We’re sitting in the middle of a contradiction in our working lives: one where we seem to savour disconnection yet can’t suppress our biological yearning for human interaction.
Working remotely makes sense from many perspectives – we’ve learnt that there’s a real danger of losing productivity and it’s not because our people are lazy or slacking it’s the lack of connection that has become the very real and present danger, resulting in declining mental health amongst employees.
Do we really need research-based evidence from academics to appreciate the value of positive feedback loops and social interaction? If you do, there’s plenty that’s been published. As a leader, however, you know this – if not by instinct, then by some hard-learnt HR lessons.
Yesterday I had a poignant moment with a client, who identified working in isolation as a major contributor to his loneliness. “Virtual meetings are not the same, there’s no real connection”. He’s right. We’ve been wired for connection and Zoom (and other virtual gathering apps) are not designed to make anyone feel appreciated or acknowledged: this is up to us.
Consider how many people switch their cameras off in meetings. How we’ve reinterpreted professionalism as getting to the point and moving on; how eye contact, (which might I add IS possible), is avoided at all costs; how hand signals like clapping or acknowledging a colleague or peer is seen as cheesy – or uncalled for; how chat rooms are closed to prevent “unnecessary” time wasted on “unimportant” (soft) topics. Recognise all these signs?
As a leader you have the power, the right – and the responsibility – to change this. Irrespective of whether you’re a leader or meeting host, start the conversation and re-introduce connection. It’s time to take control of the ‘disconnect’ – it may mean gently (or firmly) encouraging others to follow suit, but it’s worth it – especially if you’re in for the long haul with valued employees and colleagues.
As a coach, it is vital that we are completely present for our clients. We are taught how to ensure that the person talking to us feels comfortable, safe and heard. Here are some tips on how to do this (which I’ve adapted slightly to accommodate online interaction):
- Eye Contact – in the case of an online meeting, keep your eyes directed at one space, as if you’re looking into their eyes. Do not let your eyes wander – we all know you’re reading emails when this happens.
- Don’t interrupt – what’s great about online meeting spaces is that the great interruption of the past can be limited by the push of a button. Before you put your digital hand up or press unmute – ask yourself if they’re done (irrespective of your need to react to their content)
- Nod and lean in if you can – It’s noticed and is affirming for the speaker.
- Listen without being distracted – You know how much you hate it when your child, partner or friend looks at their phones while you’re talking. Why do it to a colleague?
- Practice self-awareness – Digital meetings allow you the time and space to really practice listening without judgement.
- Open up – your body that is – If you’re the speaker and your body language is closed with your shoulders rolled forward, you’re limiting your capacity to communicate, even breathe. (We all know that shoulder back, chin up, makes us feel more confident and be seen as more authoritative)
- Make a list of what has annoyed you during online meetings over the past year – share them with peers and colleagues – come to an agreement which is acceptable and which is not.
This isn’t just about making people feel OK. In Nancy Kline’s On Transformative Listening, she says. “In the quiet presence of your attention, respect and ease, important things can happen. Fresh ideas can emerge; confusion can dissipate; painful feelings can subside; creativity can explode”.
I bet there’s nothing on that list that you wouldn’t want to nurture in your business. So go on- re-connect: with intent.