Now that many of us have gotten accustomed to working remotely, it’s time to assess whether we’re optimizing our ability to communicate and connect most effectively. Zoom and Teams remain a poor substitute for sitting shoulder to shoulder in a conference room together, but there are certainly ways to strengthen our connection in this digital environment.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have mandated that more of our communication be done digitally, but it has certainly been moving in that direction for a long time. Consider:
- We send 306 billion emails every day, with the average person sending 30 and receiving 96 emails daily. Even before the pandemic demanded we work from home, roughly 70 percent of all communication among teams was virtual.
- The “tone” in our emails is misinterpreted 50 percent of the time, according to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
- A study reported that 25 percent of respondents said they socialize more frequently online than in person.
- The average person spends nearly 116 minutes every day—that’s about 2 hours—on social media, which over an average lifetime would add up to 5 years and 4 months.
“Communicating what we really mean today requires that we understand today’s signals and cues at a granular level while developing a heightened sensitivity to words, nuance, subtext, humor, and punctuation—things we mostly think of as the field of operations for professional writers,” says author Erica Dhawan in Digital Body Language: How to build trust & connection, no matter the distance.
According to Dhawan, this digital body language involves responding promptly to a text message; showing engagement by replying to an email with substantive comment; writing I completely agree with what you’re saying in the group chat during a Microsoft Teams meeting; using a thumbs-up emoji in a video meeting.
It used to be when we passed people in office hallways, stairways or parking lots, there was an opportunity to smile, say good morning, and make a brief but important connection that simply conveys I see you. So simple, yet when it’s missing, we are losing something important. This is hard to replace in a virtual environment, but not entirely.
Beyond the words that are spoken, things like eye contact, facial expressions, body posture, hand gestures, and tone of voice can greatly impact what is communicated. When reading words, so much can be misinterpreted when there’s not a great deal of care put into context, clarity and intention.
Author Dhawan proposes “Four Laws of Digital Body Language,” and they are:
- Value Visibly – Don’t assume people are okay. Be proactive in explicitly showing you understand their desires and value their participation. When you value visibly, team members show up at work with excitement and drive. They’re motivated to make meaningful contributions and innovations, prompting employee engagement, retention and productivity.
- Communicate Carefully – This is about getting to the point while considering context, medium and your audience. When you communicate carefully, teams present a single, united front, get projects done quickly and efficiently, and feel safe bringing up potentially groundbreaking ideas.
- Collaborate Confidently – Begins by understanding what other departments do—and establishing clear norms on how they interact with one another. When you collaborate confidently, you create organization-wide alignment on common goals without misunderstandings or petty disagreements, leading to cross-team collaboration, innovation, customer loyalty, and marketing effectiveness.
- Trust Totally – Means you have an open team culture, where everyone knows they are listened to, where everyone can always ask one anyone for help, and where everyone can grant favors whose returns may or may not be immediate. When you create high levels of organizational faith, where people tell the truth, keep their word, and deliver on their commitments, in turn creating client/customer sales growth and cost-effectiveness.
If you find the move to remote work has impacted your ability to communicate most effectively, take steps to identify how you can improve your digital body language. Consider adopting alternatives to how you show up. Even in a post-pandemic world, you are likely to benefit from these suggestions as our reliance on communicating digitally is likely to remain.