We’ve all been thinking (a little too much) about virtual meetings lately. And while we may not want to be, they are our new way of life, at least for now, which means that non-verbal communication is now key in our daily lives.
Today, the workplace is more mobile and distributed than ever, and virtual body language is more important than ever before.
According to Global Workforce Analytics, 25% of the workforce works virtually at least some of the time. The report says that those who work remotely have different needs and motivators than their office counterparts and that due to the lack of socialization and collaboration, working remotely can lead to a serious lack of engagement without effort for verbal and non-verbal communication.
Especially with the global pandemic, and even before it, companies are thinking a lot about how to give more remote work options, especially after seeing how much easier it makes things – not to mention that it seriously cuts costs for almost all companies.
Bye, auditorium meetings. Hello, virtual global town halls.
So since we’re thinking about remote work more than ever, now’s a good time to learn about how body language fits in with non-verbal communication, and, by extension, how that translates to virtual meetings.
Because while we’re all tired of Zoom and Microsoft Teams, there might be some good things that come out of it – like having more control over your life by being allowed to work remotely more often.
Which brings us to our biggest question: should virtual body language and non-verbal communication be different or the same?
We did a little research. Here’s what we found.
Body language and non-verbal communication
Let’s begin by breaking down the importance of body language at work. Why is body language so important?
“You might be saying one or two words, but giving off thousands of nonverbal cues,” body language expert and author Patti Wood told Time in 2018. “These nonverbal cues, which include everything from your posture to your expression, are crucial to any interaction—and it’s especially important to project the correct cues at work.”
Sit up straight
Slouching “conveys you’re a slob [or] not as competent” as those who sit straight, body language expert, and communications consultant Dr. Lillian Glass told Time. “Whether you’re twirling a lock of hair, bouncing your knee, or playing with objects on the table, experts say there’s likely no mannerism quite as distracting as fidgeting. Oftentimes, nerves drive these behaviors,” according to Glass.
Another no-no that’s closely related to slouching is fidgeting. Fidgeting too much, like its cousin, can make you look disinterested and nervous, which lots of people prey on in the workplace. Ironically, these behaviors may be even more
obvious in a virtual meeting.
Try not to look so tense
So this is one no one ever thinks about but it makes sense that it would become a problem, maybe more so than any of the others: when you look tense, people have a difficult time reading you, and it’s easily misinterpreted as you don’t like them.
Which is really bad for your career. While it’s ok to look tense sometimes, if you do it too much it might start to have an effect on how you’re perceived in the office.
Uncross your arms
If you want to look disinterested, the fastest way to do it is to cross your arms. We are wired to respond to social cues, and this is one that makes people feel social pain. It signals to the people around you that you do not want to talk to them, which is particularly not great for online meetings.
“In many settings, there’s nothing wrong with crossing your arms — you may be cold, or it may just be a comfortable resting position,” writes Business Insider.
In a meeting, however, you should always avoid sitting with your arms crossed because it’s a time to show that you care and are invested in the project and people you are working with.
According to Wood, people should look out for “closed” cues, “such as crossing your arms over your chest, turning your torso away from someone while he or she is speaking, or placing objects between you and the person you’re speaking to.”
“Even if your crossed legs or arms have nothing to do with the person who is presenting in a meeting, it sends off signals that “you’re only partially engaged or you’re pretending to be engaged.”
To prevent this from happening, orient your body toward the person you’re talking to and don’t turn your face, even if it feels awkward.
Make lots of eye contact
There is no limit to how much eye contact is good to give.
And yes, this means putting your phone down during virtual calls, even if your camera isn’t turned on.
Yes, even if everyone else does it, too. Because there are definitely people who don’t do it, too, and they’re reaping all the benefits.
Not making eye contact because you’re busy looking at your phone or appearing like you’re not engaged is a quick way to kill your chances of making a good impression.
Make a pact with yourself that even if your manager and colleagues can’t see you, you will still put your phone away. Your career and financial situation will thank you for it!
Make strong eye contact, slightly raise your eyebrows to acknowledge the other person, and smile. A big part of your career, if not the biggest, is people management and making a great impression.
“Holding your chin down or staring at the floor makes you appear insecure, sad, and displays a lack of confidence,” according to Glass.
So how is virtual non-verbal communication different?
Making sure remote employees remain as engaged as people in offices is clearly easier said than done. But that doesn’t detract from the massive benefits working remotely has such as increased autonomy, more space to enjoy your life, and even decreased costs for companies.
The best tools to fight the drawbacks are body language and communication. When doing remote work, you don’t have to have a physical presence to send signals that affect how you’re “seen” at work. Remember: 90% of life is showing up.
“Good virtual body language means speaking up on conference calls, turning on your camera for video chats, and responding to emails and instant messages in a timely fashion,” says business news site Quartz.
“It also requires an added and shared responsibility, on the part of both remote employees and managers, to be responsive, accessible, and dependable. It’s a commitment to communication that lays the foundation for trust amongst remote teams.”
A natural thing here is to worry or overcompensate “for working remotely.” Many individuals have concerns that asking too many questions “looks worse on them” remotely or they’ll lose their ability to work remotely (or at all) if they’re not perfect. Ironically, this isn’t true. It is actually up to your manager to make sure that part works, not you.
It’s still just as important for managers to allow you to ask questions and let you make mistakes.
“During meetings, start with employees who are attending remotely. Without putting them on the spot, open the floor for them to raise questions, and provide opinions. Sometimes, team members physically in the conference room unwittingly steer the conversation, forgetting that remote colleagues are also present. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to oversee virtual communication and ensure all voices are heard,” Quartz advises remote employers.
Stay off your phone and Facebook (sorry!)
This applies to virtual jobs, too, since it’s entirely possible that your manager is going through your search history.
Luckily, this applies to managers too.
“Although the tech-enabled conversation is increasingly prevalent in the workplace, it shouldn’t fully replace face-to-face interaction. When it comes to delivering feedback to remote employees, leaders should avoid using the only email and chat messages, and, instead, pick up the phone or start a video conference,” writes Quartz.
Talk like a human being
While non-verbal communication is extremely important, you can’t forget about verbal communication when it comes to connecting via the internet. Human connection is even more important in a virtual workplace environment than in an office. This makes a lot of sense intuitively since it’s harder to be “seen” virtually and being seen is an important part of any job as well as retaining one.
“Learning how to read virtual body language can help managers better engage with their remote employees. When virtual workers are seen, heard, and valued like their in-office colleagues from the beginning, their contributions will have long-term impacts on your company and your business success,” according to Quartz.
Last but not least, email etiquette is another great thing to keep in mind, as it becomes exponentially more important in a remote workplace as well. After all, it’s one of your few ways to communicate and differentiate yourself. Be friendly, be human, and most importantly, be yourself.