'To the coffee-house, where all the news is of the plague growing upon us in this town; and some of the remedies against it: some saying one thing and some another. Those who could, including most lawyers and merchants, have fled the city.’ - Samuel Pepys, 1665.
What a whirlwind the last few weeks have been for all of us. For the whole world in fact. And though there have been times akin to this before, this period has come upon us completely unexpectedly and is unlike anything any of us have experienced before. ‘Unprecedented’ is a word that has been used (sometimes oversued!) to describe it on news and radio programmes. It’s true that there is no time in history that has presented quite like this one. Not even the plague.
- Cambridge Dictionary
So what does that mean for all of us experiencing this? How should we navigate these unprecedented times? It has certainly required a fundamental change in the way we conduct our daily lives and how we structure our days of work. As with everything we do at The Pitch Process, we are focussing on the opportunities this change is affording us: more time to upskill in certain areas, perhaps; to exercise, cook, meditate, read, learn something new.
At work, we are looking at new ways of approaching things, discovering how best to work from home via our computers or screens and how best to communicate through them. At The Pitch Process we have moved all of our individual coaching and group workshops online, and are using this time to plan some exciting new ventures and collaborations (watch this space!). We have seen first hand the challenges that working and communicating online poses; it requires a different skillset. Really connecting with and making an impact on people through a camera at the top of a rectangular metal device is not as simple as it might first appear.
Hosting and attending meetings online, checking in with colleagues via Zoom or Teams, coaching, teaching, socialising with colleagues via the internet - thank goodness for the internet! - can feel somewhat odd, unreal, or detached. For those of us who aren’t used to spending a lot of time in front of a computer this has been a real period of transition. But even those used to being more office based or screen focussed will be feeling the impact of having migrated their lives online. The enormity of this change has been evidenced by the fact that some broadband providers are struggling to keep network speeds up to par and a number of online hosting forums have crashed under the pressure.
We move with the times and aim to work differently. To find the positives and make our new work lives work for us as best as possible. To help you navigate this new mode of working and communicating, we’d like to share some of the discoveries we’ve made in the past weeks, in the hope that they will help you enhance your online working and virtual communication skills.
The Virtual Work World
It can seem strange hosting and attending meetings via a screen, and oh so tempting to be looking at other tabs at the same time as talking to someone! But we have found it helpful to apply the same ideas as you would in person to virtual communication. It has been called ‘Netiquette’ by some. Read on...
‘Netiquette’: the idea that there are certain unsaid rules that should be adhered to when working with people online. For example, we would deem it rude to check our emails and messages or browse the Internet whilst speaking with someone face-to-face. Therefore the same should apply when in a virtual meeting with a colleague or business contact.
Eye Contact: a little difficult through a screen! But try to look down the camera lens when you are speaking, to create a sense of direct communication, of personal connection. You can look at the other person/people’s faces when they are speaking to get a sense of their facial expressions, reactions and intentions.
Framing: Be aware of the angle of your computer or device and what it is showing of you to your audience. Too high and they will only see your forehead, too low and they will be viewing your chin and nostrils, and tilted oddly or at angle can look like you’re somewhere at sea or in a hammock! Think head and shoulders in frame, and a nice level camera angle.
Space: you wouldn’t dream about coming too close to a person’s face when speaking to them, so apply the same rule for virtual communication - don’t put your face right up to the camera or lean in too far towards your screen. Hold your own space and don’t invade the audience’s.
Clarity: clarity of speech and intention is essential for good communication, and the virtual world can throw up problems here due to broken connections, people speaking over each other and time delays. Even more important therefore to think ‘slow and clear’. Use pauses for effect and to allow time for information to be received. In virtual communication, we don’t have the advantage of picking up on the usual social cues, so give others time to speak and USE people’s NAMES when addressing them to make it clear who you’re speaking to.
Audience: Think about who you’re speaking to. What do they need from you? What do you need from them? How do you want them to feel after this interaction? What tone or energy do you need to invest in this communication? It’s useful to have a physical stretch before or between meetings in order to ensure your energy is refreshed and focussed for each new interaction.
Breathe: Breath is the fuel for our voice, and there is something about working in front of a screen which makes us hold our breath. I’ve noticed I do it when I’m texting on my phone. Try to stay connected to your breath - close your eyes and do a short breath exercise (such as breathing into your belly on 3 long deep inhales & exhales) before a call or meeting. This will keep your communication energised and grounded.
Hydration: If you’re using your voice all day, it’s important to stay hydrated. Speaking through a microphone often means we speak louder than we would in person, so drinking often (keep a glass of water beside you to remind you!) and warming up (see below) can keep the vocal chords lubricated and prevent a sore throat or tired voice.
Warming Up: A gentle face stretch, fluttering out the lips, stretching the tongue and a bit of humming up and down makes a huge difference to your voice and how it feels when you begin to speak in that first meeting of the day. You can do it in the shower or whilst making your morning coffee. Think of it like a little yoga stretch for your voice; your muscles respond well to being warmed up before they are worked all day in meetings or conference calls.
A Venn Diagram: A useful image can be to think of the virtual meeting room as a shared space, the middle of a Venn diagram. You each have your own room or environment that you are operating in, but the space in which you are communicating is shared - give it your focus and energy.
Other top tips for working online are to find ways of keeping focussed and energised. Just as you would at work, give yourself regular breaks - physical stretches and shifts to revive your energy and rest your hard-working eyes!
Consider your optimum time of working. When are you most productive? What makes you feel good? Perhaps a workout, a breath of fresh air, a coffee, music, a good breakfast, ventilation, a certain pair of slippers, a chat to a friend on your lunch break.
This is your new work life. So make it work for you.