While technology has stepped up to keep us connected through the pandemic, we mustn’t let it override basic expectations for human interaction — as the prolonged period of remote working continues, too many of us are becoming ‘Zoomed out’.

Get the most out of technology and virtual teams

“It’s important that even when we connect via technology, we connect as humans,” says TPC Leadership Netherlands Associate, Jacco Levits. To get the best out of virtual teams, you need to agree and establish a framework for expectations, both as a team and as a wider organisation. “If a behaviour is considered rude when meeting in person, it’s also rude via technology.”

Basic expectations for virtual meetings should include being on time, having mobile phones switched off, everyone keeping their camera on and making eye contact by looking at the camera, especially if you work with multiple screens. Catherine Bardwell, TPC Leadership UK Associate Partner, says that “without the camera, you loose all those human cues — body language, facial expressions — that help people understand each other and build relationships.” 

Technology is always developing. Every few weeks updates are available that allow us to try new things — break-out rooms in Zoom, for example — so it’s important to keep abreast of those developments, explains Jacco, ensuring you and your teams regularly go into settings and run available updates.

Catherine recommends varying the way you use technology.Be creative and spontaneous to prevent interactions becoming stagnant,” she says. “Hold virtual meetings while people walk in nature or switch to a phone call for a change.”

Test your tech

Always test your technology 24 hours in advance of meetings and have a contingency plan in place, should you find the platform isn’t working or your Wi-Fi won’t connect. Check your settings to ensure your camera works and is positioned appropriately and that your microphone and speakers are functioning. Jacco suggests that “you may find your sound is clearer without a headset, so it’s worth checking to find out.”

Catherine’s tips for using your camera efficiently are to adapt your lighting so that your face can be seen clearly and ensure your background is neat and appropriate — flowers or books can be effective.

Will we go back to pre-pandemic ways of working?

Our massive move to remote working has challenged the norms of the way we work. “We shouldn’t forget that working from an office 9-5, five days a week are conventions that came out of the Industrial Revolution and carried over into service economies,” explains Jacco. “But until now we haven’t questioned them.”

The pandemic has allowed us to rethink the way we work and inspired innovation and fresh thinking. But Jacco says, “There are certain interactions that work better face to face, such as creative brainstorming in groups or establishing trust when it comes to key stakeholder connections — where trust is the basis of your collaboration on a strategic level.”

“We will eventually return to some of the old ways of working, but it will be different and more flexible,” says Jacco. “Our working habits will finally be updated to suit 21st century life.”

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