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Four Healthy Communication Habits For Virtual Meetings

Usage of video meeting apps is skyrocketing; Zoom reported a 369% increase in sales for quarter four of 2020 alone. According to a recent Upwork survey (via CNBC), one in four Americans is expected to be working remotely by 2025, a staggering 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels. Many of us are getting used to virtual meetings as the norm rather than the exception in our work lives.

Keeping It Real

This carries with it the real concern that the more we meet in virtual settings, the less “real” our communications become. I’ve found that meaningful in-person interactions can be big engagement motivators at work, and 2010 Gallup research found that social time can contribute to lower stress levels. It also fulfills the intrinsic psychological needs we all have.

I believe that personal experience can lose fidelity when we’re interacting via screens behind layers of technology. “Zoom fatigue” and “Zoom burnout” are becoming common terms (although the symptoms are not limited to just the Zoom platform), and some offices are even doing self-care initiatives like “Zoom-free Fridays” to balance this new dynamic of work and life.

Four Healthy Communication Habits For Virtual Meetings

Even though we may be temporarily dependent on virtual meetings to get business done, that doesn’t mean we need to become mere avatars of ourselves while we do it. I’ve found that four habits can help anyone generate a higher-fidelity presence in virtual meetings, greatly offsetting the communication penalties, providing a more meaningful virtual connection, and making them more worthy of everyone’s time and energy:

  1. Note Mental Distractions

It can be much easier to find reasons to check out or become distracted over the course of a virtual conversation. This is where the meditative practice of noting can be useful. Noting is an awareness exercise that allows you to train your mind to realize when it becomes distracted and refocus on remaining present.

Practice recognizing when you’ve “gone away” mentally during virtual meetings, note the distraction in your head and refocus. For me, this simple exercise works the right muscles for cultivating an attentive and engaging virtual presence. The goal isn’t to resist or “defeat” distractions — it’s to embrace them as a reality of virtual meetings, manage them effectively and reduce the duration of each incident.

  1. Practice Virtual Etiquette

By now, all of us have either experienced the perils of poor virtual etiquette or seen them on the internet. Admittedly, it’s not the worst thing to be more casual than usual or to have some fun every now and again in a meeting — a brief diversion to have a laugh can be good for morale.

Even though remote work may have loosened office standards for things like shaving, haircuts and sweatpants, new standards have emerged for things like muting audio and video to deal with personal interruptions and using in-room chats considerately. This Virtual Meeting Etiquette Guide published on Entrepreneur is a great place to start.

  1. Set An Engaging Virtual Stage

Transmission quality, backgrounds and on-screen environments can all contribute to a stronger virtual presence. A low-resolution image or spotty audio can make all the difference in keeping your audience from remaining engaged. The Washington Post published an excellent piece recently that shares some pro tips on equipment.

Here are some quick pointers: Proper lighting is an often-overlooked element that can add lots of polish to your screen persona. Also, consider if your background is busy or distracting. Using a subtle or neutral virtual background creates a clean image in which you’re the focus. You should also be able to freely use your hands to gesture and be more engaging, so using a laptop or PC setup is preferable to a phone.

  1. Listen More Actively

Even good listeners can benefit from upping their game in a virtual meeting. You might have heard of active listening before; it’s the practice of fully concentrating, understanding and responding when someone is speaking to you as opposed to just being a passive audience.

In a virtual setting, it’s a good idea to listen, observe, pause and give the speaker more attention than you typically would in person to counteract the lack of physical presence. Leaning in, nodding and other visual cues can affirm the speaker’s presence and help keep the listener connected to the conversation.

The Hybrid Office

Remote work is likely not going away once business as usual resumes after the pandemic. Several companies are planning on making it a permanent addition to their culture. Industry leaders like Salesforce are planning to shrink their office footprint, and some small- to medium-sized businesses saw increases in their employees’ life satisfaction after the big shift, according to 2020 research from Intermedia (via Small Business Trends). Even when people are back in the office, there will likely be at least one or two people tuning in remotely. This is what some have dubbed the “hybrid office.” Soon, attending virtual meetings may become normal, but how we communicate will always matter — regardless of the channel we use to do so. Working remotely doesn’t mean we can’t still connect on a very real level.

By Cord Himelstein, first published at https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2021/05/05/four-healthy-communication-habits-for-virtual-meetings/?sh=2e5235a62201 May 5, 2021