Working from home is one thing, but managing a team or leading a project can be another entirely. With the way we communicate changing drastically and almost immediately, most businesses around the world have found success with video calls. However, after a year of Zoom calls and Google Hangouts, it’s safe to say that video conferencing is fatiguing.
Our brains can only consciously process so much information at once, due to our limited working memory. Videoconferencing itself requires huge amounts of this conscious capacity, and often results in fatigue. But what else about video conferencing do we need to keep in mind as leaders? Louis Island the CEO at Active & Thriving helps us to understand more.
We miss out on a lot of non-verbal communication
Our emotions and ideas are mostly communicated through nonverbal signals like posture, hand gestures, distance, body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. All of these elements are restricted, hidden, or even distorted in video conferencing. In a face-to-face meeting, we process these cues automatically and are still able to listen to the speaker at the same time. However, on a video chat, we need to work harder to process nonverbal cues. Paying more attention consumes more energy, thus leading to fatigue onset much quicker.
A lack of chit-chat
When studying how two people are connected to each other, network scientists will use the term multiplex — or conversely, uniplex — to refer to the depth and strength of their connection. So if you know someone only from work, that’s a uniplex tie. But if you know someone from work, the gym, and the school your children attend, that’s a multiplex tie. Research shows that we tend to seek out and prefer relationships built on multiplex connections. We build a deeper relationship faster with people with whom we can find multiplexity. These relationships are richer, more trusting and are overall longer lasting. In-person, we often meet people on the way to a meeting to catch up on issues, or discuss our views before going in. Working from home dramatically reduces our capacity to have these informal discussions, and the opportunity to transition our connections from uniplex to multiplex.
What to do about it all?
This is business, but not business as usual. As a leader, you need to understand your team and recognise fatigue before it becomes a concern. Here are our top five tips for leading from home in this new world, so that you can best support your team.
Find meaningful ways to check-in with the people on your team
Checking in on an employee’s needs is all about understanding their context and how you can support them in it.
- How can I best support you right now?
- What kind of flexibility would help you right now?
- What has surprised you about working from home?
- What are you doing to support your own wellbeing right now? How can I support that?
Emotional check-ins have to go deeper than “how are you”, because let’s be real – no one really answers that question honestly.
Try these instead:
- What’s changed for you today?
- What have you learned about yourself or your family this week?
- What are your top three emotions this week?
Don’t ignore the office chatroom
It is almost inevitable that several video rooms or Whatsapp groups have been created within your organisation. This is an opportunity for you to open up a little about yourself and lead by example. Normalise interoffice chit-chat via different tools to build and strengthen your relationships. This is particularly critical for any staff members that are new to your team. Consider using these channels to express your own vulnerabilities. Leadership is about setting expectations; if you don’t let your guard down, why should you expect anyone else to either?
Connection doesn’t always have to be a video meeting
Here are some things you can do to build team connection without adding yet another video invite:
- Establish a virtual exercise or hobby group to connect employees with common interests
- Share your favourite healthy recipes or meet virtually for lunch instead of a work meeting
- Play a game that promotes teamwork or collaboration
- Try adding mindfulness activities into meetings
Know the mental health resources available to your team
Know what resources you have available through your organisation for your employees. Understand what they provide and how to connect your employees with what they might need. Many organisations have had health and wellness programs lying dormant for years – with a bit of digging, you may find some valuable wellness opportunities for your staff to pursue within the company.
Take care of yourself
Finally, as a leader, your team is looking to you to take care of them by providing guidance, reassurance and stability. This can be exhausting. So who is taking care of you? Make sure you’re getting what you require and fulfilling your own needs so that you too can stay resilient through this time.