When you think about many of your previous virtual call interactions, which one of these have you seen before?
- The VP crinkles his forehead at a comment.
- An Engineer shifts awkwardly in a chair.
- The HR Executive nods her head.
- The Sales Leader leans back and folds their arms
When working with someone in person, most of us have a natural understanding of these non-verbal cues. It’s allowed us to get used to reading body language and nonverbal signals (Analog).
With remote work, however (Digital), the subtle ways we communicate are changing. So how do we adapt?
In general, we learn to read and provide non-verbal signals through years of socialization in a variety of in-person settings. Some of us might have even had formal skills training such as etiquette classes for young men called “Blue Blazers” and for young women called “White Gloves and Party Manners” back in the 1960s. These skills, caught or taught have always transferred well into our professional lives.
According to body language experts Mi Ridell:
“If you want to influence people in a positive way, then your attitude and how you are perceived using non-verbal communication is very important. Often people react more to what you do than what you say, because it communicates the underlying message – what you really think and feel, and your intentions”.
In our digital workspace, however, this kind of communication can seem less important. Since 2020 more and more work conversations are conducted online, and oftentimes “sans” camera! Yet, even when remote work doesn’t seem to include tacit cues, non-verbal communication is still happening. Take that switched-off camera, for instance. A 2022 Vyopta survey of 200 executives was conducted by Wakefield Research which showed that 92% of managers believed that employees who turned off their cameras during meetings were less likely to have a long-term future at their company. Tacit communication cue!
We tend to think about non-verbal communication more in terms of our face-to-face interactions. For instance, we search for meaning in how close colleagues sit when working together, or interpret attitudes from the firmness of a handshake. But non-verbal signals that exist outside of face-to-face interactions could be sending the right or the wrong message as well.
Because of the new workplace shift, we have to expand our world of non-verbal communication in unprecedented ways. In this new digital space, we now have to be very aware of our surroundings, our backgrounds, our audio, our lighting, our streaming, and even our location setup. With these new add-ons to steal our attention, it’s not unusual to be on a video call where some if not all of the previous rules are forgotten.
Why is it important now?
Body language experts tell us why this is important. “If a colleague positions their camera below the chin, forcing others to look up at them, we don’t like them as much as if they are on the same level”, says Ridell. The same phenomenon tends to happen in person as well. Indeed, data has shown that during video calls, factors like camera angles, distance from the camera, and ability to make eye contact all impact how likable people are perceived to be.
Another instance is eye contact, which is positively associated with likability, social presence, and interpersonal attraction. Yet making eye contact on a video call requires us to go against our natural instincts to look at the face on the screen. We have to train ourselves to look into the camera, not at them, when it’s our turn to speak. So, it is very important not to gloss over the significance of your nonverbal communication in a remote environment because it gives off signals of disengagement, lack of professionalism, and hinders connection.
What are the benefits of great non-verbal behavior?
Here is the upside of considering non-verbal behavior, just as you would in person. Simple nonverbal gestures like:
- leaning in instead of slouching back can show interest
- visibly smiling during an online meeting can help show engagement and foster connections.
- gestures such as turning the camera on can also be a question of politeness.
Think of it this way; we wouldn’t sit in a board meeting with a bag over our heads. We have to learn new rules to avoid being rude.
In the same way, consider using a clear photo of your face with an open expression instead of an empty one. Studies show simply using your picture can make you appear more trustworthy.
In the digital landscape, maintaining strong relationships is not a given, so making an effort to engage in non-verbal communication is essential and will help drive connection even in remote situations.
Making a deliberate effort might mean spending a few minutes taking a professional-looking profile photo, making sure your camera is at the right height before a meeting starts, or sprinkling a few positive emojis in a group chat. Seemingly small gestures can have a large impact, helping workers be more “alive” in a digital context and to show some passion and compassion.
In a new world where workers can struggle to decode each other, and where isolation can thrive, being willing to engage non-verbally makes it easier to understand others and to be understood. Learn more about how to run a successful video call inside our Braintrust Academy. We have an entire course covering this topic and many others. Visit www.braintrustacademy.com for more information.