For all its benefits, remote conferencing isn’t the easiest means of doing work for many people, as many have found out through experience. With businesses quite literally forced into this approach for some time now, employees are starting to feel the toll. Let’s discuss some of the impacts that long-term remote conferencing has had, and what can be done to minimize them.
…although I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that.
Widespread remote conferencing has been an asset for many businesses for over a year at this point, in many cases allowing them to remain open when they would otherwise have little choice than to close. As a result, many people have remained employed during a time when many simply have not had that luxury.
Of course, there has been a cost—a cost which, for many, has been deducted from their mental health.
Consider the implications that come with mandated remote conferencing: not only are your team members communicating primarily through a screen for most of the day, but there’s also a good chance that most of their social life has been digitized as well. It should come as no surprise, then, that conferencing can lead to something now commonly referred to as “Zoom anxiety.”
Named for the conferencing app that saw significant gains from this time in isolation, Zoom anxiety is more or less what it sounds like: nervous onsets and tics developing in response to perceived challenges and embarrassments while video conferencing. Whether you’re afraid of what your coworkers might hear through your mic, see through your webcam, or even not see or hear due to technical difficulties, Zoom anxiety can have some unpleasant impacts.
Embarrassing oneself in front of coworkers, managers, and clientele isn’t a new phobia. However, with the tendency that many people have to let their guard down in the home, remote conferencing brings those fears from the conventional workplace into the home.
Consider, for a moment, the advertisements that the coffee brand Folgers has been running—where remote employees compensate for stressful situations caused by remote work with a cup ‘o’ joe. These ads, one featuring a woman smoothly using her mug to obscure her curious son from view and the other playing on the classic working-at-home-without-pants gag with brand-accurate red underwear, put a lighthearted face on very real concerns that people have developed.
Apple has taken a similar tack, showcasing their collaborative solutions by telling the story of a team of “Underdogs” who work through the stresses of remote operations to collaboratively build a better mousetrap (or in their case, pizza box).
Amusing as these ads may be to view as an audience member, many remote workers now understand that the anxiety these scenarios cause isn’t something that can be chuckled off—regardless of how funny it was to see Professor Robert Kelly’s kids crash his 2017 interview with BBC News.
This is particularly the case for quieter and less-extroverted employees, who would prefer to primarily be seen in the office, not so much heard. It can also be challenging for those who feel that the theatre of video collaboration puts the pressure on to perform more than they would in person. Many people have become overly aware of their own body language, distracting them from the substance of what is being said.
Numerous gendered issues have been shown to be exacerbated, with the too-common issues of women being spoken over or judged negatively for speaking too much, happening more frequently than in an in-person setting.
The casual office conversations that once fostered cooperation and even helped pave the way to better business relationships and advancement opportunities are gone—and we haven’t even mentioned the tendency for awkward silences to arise, only to be broken by two people speaking up simultaneously and immediately deferring the floor to the other.
Fortunately, these are ways that one’s anxieties can be quelled, regardless of whether they come from technical issues, miscommunications, or simple discomfort with the situation.
There are a few ways that you and your team can fight back the nerves that come from an overexposure to video conferencing.
Before you access a call, ask yourself how important it is for you to be seen in this meeting—or if video is even necessary. Sometimes, a simple call will do the job just fine, and won’t require your team members to put themselves on display.
One of the most common places for people to look while in a remote meeting is actually at the image of themselves that most platforms will provide… studies have shown as much to be true. As you can imagine, this can lead to employees stressing about their appearance and mannerisms far more than they normally would, adding to their distraction and distress. Encourage your team members to disable the self-preview feature in your chosen collaboration solution to avoid self-inflicted criticism.
For privacy’s sake, make sure your team knows that it is okay for them to cover their physical camera. This way, they can enjoy their privacy until the need arises for them to be visible. A piece of tape or a small sticky note can suffice, but dedicated covers are also available for that very purpose.
One of the biggest issues that remote collaboration can bring about is the perceived lack of structure that a meeting has. Like we mentioned above with the extended silences and overlapped talking, it can be hard for people to gauge when it is the right time to speak up. Assigning someone to chair the meeting enables that person to direct the attention of the group to the person who is contributing.
Finally, it is perhaps most important that everyone in your organization understands that real life is still a thing, especially when someone is working from home. As such, some background noise or other such interruption is only to be expected. Make sure you are open with your team about understanding the realities of their situation and work with them through it.
Of course, the most positive outlook in the world isn’t going to make your remote interactions any more productive if the infrastructure isn’t there to support them. Clearmind Technology can help you acquire, introduce, and manage the solutions you need to take your remote collaboration to the next level. Give us a call at (323) 489-3250 to find out more about what we can deliver.