Back in the (not so distant) past, people didn’t think much about whether their meetings were engaging. You showed up in a conference room, resigned to whatever was going to happen, participated to whatever extent, and then went on to your next three meetings.
Working from home, and meeting on Zoom (or other video platforms) has changed all that, and made it harder to engage people’s attention.
1. People Have a Choice
As you already know, working from home means being distracted by a thousand other things besides your meeting. And you’re free to discreetly follow those pulls because, unlike in a conference room, Zoom meeting participants can turn off their microphones and cameras.
Whether people are sneaking a snack, shush-ing their kids, or just focused on something else, it’s harder to grab their attention back than it would be if they were three feet away from you.
Of course, you could engage people the good old-fashioned way, through fear. You could install an app that spies on their keystrokes, or quantifies their eye contact. If that’s seems like a good approach to you, contact me about working on your management communication skills. 🙂
2. It’s Hard to Engage People When We’re All In a Box
Think of all the information you pick up in a real-world meeting. You can easily see how people:
- Enter the room (are they striding or slinking?)
- Announce themselves (who’s making their presence felt? who’s lingering by the snacks?)
- Position themselves (next to the head of the table? close to the door?)
- Take up space (do they squeeze into a tiny opening, or spread themselves all over the place?)
The sights, smells, and textures of real life paint a rich and complex picture that’s lost on a two-dimensional screen, leaving us with a fraction of the data points we’re used to.
And you’re in a Zoom box, too. If you’re leading a meeting but not sitting at the head of the table, it’s harder to establish your authority and get people to listen. You have to work more for their attention, respect and participation.
3. Everyone is Exhausted
It’s difficult to engage people when everyone is TIRED of Zoom, and our nerves are frayed from the global pandemic.
“Zoom fatigue” is a real thing; in an article by Manyu Jiang for BBC Worklife, professors Gianpiero Petriglieri and Marissa Shuffler explain why.
- Working harder to process non-verbal cues (facial expressions, vocal sounds, body language) is an energy drain.
- The dissonance between being “together” but not really is tiring
- Silence is awkward when you’re on a video call.
- When you’re on camera, you feel like you’re onstage, which can be “nerve-wracking and…stressful.”
- Being on video calls reminds us of how much our lives have been disrupted and what we’ve lost in the pandemic.
- Our work and home lives are co-mingled; that’s creepy.
- Worries about the economy, lay-offs, and furloughs are driving us to work harder to secure our jobs.
- Even virtual happy hours feel like work, because we’re holding them on platforms that feel like work tools.
All of these factors make it difficult to engage people, let alone motivate them.
So How Do You Engage People (and Make It Easier for Them to Stay Engaged) Online?
In my next blog post, I’ll address how to:
- Plan for success with a Zoom-friendly agenda
- Use Zoom’s interactive features to engage people
- Surprise them by upending their expectations of Zoom meetings
- Stay connected with takeaways and follow-ups