Reevaluating What it Means to Communicate Virtually

This month marks the sobering milestone of one year since the first lockdowns, and while hope is on the horizon, the reality is that our virtual professional life is not going to end instantaneously. And many people have learned to love working from home and will look to either continue it into the future or embrace a more flexible model.  Whatever your circumstance, I hope you can agree that we all have learned a lot in the last year about what works when you communicate virtually – and I would argue it works a lot better than we perhaps initially thought – but it’s undeniable that key elements of communication can get lost when we’re all behind screens and can be a professional hindrance.

As we all juggled the highs and lows of “living from work,” dealing with the stress of a global pandemic, and many are still balancing parenting and family obligations, it has been and continues to be important to be mindful of the challenges shared by colleagues. The realities of the past year heighten the imperative to communicate deliberately in your professional realm. With a full twelve months of lessons learned while working from home under our collective belts, now is a good time to dig in, reevaluate your WFH approach, and make sure you are best positioned to communicate with impact in the coming year, whether it’s still mostly virtual or you have a faster return to in-person work.

As we get through what will hopefully be the last stretch of this pandemic, here are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you are communicating meaningfully, effectively and in a way that positions you well for your working situation in the tail of the pandemic – whatever that may look like.

1. “Video call fatigue” needs to be addressed

A year into WFH, the novelty has most certainly worn off, and after hours in front of a screen for both professional and personal gatherings, we are all feeling a sense of weariness and impatience when it comes to virtual meetings. Rather than resort to multitasking or dropping off calls, remember to be impactful with meetings:

  • Come with a purpose and an agenda,
  • Think about the points you are trying to get across, and
  • When presenting, limit your priorities to 3 or so key takeaways for your audience.

While some degree of fatigue is unavoidable at this stage, be proactive and set the tone for your teams when it comes to video call engagement. Try scheduling meetings for 45 or 25 minutes instead of the full hour or half hour, so participants have a buffer to get things done—take a bathroom break, send a few quick emails, grab a beverage, and regroup for the next virtual meeting.  And as the weather warms up, recognize that we will all have spring fever.  Where practicable and safe, consider making a call a “walking meeting” so you and your colleagues can get a (likely masked) breath of fresh air and move your body – the energy boost will pay dividends in focus and goodwill.

2. Being present still matters

As challenging as it may be to adapt our personal brands to virtual professional life, for better or worse we are making an impression every day in the way we show up to WFH. Being on camera all day, every day is exhausting.  The problem is that it’s important.  It’s vital to own your professional/virtual brand—project presence by making an effort to appear on camera and be part of the conversation. If you can’t join on video, be as communicative as possible with your rationale and look for other ways to connect. In this arena especially, awareness is key—be mindful of the impression you’re making in the virtual work environment and identify both tactical and holistic opportunities to be present for colleagues. The good news is that there are lots of practical ways to up your game:

  • Look at the camera instead of your on-screen image to reinforce eye contact and build a personal connection;
  • Leverage improvements in technology to further emulate in-person interaction while WFH—move the images of participants to the top of your screen to better keep your eye on the camera; and,
  • Consider investing in video conferencing lighting, a better webcam, etc. so you can stay focused on what matters: reinforcing the personal connection you share with colleagues and clients.

3. Remember to check-in. After all, we’re only human.

Just as the constraints of WFH still persist, so do many of the challenges that dominated 2020. Mobility is still limited with social distancing protocols, many of us haven’t had a real vacation in well over a year, social and political turmoil took a lot out of many of us, and the threat of more contagious variants of COVID-19 still looms large. It’s safe to say that people still have a lot on their minds beyond business. It’s important to be respectful with time and continue to put people first. We’ve invited colleagues into our kitchens, laughed off unexpected intrusions from pets and children, donned athleisure in place of business casual attire, and gotten a glimpse of our team members in a new light. While the challenges aren’t going away overnight, it’s not too early to start thinking about how we can continue to bring our whole selves to work once back in offices and build on the deepened connections forged in this era of WFH.

With one year of virtual professional life behind us, WFH is here to stay for now. If you’re not happy with your virtual work routine or at-home setup, it’s worth changing—continue to think critically about breaking bad habits, maximizing the WFH experience, and investing in the tools you need to be successful. Maintain a sense of self-awareness when it comes to your personal brand in virtual work, and knowing we’re in this for the long haul, be deliberate about supporting your colleagues and driving your professional goals in the year to come.

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