Well, this is an interesting place we find ourselves in. At the beginning of the year, the majority of us communicated whilst together or via the phone or email. We watched people communicating through web conferencing software and many said: “well it seems to work but where would we hold these meetings from and what if it breaks down?” It was a voyage into the unknown, with little known about the hazards.
Look how we have advanced in a few months
Move forwards to today and web conferencing has become the essential tool. We don’t just use it at work, we use it with family and friends. My wife is transitioning to attending her Zumba® classes through web conferencing and even my “Friday night out” with the boys, has turned to a “Friday night in” with them through the same systems. Some brands have appeared out of nowhere to be now so recognised, that they have become part of the language… for example “I’ll Zoom you” is something I often find myself saying.
Is it too early to put up the socially distanced bunting?
So, this is great news. We, as the human race, can function effectively without meeting each other every day, travelling continents and using hotels. Is this the ultimate solution? Well, it certainly has potential and could reduce the majority of business travel in the future but there are some limitations. For example, hugging your screen is just not as comforting as hugging a family member. More seriously, another new conversation has entered the world; Web conferencing fatigue. People are reporting that they feel more tired working with these systems and, in some way more stressed. Reports are appearing all over the world about this phenomenon, so why does this problem exist and how can we reduce it?
Why is web conferencing more fatiguing?
To answer this question, we need to consider how we communicate, specifically when we are face-to-face. We don’t have space to go into the full understanding of Mehrabian Theory, so apologies this is a very top-level explanation, however, it effectively states that when we communicate a message with emotional content, 55% of the message is communicated via body language, with 38% from our tone and the remaining 7% being our words. You will know from experiences that you have had in the past, that somehow you can tell when many people are, shall we say, fibbing. It comes from their body language, in particular, which is often in contrast to their words. For example, someone saying “I feel confident…” whilst staring at their feet.
When we are with someone, we can generally see their whole, or at least most, of their body and are able to focus on the details of their face, as well as the rest of their body. On-line, it is a different situation. The picture is not always sharp or fully focused on the areas you need to see, lighting makes the image worse and it can also be a lot smaller than usual, focused on just the face. You may not realise it, but your mind is working a lot harder to judge the other person’s emotions. Research shows that part of your mind is even questioning what it is seeing. It is trying to work out why you feel like you are with the other person, but you are not. Of course, then there’s the concern that the system might break down at any moment or someone’s connection has problems and you start missing words. You are focused on trying to read the body language, manage your internet connection and trying to listen intensely to what the other person is saying. No wonder you find it wearing!
Right, so we should move back to more telephone calls and emails?
Well, that’s what some highly-rated professionals are saying. I’m no Psychologist but if there is one thing our learning and development research has taught me; it is that face-to-face conversations, either in person or on-line, are imperative. The transfer of information through telephone loses the visual checks that you have to ensure that the person receiving the data truly understands what they are being told. Written communication, whilst ensuring information is accurate, lacks tonality and, therefore, can be misunderstood – it is still a great support tool though, for agreeing complicated or important actions following face-to-face communication.
What can we do?
Here are some tips to reduce the impact on yourself:
- Breaks are essential – remember that when you are in work or meeting with clients, you normally get some “downtime” to prepare beforehand or review afterwards, so ensure, as far as you can, that you give yourself a proper break between meetings.
- Comfort is critical – the camera should be at eye level and arrange the people you are speaking with to be as close to the camera as possible, as you need to look at the camera regularly, providing the resemblance of eye contact. Again, this will reduce stress on you as you go through the meeting.
- Know the system you are using – there are many different video conferencing systems out there and they all behave differently. If you are going to be using a system that is new to you, then test it with a friend/colleague beforehand to understand how it works. When I first started using these systems, I found this the best way to learn and the other person learnt a lot too.
- Agendas are even more essential – provide or request an agenda before the meeting so that you (and the others involved) know what preparation is needed.
- Bitesize is best – if there is a lot to discuss, break the meeting into smaller meetings focused on each point, with breaks every 45 minutes to 1.5 hours at most.
- Be prepared – before you go on a conference, make sure you know what messages you want to get across and have any support data ready at hand. Also make sure that you have something to make notes with and refreshments (sorry, no-one else is going to supply them). Hopefully, you are in a place where you won’t be disturbed but if you are concerned, make sure those around you know not to disturb you. My kids made “Do Not Disturb” signs for me… and now have them pinned on their own doors when doing schoolwork.
- Be there! Turn every communication system you have to silent or, better still, off. Focus on the meeting and nothing else. It is too easy to sit in meetings and wander onto emails when a new one appears, so remove the temptation.
- Relax – allow yourself to acknowledge that you can’t read as much from body language when on a video conference, but the next points will help you bridge this gap.
- Question – if you miss something or aren’t sure, it is even more critical that you ask the question.
- Keep to the point – yes, you can have some general chat when you begin but people lose attention quicker on the web than they do in a room so focus in on the objectives of the conference.
- Seek regular responses – it pays to not continuously talk for too long but to get others to engage more regularly, even if it is seeking feedback on what you just said. It is a quick way of maintaining attention.
- Summarise – before closing the call, summarise all agreements and actions, clearly stating who is responsible. If it is an important meeting that I am running, I will often ask someone to take minutes, so that I can focus on what needs to be done.
- Confirm – send out the minutes of the meeting, requesting everyone double-checks their actions and confirm they are correct. For really important actions with a team member, I will often ask them to send me a summary of the actions they have agreed so that I can be sure we have the same understanding.
There’s only one you
Finally, please remember this age-old adage; your working day is a marathon, not a series of sprints, so manage your energy through the day. If there is a time in the day when your performance drops, then try to avoid having meetings during this time, as it will increase the stress you feel. There is only one you, which means you need to look after yourself so that you can be at your best for every meeting.
I hope you find these tips useful. The promised blog “Constructive Feedback” will follow. In the meantime, if you have any constructive feedback about this or any of the other blogs, please let us know. We would love to hear from you.
If you would like to know more about which video conferencing system to use, then join us on our free session “Get Started on Web Conferencing” on the 11th June, as André interviews David Thornton from Triumph Technologies on what options are available, with a focus on Zoom and Teams. They will move onto discussing the benefits and limitations of both systems, along with the impact on your business’ and your clients’ security. Whether you just want to know more about the equipment required to use the systems or understand how to access some of each system’s more advanced features, there will be something to learn from the session.
Book a free discovery call with our team to see what measures you can put in place to support the wellbeing of your remote teams. Contact us now.
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