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Three ways to keep virtual connections real

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by Startacus Admin

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Jean Gamester from Toastmasters International shares her tips on bringing back some of that old normal and staying fabulously virtually connected

/photo-1590615370581-265ae19a053b.With lockdown easing plans being announced, many of us are hopeful that it may not be too long before our lives more closely resemble our pre-pandemic existence. There is still a way to go though, and that means for those of us who have been fortunate enough to continue working through the pandemic by setting up an office at home, nothing will change for some time. 

Home working experiences have ranged wildly, with some hating the isolation, and others acquiring huge productivity boosts. According to a KPMG survey last year, 64% of workers preferred the flexibility of remote working. Plus, no commute means bonus time and saved cash. However, that same KPMG survey found that a third of workers felt their ability to collaborate had fallen. And the pandemic has sneaked in a new malady: Zoom Fatigue.

If work used to involve a great deal of travel to client sites, connecting with clients now involves a screen. Computer monitors are also portals for team meetings, feedback sessions, conferences, webinars, even team-building pop quizzes. Factor in the large numbers of us using subscription streaming services as social life replacements (according to Ofcom’s Media Nations 2020 study, viewing figures for video streaming is up more than 70% on 2019), it is no surprise that a life lived digitally may be losing some lustre. 

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

 1. Greeting to connect

photo-1586985564150-11ee04838034.Meetings in our pre-covid real world involved similar and familiar pre-event social ballets: hellos waved, coats and jackets hung up, coffees and teas made, seats chosen (or moved), pens and notebooks laid out. And all accompanied by chats about weather (obligatory), Brexit (inevitable), and children (optional). Rarely was anything said that shook anyone’s world, but that was not the point. Connection was the goal. We were taking the social temperature. And we were limbering up our communication skills. 

When we are meeting remotely, it is important to recreate this greeting space; it may seem efficient to move straight to business, but how many successful sportspeople eschew warm-ups? When planning your online meeting, schedule some social time at the start. Open your virtual door early—ten or fifteen minutes will do—and allow those attending to flex their small-talk skills: the weather (still mandatory); lockdowns (unavoidable); children (if you must); box-set binge recommendations (a civic duty). 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, giving a better idea of when there’s an appropriate moment for us to make a contribution, how long that contribution should be, whether our tone should be sober or light-hearted, or how data or jargon heavy we should be. We look out for physical cues, such as someone leaning forward, or eye contact signalling 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.    

If you are chairing, ensure everyone has a voice. Some people can fall into the trap of treating video conferencing like watching television: they become passive viewers. Make sure your online meeting is an interactive experience for everyone. 

photo-1609751352001-25b60439239cInternet connections permitting, encourage everyone to keep their video on throughout the session. That way you can keep tabs on facial expressions. You will be able to identify those burning to speak, those holding back and those needing more information, and you can rein in, encourage or clarify as appropriate. 

3. Really being present

Professor Robert Kelly’s kids gatecrashing his BBC interview a few years ago gave us an early warning of one of the greatest potential pitfalls of virtual meetings while working at home. The unexpected interruption can take many forms, from a Tesco delivery arriving early to a cat on a keyboard. But some forward planning can reduce the likelihood of falling foul to 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 Twitter or Facebook is an obvious no-no, so don’t do it in a virtual meeting. It may be tempting to minimise your meeting app and check your email inbox, but unless you need some relevant information, resist Outlook’s allure. And during a video conferencing session, Google is not your friend.  

Before 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 put in extra effort into being present.

Connection is the key

Since we were children, we have been trained to interact in person. Face to face works differently on screen, but there are ways to adapt our social training and ways to mitigate the downsides of virtual collaboration. Connecting will always be a core business skill, even if that connection is facilitated by ones and zeros. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jean Gamester 2019.jJean 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 programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org

 


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Published on: 25th February 2021

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