Overcoming the Challenges of Staying Connected


Overcoming the Challenges of Staying Connected

Created: Thursday, February 25, 2021 posted by at 9:30 am

Updated: at


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By Jean Gamester, Toastmasters International

We’re not out of the woods yet, but the announcement of plans to ease lockdown restrictions means there is reason to be hopeful that before long our lives will more closely resemble our pre-pandemic existence. However, for those of us fortunate enough to continue working through the covid restrictions by creating a workspace at home, nothing is going to change any time soon.

The working from home experience has not been the same for everyone, with some hating the isolation, and others seeing huge productivity boosts [i].  A KPMG survey last year suggested that 64% of workers preferred the flexibility of remote working [ii]. The extra free time and cash saved by eliminating the daily commute has been a welcome bonus for many, but that same KPMG survey found that a third of workers felt their ability to collaborate had fallen. And while our focus has been on Covid, a new malaise has crept in: Zoom Fatigue [iii].

Challenges of Staying Connected

Challenges of Staying Connected

Traveling to client sites has been replaced by screen time. Video conferencing software suppliers have enjoyed a boom and our computer monitors are the sole venues for team meetings, feedback sessions, conferences, webinars, even team-building pop quizzes. Considering our restricted social lives has seen an increase in streaming service subscribers (according to Ofcom’s Media Nations 2020 study, viewing figures for video streaming is up more than 70% in 2019), it is no surprise that a life lived digitally may have shed a little sheen.

Here are three ways to bring back some of that old normal:

1. Greeting to connect

Meetings in our pre-covid real world involved similar and familiar pre-event social dances: waved hellos, beverages chosen, seats taken, notebooks (digital or old school) laid out. And all accompanied by chats about the weather, gossip, and holiday plans. Rarely was anything said that would stop the presses, but that was not the point. The goal was connection. We took the social temperature and warmed up our communication skills.

Recreating this greeting space is important for any remote meeting. Moving straight to the business may feel efficient, but it risks being counterproductive. When planning your online meeting, schedule some social time at the start. Open your virtual door early—perhaps by fifteen minutes—and allow those attending to flex their small-talk skills by commenting on the weather, lockdowns, and box-set binge recommendations. By the time you hit your formal start time everyone will be relaxed, comfortable, and ready to get down to business.

2. Seeing and being seen

In a real room, communication involves a variety of verbal and nonverbal cues. They help create a full picture: we get a better idea of when it is appropriate for us to make a contribution, how long our contribution should be, whether to take a serious or light-hearted tone or how much we should lean into data or jargon. We look out for physical cues, such as someone leaning forward, or eye contact signaling an imminent interjection, or folded arms marking resistance or disagreement. But reading the room is much harder when there’s more than one room and you can see just a small rectangle of each.

The job of a chair is to ensure everyone has a voice. Some people can fall into the trap of treating video conferencing like watching television, becoming passive viewers. Your online meeting should be an interactive experience for everyone.

Encourage everyone to keep their video on throughout the session. That way you can keep an eye on facial expressions, identifying those keen to speak, those holding back, and those needing more information. You can then rein in, encourage or clarify as appropriate.

3. Really being present

One of the greatest potential pitfalls of virtual meetings while working at home is the unexpected interruption, which can take many forms, from a Sainsbury delivery arriving early to a cat on a keyboard. But some forward planning can reduce the likelihood of being tripped up by these: for example, pin a note on your front door, and sequester your pet in a different room, or the garden.

However, viral-clip moments are not the most common distractions. In a real-life meeting, checking Instagram is an obvious no-no, so don’t do it in a virtual meeting. It may be tempting to minimize your meeting app and check emails, but unless you need some relevant information, resist the urge to multitask.

Before starting or joining a meeting, close down everything on your computer except your meeting app and any documents you will need to reference or share. Turning your phone off is a good idea, but if you find that difficult, turn down the sound and put the phone out of sight and screen-side down.

If you find yourself zoning out or becoming fidgety, take a deep breath, stretch, take a sip of tea or water, and refocus. To get the best from a virtual meeting you need to make an extra effort to be present.

Connection is the key

Interacting in person is how we have been used to communicating since we were children, but face to face works differently when monitors are involved. Connecting will always be a core business skill, we just need to adapt, adjust and mitigate to get the most from our virtual collaborations.


Jean Gamester

Jean Gamester
  
Jean Gamester is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland.

Members follow a structured educational program to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit Toastmasters International. You can follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.

Footnotes

[i] New Survey Shows 47% Increase In Productivity: 3 Things You Must Do When Working From Home

[ii] COVID-19: Reality of work and the virtual workforce

[iii] Zoom Fatigue study from London South Bank University – Personnel Today

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post or content are those of the authors or the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company.




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