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Virtual meetings key to avoiding isolation at home

Gina London


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 As we resign ourselves to settling into this new physically isolated, remote world, some lessons are beginning to emerge.

As we resign ourselves to settling into this new physically isolated, remote world, some lessons are beginning to emerge.

As we resign ourselves to settling into this new physically isolated, remote world, some lessons are beginning to emerge.

It was almost five o'clock last Friday evening. The employees were gathering to take part in a team happy hour. My coaching client, a manager of a unit for a multinational company, had painstakingly organised it. He arranged for everyone's beverage of choice to be on hand.

He asked a colleague to act as DJ by collecting everyone's favourite tune to be played during the party.

At the appointed time, my client raised his glass and gave a toast. In turn, everyone else raised their own glasses, bottles or cans and the party began. Virtually, of course.

This party was designed to celebrate another week of remote working. The face of each smiling participant created a colourful mosaic of images on a single screen.

As he told me during our coaching call: "We're experiencing something no one has experienced before. The situation is changing rapidly."

It's changing and it's lingering. As we resign ourselves to settling into this new physically isolated, remote world, some lessons are beginning to emerge.

1 We can become more efficient

John Riordan, Shopify's director of support for its global remote teams, has been overseeing remote workers for years.

He has watched employees evolve from remote rookies - where many of us may be at this point - into experienced veterans.

"It can save so much time to be fully remote," John told me. "For instance, I set meetings purposefully. If I'm in an office environment, it's rare to arrange a meeting with somebody for 10 minutes. Imagine the time cost of booking a room, going to the room, chit-chatting in the room.

"All that 'buffer time' takes too much valuable real time. All the people I know who work remotely live by the minute segment, instead of the five-minute segment. Remote working is much more effective."

Considering that many of us are working from home while our children and partners are also in the house with us, finding ways to do more in less time is extremely important.

A desire to be efficient should not clash with a desire to be empathetic.

As my happy hour manager-client said to me: "Many of us may have worked from home remotely for a day or two, but now we are asking teams to consider this as indefinite. Our message must be to use video conferences as a way to promote human connections and empathy."

I spoke with Felicity McCarthy, the founder of Spark Digital Marketing, for more perspective on the matter.

She has been providing virtual training for many years and points out that video conferencing has been around for more than two decades.

She adds: "But until now, it has been an irregular and mixed feature. Audio conference calls were still more the norm and when companies used video, it would often be to combine the people actually in the meeting room with two or three others dialling in. Now, everyone is in the virtual room."

2 Be seen in the virtual room

That's why I say, if you're going to be in the virtual room, be in the virtual room.

It's no longer OK to turn your video off just because you're not the presenter. Felicity and I agree that companies should oblige team members to keep their cameras on.

By way of example, I offer up the first virtual class that the brave economics masters student we host at our home attended this past week. (She is from India, but has opted to self-isolate with us here in Dublin.)

The lecturer turned her camera on, but did not require the same of her students.

This prompted jokes from the class, many noting that since the lesson was in the morning, they hadn't bothered to get out of bed, let alone get dressed.

For the record, our awesome student was dressed and seated at our dining room table!

The point is: turn up and turn on. Being on camera compels you to suit up and keep engaged with the others in the meeting.

3 Encourage people to be human

Another feature of video conferencing while remote working is that it brings your work colleagues into your personal space.

While you might have set up a dedicated office space in your home, that's no guarantee your pet or your children (who are all at home and likely incessantly demanding something if they're anything like my daughter) will stay outside the door.

We all likely still chuckle remembering the 'BBC dad' who was interrupted during a live TV video remote interview when his two children barged in and created a viral work-from-home moment.

Especially during this time, try to relax. Politely introduce your teams to infringing kids or even dogs.

We can't control how long we will be working from home. But we can control how we react to the situation.

Video conferencing is being used for work and also for connecting us with neighbours we haven't seen face-to-face in two weeks, as well as family and friends we haven't seen in two years.

As Felicity sums up: "The human element to this is adding colour and depth. We're all in the bizarre and huge human social experiment together."

  • Write to Gina in care of sundaybusiness@independent.ie.
  • With corporate clients on five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon

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