Some people love working from home. They are happy and thriving at work in the virtual world and are finding ways to keep their energy and positivity flowing most of the time. Others are finding it difficult to get into ‘work mode’ and perhaps fear the camera that video calls require. They may be disappointing their managers and peers in the way they are showing up and feeling quite isolated.
Either way, the current reality for many is a home desk and lots of zoom calls. If this is your current reality, how are you showing up for both yourself and others?
It’s a lot harder in this virtual world to portray energy and enthusiasm, let alone to feel those things. For a start you are seated all day and as we know this is known to reduce energy levels. You no longer have a commute in which you might have walked and got fresh air and you don’t have an office to stroll through for spontaneous ‘hallway’ conversations with your colleagues.
Your work persona is now largely based on your head and shoulders on a screen.
Physically having to sit at a desk all day and only view the heads and shoulders of people on screen, you could almost argue that body language is a thing of the past now at work, but as NLP taught us, body language is a huge factor in building rapport with people so we have to find ways to make it work on screen.
Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Insead who explores sustainable learning and development in the workplace says “Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat. Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy. Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally” he says.
“Silence is another challenge” he adds. “Silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation. However, when it happens in a video call, you became anxious about the technology. It also makes people uncomfortable.” One 2014 study by German academics showed that delays on phone or conferencing systems shaped our views of people negatively: even delays of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused.
For our external appearance in the virtual workplace to be ‘on point’, we have to show up on screen with energy both in our voice and in our body language. We need to use our mannerisms as effectively as possible and try to connect with others through eye contact.
Think of the simple difference of looking at someone sitting upright in their chair on the screen versus someone leaning back. What might you assume about the person who is leaning back? They are not interested in what you are saying perhaps? They could be tired and not really listening? That may not be true however the perception of this is created by their body posture in this position.
If you are the one leaning back in your chair, consider how this might be negatively affecting your energy levels. It won’t help you to listen better to the person speaking or when speaking it won’t help your voice to lift and sound engaging. By adopting this stance for any prolonged period of time, you are not helping yourself or your work persona.
Consider sitting forward, upright and with your hands and forearms on your desk in front of you. With your shoulders now upright, your diaphragm is in a better position to help you breathe freely and your larynx is in an optimal position to let your voice carry.
An extra note here is to try to make sure your computer screen is at a comfortable eye-level height. This will prevent you looking up or down at your screen which in turn can affect your body position.
Here’s looking at you…
Eye contact is another important factor in rapport building and luckily we can still use this tool in the virtual world of video calls. However we very commonly see people avoid it on screen, more so than they would have in a face to face environment and choosing instead to look down at their desk or worse still, somewhere else in the room.
Maintaining eye contact shows a level of interest and concentration when listening to someone and demonstrates respect to what they are saying. It creates a bond between you and the speaker which is important if you are listening to a client or colleague. This can be challenging on a group video call as it’s not really easy to see who is looking at who but the best practice is to continue to look at the screen as you would politely do in person. Likewise when you are the one speaking on screen, looking at the screen at much as possible rather than down at your notes, will create a much more confident and engaging appearance.
As a company that regularly works with managers and senior leaders on executive presence, I asked one of our partners and senior facilitators, Steve Ellis, for his top 5 tips on showing up with impact on screen:
This isn’t all about your appearance to others. It’s about showing up for yourself during work hours in order to perform at your best. By understanding how your posture affects your energy and how your mental state and mood is directly affected by your environment, you can try out new routines for home working. Find things that work for you and make them a habit. It could be getting up from your desk regularly and walking to another room, it could be keeping a clean and tidy desk area and it could involve getting a new desk light or small heater to keep warm. There are lots of ways to make your home working routine more conducive to productivity. Try to stick to schedules as you would have in the office which includes start and finish times.
In conclusion, this new virtual working world isn’t going away and for many it could be a reality for a long time to come. Instead of working against it, we have to find ways to excel within the constraints of it. Consider what works for you but at the same time keep focused on how your online presence is showing up to your clients and colleagues.