I was recently talking to a colleague that I have known and worked with for a long time. It came to light that neither of us (she very social, and me not so much) were feeling our normal confident selves. We have both been working for home almost exclusively since this whole lock down thing began and were having feelings of worry and doubt. This is not a normal state of affairs since both of us are quite accomplished and have always had success in our careers.
The reason became clear to me. Working from home, while it may be perfectly fine and just as productive as working in an office, has some significant differences and some significant draw backs. As a consultant, I do a lot of work from home on a routine basis. What has changed from the “pre-Covid” times is that any meeting that I previously had face to face is now held via teleconference. Now you may be thinking to yourself, what is your point? Many, if not most, of us are working from home and learning the in’s and outs of Zoom, GoToMeeting, or MS Teams, we are all going through the same thing. Well stick with me here, but that is exactly my point.
Consulting suits me because I am an introvert and I enjoy my time alone. I schedule my own time and so when I need to get away, I can arrange that. But even for me, having human interaction (in person) is important. If you watch any of the survival shows on these days, you will know that one of the toughest things that they deal with are not the elements, or the predators, but the absolute lonesomeness they feel. On some of the shows, you know they have a camera crew, but even on those, those crews are not supposed to interact with the survivor. On other more extreme survival shows, they don’t even have that. They film themselves. Those are the individuals that suffer the most from being alone for long stretches of time.
One of the reasons that we humans need interaction is to get feedback from others. Something like ninety percent of communication is non-verbal, and when you are not in an office or only on a video conference call (when half the people don’t turn on their camera), you miss out on that.
Good feedback is what gives us confidence and makes us feel good about ourselves. Bad feedback allows us to reflect, make course corrections, and hopefully improve. That feedback can be formal (performance reviews) or informal (a smile, a wink), but it is all important. It tells us how others think we are doing. Sure, we get some feedback through conference calls, but a large number of the ones I participate in, are taken up by the business at hand, or someone on the call having audio issues, doing other work, or trying to figure out the software, and the interactions we have during in-person meetings is limited or non-existent. The chit-chat before and after the meeting, the knowing glances across the table, the smirks and smiles when someone says something funny. Those things are few and far between during video conferences.
To exacerbate the problem, we are all now wearing masks in public. So, much of the feedback we get from others facial expressions goes unnoticed.
You may be feeling out of sorts, but that is normal and reversible. There are a couple of strategies that may help. First, on your next video call, sign on a few minutes early and make small talk with others who are there early as well. Or perhaps ask someone to stay a few minutes late, just to talk to them one on one.
Look into your video camera (not at your screen) so others can make eye contact with you. This takes practice, but it can be extremely effective in making a connection with someone. In the time before the meeting or after, ask others how they are doing and make a genuine effort to empathize. Another thing that you can do is set up a one on one video call with the express purpose of getting feedback. This could be with a peer or your manager. And pay it forward. Give others appropriate feedback as well, just as you would in person. Tell people you appreciate the work they are doing. Schedule a virtual (or maybe even in-person) coffee or lunch and talk about your struggles.
We are in an unprecedented time in history and we must adapt.Hopefully, some of the ideas in this blog will help some of you do just that.Chin up, this too shall pass.