17 September 2020
We’ve gone back to being behind the screens. It was nice to see each other in person for a bit last summer, keeping our social distancing and discovering the strange combination of “sunglasses and mask”. While we wait for companies to give us guidance on how, when and how much we can see colleagues and clients again, we’ve gone back to communication via videoconferencing. Some habits were already well formed, and lots of companies have released ettiquette guidelines for online meetings. But just like the invention of emails 20 years ago, it’s difficult for us all to agree on a common way of behaving on video.
It would be useful to answer some questions though. It would make our meetings more efficient and maintain our connections while we continue to work in this way for a little longer. Do we still remember how important relationships are for productivity, our wellbeing and business? And do we remember that relationships are there to facilitate meetings and exchanges? And in these exchanges we express just 7% of what we’re saying using words. Non verbal communication (linked to body language and facial expressions) influences 55%, and paraverbal communication (tone, volume, rhythm of the voice, etc.) influences 38%? How many of these behaviors remain when we meet online?
Let’s think about breaks. When we’re in the same room as other people, we recharge our thoughts, even if we’re feeling tired or reflective. Only the people in the room have the ability to sense when the right time is to break the silence or leave the other people space to think.
What happens to moments of reflection when we meet online? Or did we think that those spaces were unneccessary?
Let’s think about interruptions. In Italian culture, we’re constantly interrupting each other, building concepts off the back of each other. But it’s really difficult to do when you’re in front of a screen, because it requires us to understand and layer our voices over each other. Online, this can seem excessive and disrespectful.
But interruptions can contribute to the collective creative process.
We don’t want to keep putting digital down by going through a long list of shortcomings. It’s a precious tool that we should have learned to use a long time ago. But we can be more aware of our interactions online. For example, what should we do with the camera: keep it on or switch it off?
What best mirrors “normal human interactions”? Surely seeing each other: in a physical meeting, we’d see each other the whole time.
But we don’t look at each other all the time. We exchange direct eye contact and then look elsewhere, giving us a margin of freedom. Usually we look at the person that’s talking, then maybe we make notes or scroll on our computer. We might look at our phones or look at other people. When we have the camera on, it’s difficult to know where to look, and we know that others can’t see what or who we’re looking at. Visible contact is impossible. Looking at a screen without moving for 30 or 60 minutes is unnecessarily tiring. Lots of people switch the camera off, and their presence becomes a circle with their initials or a photo of their last holiday. Not much remains of their presence, while others who feel more comfortable on camera could seem stronger and more effective.
If this remains the main method of communication for any longer, our behaviors and boundaries could make the difference in our relationships with others. It’s about establishing “digital relational skills“, or digital soft skills, recognizing, learning and capitalizing on our wellbeing and productivity at work.
This article was written by our CEO, Riccarda Zezza, and originally published on Alley Oop, Il Sole 24 Ore. To read the original article in Italian, click here.