Myths and Tips for Virtual Working
Author: Simon Tarver
Warning: the opinions presented in this article are not supported by scientific evidence. It is simply the musings and observations of a lifelong ‘virtual' learner and facilitator (now if I can just find the reaction icon for ‘winking face’).
One outcome of the virtual world we’ve all been immersed in over the last 2 years is that many of us are social animals. We still want to have some psychological connection with the people on the other end of the call or the other side of the screen. Like it or not, maybe you’ve surprised yourself with how you’ve adapted; we have all become quicker, more comfortable and confident with online meetings and training. There were times when some behaviours or activities were just not acceptable, and our online behaviour's psychology was being questioned and challenged.
So what are some of the lessons I’ve learnt that I can share with you?
Here are just some of the rules, behaviours, fun things and myths that I’ve collected over the last 2 years of hybrid/remote/virtual working, and anything else between:
- What's behind you? – does it really matter what is behind you during a call? Well, really, no. It doesn't matter, although it says a lot about who you are. It should be simple and professional because it is one of the only ways people can make a connection with you. It's your brand or the image you are trying to portray of yourself. Tip: Less is more; put up a temporary curtain or maybe a nice picture if it works for you.
- To blur or not to blur – well, this is connected to point 1. We all tried the corporate wallpaper or one of the stock images for a while. Then it became annoying if you moved as part of your head would vanish or no-one could read the piece of paper you were holding up. Tip: Turn them off. Again, sometimes less is just more.
- How tall are you? – I love this one. Apparently, if you have never met the person on the other end of an online video call, then the person on the other end has the impression that you are taller than you are. For instance, I am coaching a few people online, and when I met them face to face a few months ago, they said "oh, I thought you were 6ft 2?" Well, I'm not. I'm 5ft 8. This is due to the fact that we create a mental impression of that person and that becomes our reality. Tip: Hum...never judge a book by its zoom image?
- 75% of the time, you spend looking at yourself – before the pandemic, we used to present, meet and talk without looking at ourselves. Now we have a video mirror of ourselves which has made us more self-conscious; so much so that it can sometimes take up a lot of our consciousness. It is one of the reasons we sometimes stumble in our thought process. Tip: On most online platforms, you can now hide your own image from your self but be online to others. You can also move your gallery in line with your camera to improve eye contact.
- Online meeting fatigue – do you get to the end of the day and feel completely drained? Well, this could well be to do with the fact that when we are on a video call, the people's faces on the call are less than 2 feet away from your face. In our brains, this puts them inside our personal space. In some cultures or for people who lack confidence, this distance can be more or less. When someone comes into our personal space, this causes the amygdalar part of our brains to think it is in fight or flight, producing a rush of endorphins. Over a working day this can be exhausting, hence why we get to the end of the day so tired. Tip: Set your meetings to be only 50 mins long to give your mind time to relax, reset or even go for a walk.
- Turn-taking – one of the first lessons we learn at preschool is to take turns. I speak – you listen – you respond – I listen. Isn't that how it is meant to go? For some reason, that just goes straight out the window and we talk over the top of each other. It is an even bigger problem with larger groups. If you want to engage in conversation, the smaller the group, the better. Tip: Guess what? Less is more. Work in smaller groups.
- Background noise – most modern laptops or video cameras have directional mics on them and don't pick up background noise… or do they? Like the dog barking, the toilet flushing next door, the children shouting while playing on their games consoles. This comes down to the tone of the meeting and just how professional you need to be. Tip: You could always resort to bribing the children or the dog. Otherwise invest in some heavy soundproofing. Seriously, just mute and unmute.
- To answer or to leave it – working from home has been great for us when we need to arrange home deliveries or to have the neighbours just pop round to say hello. But we have become addicted to leaving a meeting to 'Just answer to door' 'get that Amazon delivery'. Which is more important? If you are on a one to one and the person is ok with you just answering, then fair enough, but if this is an important meeting, well.. I'll leave this one here. Tip: If you can use the safe space option for deliveries or plan for them to come at a different time. And of course, you could ignore the neighbours; they will still like you.
- To wave or to just drop off–have you noticed how it has become a habit now to wave as we leave a zoom call or put your thumb up. What was wrong with just leaving the call? I will go back to the point about your own personal brand. Remember that the only measure people have of you is your online persona and, therefore, what do you want to be known for? Okay, I probably wouldn’t do it if I left a face-to-face meeting, but online, I like to wave. Tip: Be you