Online with a human touch

Many of us are working from home for at least a few weeks, spending hours every day in isolation.

Modern life on a “normal day” is filled with social distractions from the buzz of co-workers in large office spaces. We are social beings with a constant impulse to connect – but for a while, the social buzz will be silenced, and we’re having to seek social interaction online.

Online meetings are safe and hygienic replacements for real human interaction. However, it takes focus to bring out the human qualities of communication in the somewhat unidimensional web meeting. But with effort and planning, maintaining your social exchange creates a feeling of security and normality (and is also an effective way to reduce anxiety and stress).

Advice is everywhere on how to run productive online meetings – how to plan agendas, which tools to use for whiteboarding etc. Allow me therefore to only make a few suggestions on how to make online meetings more human, helping to maintain the friendships at work that are so critical to our engagement:

  • Make it a deliberate priority in your team to have human online meetings, at least for as long as the current isolation is in force.
  • Take turns to do the thoughtful planning of this, eg to formulate a non-work question for all participants to answer at the start of the meeting. Make sure everyone gets time before the meeting to prepare.
  • Turn on the video. This improves the focus from all participants and introduces the option to have a bit of fun. Why not show your co-workers around the house? Compare coffee machines? Introduce family pets?
  • Make sure your voice is clearly associated with your full name, and that both are known to all participants. “Ghosts” in the call will prohibit everyone else from being open. It’s hard to exaggerate the importance of proper introduction in online meetings.
  • For corporate video content, organize Movie Nights (or rather, afternoons) to view them together instead of streaming individually.
  • Finish your agenda 5-8 minutes before the meeting ends, to have time for “watercooler talk”. The kind of informal evaluation that would normally happen in the corridors after a face-to-face meeting. This can be solicited with a question: “Does anyone disagree with the conclusions we just made?”.

Would you consider using any of these ideas? If yes how did it go? As you can imagine I’m isolated and hungry for comments.