Virtual Meetings: What We’ve Learned About the Human Side of Communication

virtual meetings

We’ve all been meeting virtually for a long time now, and there is no shortage of articles, videos, webinars, and books on how to do it “right.” Most of those resources focus on the technical stuff. This article will focus on the human side of the equation and what we’ve learned while providing virtual presentation skills training over the last few years.

Technology is the Easy Part of Virtual Communication

While it’s true that it takes a bit of time to learn each platform you find yourself in, mastering the technology is the easy part. Where the mute button is located and how to access the chat feature should, by now, be almost second nature to you. If it’s not, Google “virtual presentation training” or “virtual communication,” and you’ll have access to all sorts of tips and tricks.

The Human Side of Virtual Communication

It’s safe to say that our ability to establish and nurture relationships has been more challenging since the pandemic changed the way we work and communicate. We used to be able to rely on our instincts, and for most of us, maintaining our work relationships wasn’t something we thought much about.

When the pandemic hit, that changed. Bumping into someone on the way to the office kitchen and swinging by someone’s office for a quick touch base was no longer possible. The benefits (that we probably didn’t even realize) of those fly-by “hellos” and overhearing the status of a project over the cubicle wall evaporated overnight. Reading a person’s facial expressions and body language became more difficult and, in some situations, impossible. If you’re like me, you started to feel isolated and frustrated. No matter how many virtual meetings you led or attended, it just wasn’t the same. Zoom fatigue became real and exhausting, and while we weren’t paying much attention, relationships started to weaken.

Sure, many work teams turned to virtual happy hours, but that only added to the fatigue. For me, resentment started to kick in because I simply didn’t want to be on Zoom any more than I absolutely had to.

The rest of this article will focus on what you can do to nurture your work relationships as we navigate the complexities of in-person, virtual, and hybrid meeting environments. When someone is intentional about their relationships, they serve their career well. This, in turn, leads to improved business results. I will examine this notion from two different angles. First, there’s what you can do as an individual contributor, and second, what you can do as a manager or leader.

Being Intentional About How You Show Up is Important

People want to work with colleagues and clients that they like and trust. Part of building trust is showing up for people every single time. So, what does showing up mean? We can look at showing up for others in two different ways: showing up physically and emotionally. If you’re a manager, it’s your responsibility to be a role model and to set the bar. If you’re an individual contributor, it’s your responsibility to meet (even exceed) those expectations.

Showing Up Physically

Showing up physically means being on time, appropriately dressed, and ready to go. I once had a leader show up late to a client meeting with wet hair carrying a fresh cup of Starbucks. The message he sent the client and me was not good. He had mismanaged his time, got into the shower late, and then made it worse by prioritizing his need for caffeine over being on time for the meeting.

Showing up physically also means looking the part and being appropriate for the situation. If we look at the images below of three work groups, it’s clear that they work under very different circumstances, and yet, they are appropriately dressed and groomed for their situation.

Virtual Meetings

Once things turned 100% virtual, showing up physically meant something different. For me, before the pandemic, wearing a jacket and freshly laundered shirt and slacks was considered appropriate when meeting with a client. Given Turpin’s brand, showing respect through what we wear has always been important to us. Wearing that same jacket while working on Zoom in the guest bedroom seemed off. So, I switched to sweaters, something that felt more appropriate, and just as respectful, in the virtual environment.

Simply being on video is another way to show respect for others. Unless there’s a reason not to, we recommend being on camera. As we move into a hybrid environment, this is even more important. If you’re one of a few working from home and you fail to turn your camera on, it would be as if you’re standing in the corner with your back to everyone else. Over time, this will make you seem disinterested and disengaged, which could harm your reputation and career progress.

The flip side to this is that managers need to be on their toes. It will be easy to unintentionally ignore those not on video, so managers will need to find ways to keep those employees engaged.

Showing Up Emotionally

Showing up emotionally takes work. Empathy takes center stage. For managers, it requires being curious and showing interest in others. It means listening well and probing for more information without going too far and appearing nosey. This requires a certain level of self-awareness and being able to quickly assess the situation so that you can rely on your instincts to do what’s necessary to create a safe space for others.

As we trend, thankfully, to a more inclusive work environment, showing up emotionally for colleagues will take on even greater importance for managers.

Building Your Brand Over Time

Whether people realize it or not, how they show up for others is one of the ways they build their professional brand. So, it’s important to be intentional.

At Turpin Communication, we always start our presentation skills workshops, whether virtual or in-person, by asking people how they want to be perceived by the people they work with and for. Inevitably, people answer using words such as “professional,” “trustworthy,” “likable,” “a go-to person,” “interesting,” and so on. These attributes become the foundation of their professional brand, and it’s easy to see how behaviors in meetings help build or tarnish their brand. My manager showing up with wet hair and a cup of coffee certainly didn’t do anything to nurture his brand that day. That incident happened nearly 20 years ago, and I still remember how he made me feel. Brands are established over time and can be destroyed in an instant. So, think about how you show up for others each and every day, whether you’re working in the office, from home, or in some form of hybrid environment.

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