With a return to the workplace, now’s a good time to reflect on the communication challenges we faced while working remotely. You were likely frustrated by the difficulty in exclusively communicating via Slack, Zoom or Teams, email, and texting. These alternative forms are certainly not going away, so it’s time to improve your digital body language.
Communication technologies provide many benefits, yet not being face-to-face in the same room, we lose the opportunity to send and receive messages most effectively.
While we’ve relied on body language to understand each other for centuries, the technology that has enabled alternative forms of communicating hasn’t replicated the nuance of being face-to-face. As a result, we need to strengthen our digital body language.
According to Erica Dhawan, author of Digital Body Language: How to build trust & connection, no matter the distance, this can be simply responding promptly to a text, showing engagement by replying to an email with substantive comments, using a thumbs-up emoji in a video meeting or many other things.
Dhawan says when trying to communicate most effectively, trust, engagement, excitement, and urgency all play a role. Keep the following suggestions in mind.
|Traditional Body Language||Digital Body Language|
|Keep your palms open; uncross your arms and legs; smile and nod.||Use language that is direct with clear subject lines; end emails with a friendly gesture; never bcc anyone without warning; mirror the sender’s use of emojis and/or informal punctuation.|
|Lean in with your body as another person is talking; uncross your arms and legs; smile, nod, and make direct eye contact.||Prioritize timely responses; send responses that answer all questions or statements in the previous message (not just one or two); send a simple “Got it!” or “Received” if the message doesn’t merit a longer response; don’t use the mute button as a license to multitask; use positive emojis like thumbs-up or smile.|
|Speak quickly; raise your voice; express yourself physically by jumping up and down or tapping your fingers on your desk.||Use exclamation points and capitalizations; prioritize quick response times; send multiple messages in a row without getting a response first; use positive emojis (smiley faces, thumbs-up, high fives).|
|Raise your voice; speak quickly; point your finger (or make any other exaggerated gesture).||Use all caps paired with direct language or sentences that end in multiple exclamation marks; opt for a phone call or a meeting over a digital message; skip greetings; use formal closings, Reply All, or cc to direct attention; issue the same message on multiple digital channels simultaneously.|
Working remotely is not going away so it’s important to strengthen your digital body language. Recognize the limitations in communicating without being face-to-face and shift the way you show up. Insert the beneficial elements of body language in the way you communicate in the virtual world.