be amazing, but it always comes down to how much consideration you put in, to how well it will work for you and your needs. Here are seven suggestions for helping reduce the stress and improve the communication within video calls.
Don’t jump straight into a call. Give yourself some time before the meeting to sit down, get ready, and mentally prepare for the conversation you’re about to have. Even just five minutes of sitting before others arrive can help you switch the task ahead and be focused on what is about to be discussed.
Agree who will be hosting the call, and their role to directing the conversation. Just like a talk-show host might, they give people equal time and direct who should be responding to conversations. Let the facilitator create some techniques for how people can interject, but find methods that don’t just consist of talking over someone else - use the tools to “raise your hand” or simple sign language to suggest “agree / disagree / I’d like to speak” etc.
Most meetings often start off with a little chat between participants before work commences, but this can be a little harder over video, or take even longer as the entire group is given space to share. Decide ahead of time if you want to be more formal or flexible in the way in which the tone of the session is being held. It’s really important to have the social interaction element, but can be frustrating if you’re trying to get on with work too.
The ‘mosaic’ mode where you can see all speakers at once is great for seeing your team, but hugely distracting and doesn’t encourage focus. You’d not normally be staring at the reactions of everyone else in the room, but over video this happens naturally. Switch to “speaker mode” where you’re watching the current person speaking.
Not everyone finds it easy to speak up, so find ways of creating space for everyone to have their time to share - rather than just giving airtime to the most noisy voices. Likewise, not everyone will find it comfortable to speak in the moment, so encourage people to share ideas before the meeting, and send follow-up suggestions through other channels.
In the same way being sat on your laptop in a physical meeting can be disrespectful and distracting - the same is even more true on video. Try to avoid switching to other applications, checking your phone, muting yourself and having other conversations. But also, be mindful that whilst we’re at home, there are other things happening behind the monitor, childcare, other housemates, and a good level of stress - so recognise that people are juggling lots of emotional balls right now.
Give people a break, and don’t turn every conversation into video. Lots of things can be dealt with over an email, a call might be more appropriate, or indeed - is a group discussion even required? Be clear on the purpose and intent of the meeting, and question what format and structure is best.
It doesn’t look like we’re not going to be returning to our offices for a few weeks yet, and even then, video calls aren’t going to go away. We all need to take time to reflect upon what tools and techniques we’ve adopted in recent weeks, and actively ask whether we’re using them in the best possible way, so we can redesign working well together - regardless of where we’re sat.
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