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Taja is Founder and CEO of Pulp+Wire, an award-winning, full-service consumer packaging, branding, and marketing agency in Portland, Maine.
It’s been well over a year since the pandemic swept through the workforce and turned the status quo on its head. Many of us have been working remotely through digital collaboration tools like Basecamp, Slack and Zoom for so long that it’s hard to remember what it felt like to go into the office every day. Yet most of us can agree that the office felt much more “natural” than collaborating on Zoom.
The problem is that many of us still haven’t learned to take the pulse of a Zoom room the way we used to gauge the emotional energy of an in-person office meeting. The good news is that it’s not as hard as you might think. Humans are incredibly adaptive; just look at how digital technologies have transformed the way we connect outside of work over the past few decades.
With this in mind and at least some form of remote work likely for the foreseeable future, here are a few ways you can authentically, creatively, productively collaborate with both clients and employees when you can’t all sit around the same table.
Say good morning!
When my agency moved to remote work last March, we immediately implemented a daily, informal 9 a.m. Good Morning Zoom (GMZ) meeting. Even if it’s just for 15 minutes, we all jump online and say good morning to each other. We go over the work calendar – what needs to be done for the day and the week ahead – but we also create space for people to share any updates about what’s going on in their lives.
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When you’re working in an office setting, there’s usually time every morning to connect with your colleagues on a personal level. You walk down the hallway and organically start a conversation about what you did over the weekend. It’s important to carry this connection over to Zoom, where meetings shouldn’t be strictly focused on work.
Take the pressure off.
Pandemic stress can translate into increased pressure to appear “perfect,” especially when you’re expected to be on camera all day. But no one is camera ready all of the time. There will be days when your employees or clients will feel overwhelmed by video chat. Leaders should set the expectation that people can occasionally turn their cameras off when they simply aren’t up to it.
This doesn’t mean that your whole team should also be on mute, however. One of the biggest Zoom roadblocks I’ve encountered is that when you put yourself on mute, it becomes that much more difficult to “unmute” yourself in the event that you have something important to say. This is a huge missed opportunity for creative teams because it limits valuable breakout conversations that often arise during in-person meetings. People fear talking over each other, but that is how brainstorming and organic conversations happen. The goal is to collaborate like you would in a “real life” meeting while being mindful of each other in a way that doesn’t stifle the flow of real conversations.
Be mindful of your body language.
It’s now a ubiquitous experience to glance at your face in a video meeting and ask yourself, “Did I freeze or do I just have Resting Zoom Face?” I’ve always been mindful of how I show up to meetings, but during the past year I’ve had the incredible opportunity to literally hold a mirror up to myself and observe how I present to others.
Examining how you’re presenting yourself in the digital sphere can be an illuminating chance to improve your authentic engagement on Zoom as well as in the real world. I’ve always been a firm believer that everyone, especially your clients, should feel better at the end of a meeting than they did at the start. The same goes for Zoom meetings – only the latter gives us feedback we can use to work with clients in a way that is much more synergistic.
Maintain the right energy.
As a leader, it’s my job to bring the energy to the table, both in person and on Zoom. More importantly, I always strive to strike a balance between those with high energy and those with low energy so that everyone meets in the middle.
For example, when a client is on the quiet side, my role is to bring enough energy to the conversation to ignite a creative spark without overwhelming someone’s natural disposition. On the other hand, if a client is so energetic that they’re all over the place, it’s my job to be a bit more methodical and take the energy down to a place where it can serve a higher purpose.
When it comes to harnessing and maintaining the right energy, leaders should lead by example. This means taking time to understand how many virtual meetings are realistic and sustainable for you and rejuvenating yourself between sessions with coffee and stretch breaks, just like you would in the office.
A wonderful, universal truth is that energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can only be converted to different forms and nurtured in different ways. None of us is destined to a fate of Zoom fatigue; we simply need to shift gears and strike a new energetic balance.
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Author: Taja Dockendorf, Forbes Councils Member