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How to stay human in the virtual working world

Article by Joseph Toma, CEO - Jugo

In recent years, employee engagement has climbed the priority list for CEOs and organisations around the world. This was of course accelerated by the shift to hybrid working, but now more than ever it is crucial that leaders get this right.

While some organisations speak to employee engagement being fundamental to who they are – the reality is that this is not always followed through. Many companies use employee engagement as a buzz word to delight the markets, not their teams. While behaviour like this is not new – it is flawed.

As an example, take a quick look at Fortune’s ‘Best Companies to Work For’ list and you can see this group of companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 84.2%. So not just a buzz word, but quantitative evidence that employee engagement leads to higher performance.

In the post-COVID workplace, one of the key employee experience challenges facing leaders – particularly those who lead hybrid and remote teams – is bringing the human connection to the centre of the virtual world of work. It is an important reminder to all of us what it means to be human.

Allow me to illustrate an all-too-common scenario. You’ve been in one too many virtual meetings this week and you’re feeling drained. Your colleagues are unintentionally talking over each other, the audio quality is poor, and the whole meeting just feels stinted and bumpy. It’s not only frustrating and unproductive, but the scenario could also jeopardise the experience you’re building for employees. So how can you humanise your next virtual meeting, and bring back the human touch?

Here are my three top tips:

Remember nonverbal communication
Only a small fraction of communication is verbal! A large proportion is nonverbal and is determined by nuances in our body language.

Body language is so important that it can be used to engage, build connections, and convey messages even when words are not spoken. We depend on body language to communicate our feelings and emotions nonverbally. We gesture to emphasise and talk with our hands when we are excited. It’s human connection at its core.

However, current virtual environments are too limiting, and restrict how humans communicate. It’s hard to interact meaningfully and create equal opportunities for everybody to speak and be heard.

For this reason, look beyond the traditional “people in a box” virtual meeting platforms, and look to the next generation of immersive platforms in which visual cues – such as body language and the ability to see everyone and everything at the same time – are elevated. Doing so can bring the human connection to all virtual interactions.

Spice up your format
With virtual meetings, it’s all too easy to slip into Groundhog Day. If your team is used to attending hour-long meetings where someone is presenting slides for the entire time, they will switch off. Equally, this isn’t reflective of human nature, which is often impulsive and free flowing.

To keep things interesting (and shorter), try changing up the format of your meetings. Consider how technology can recreate an in-person experience. As a leader, you need to replicate the freedom of expression and excitement of variety that have been stripped from your teams in virtual meetings.

Mix it up – present, engage, discuss – allow your team to be the stars of the show. This will show them that you value the human element of each meeting.

Keep video on
In today’s hyper-connected world, it’s easy to forget that the people behind the screens are real.

Whenever possible, use video instead of audio-only so that you can see each other’s faces and pick up on nonverbal cues like body language and facial expressions.

Immersive environments are the best way to do this — keeping interactions engaging, focused, and – most  importantly – human. And remember that remote and hybrid workforces value connection and authenticity, so keep it light – perhaps give a tour of your home office or introduce your pet. A sense of fun and playfulness can encourage people to open up and create a two-way dialogue over screens.

Humanising the virtual world of work will continue to be a huge challenge for business leaders over the coming months. But, in early 2023, there’s never been a better time to make virtual experiences more human, instead of trying to digitise human experiences.

By investing in technology, remembering how we naturally communicate and varying the formats of meetings, we can build meaningful connections, enhance the employee experience, and – ultimately – reconnect with human nature.

    Joseph Toma is the CEO of Jugo, an immersive events and meetings platform. At Jugo, Joseph is transforming the way businesses engage with their teams, accelerating their progress with next generation AI and Metaverse technology. Before joining Jugo, Joseph was a Managing Partner Kyndryl, a $20b technology spin-off from IBM.

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