Digital Body Language in the Age of Coronavirus

digital body language

By Yvonne Milosevic

The coronavirus outbreak has made working from home the new normal for many professionals. That means emails, messaging apps, phone calls, and video chats will serve as our lifelines to the office for the immediate future. Here are two things to remember about your digital body language and virtual communication as we navigate these uncharted waters together.

Make sure you’re sending the right signal

Now more than ever, we must become mindful of how influential our digital body language can be. It covers everything from group chat emojis to how you announce yourself in conference calls, explains Shama Hyder, founder, and CEO of Zen Media.

In her recent piece for Inc., Hyder notes that “our digital body language is critical for establishing and maintaining good rapport, contributing to high morale, and just generally creating a positive work environment for everyone at the company.”

For now, over-communication is the order of the day, Hyder says. Open, frequent, and effective communication prevents things from falling through the cracks. Hyder also thinks people used to working together in person might struggle with nailing the right tone in instant messages, emails, texts, and other online written communication.

“Uncertainty is everywhere, and employees may be much more ready to jump to unpleasant conclusions than they would be otherwise,” Hyder warns.

Erica Dhawan, a leading authority on 21st-century collaboration and connectional intelligence, echoes those concerns. She says we should keep two things in mind to use our digital body language effectively. First, realize that brevity can cause confusion. We need to be conscious of how we’re communicating, and if we’re clear, Dhawan explains.

We’ve seen in the data is that there’s an immense amount of misunderstanding, anxiety, and confusion because we don’t have the context of the stare, the nod, or the shake that we’re used to in human body language.

Second, we need to realize that timing is everything. If you send emails to your team late at night or on the weekend, are you signaling that you expect them to be “on” at all times? If that’s not your intention, consider hanging on to those messages as drafts. You can send them Monday morning instead.

Tuning in to and adapting your digital body language can have a profound effect on your professional and personal relationships. This LinkedIn Learning course by Dhawan is a great place to start if you need help in this area.

Add a personal touch to virtual meetings

We’re facing an extended period of self-isolation. That means we’re going to crave human connection more than ever—especially those of us who live alone. Here’s a simple but beneficial habit to start incorporating now. Whenever you call for a virtual meeting or plan to give a presentation to the team, build in time at the beginning for casual interaction. Adding a social element goes a long way toward replicating the comradery of face-to-face encounters. Slack’s ultimate guide to remote meetings has this sage advice:

Check in with everyone attending. Spend a few minutes having small talk as a group about what’s going on with work or at home. This will build rapport and help people feel more connected to each other at this crucial time. Also, it will boost engagement in the topic at hand once you get down to business. If you don’t do some ice-breaking first, you risk harming relationships.

We’ll be back next week with more practical tips on how to boost your virtual meeting and presentation skills. These will come in handy right away, but will also serve you well when life finally gets back to normal.