April is Stress Awareness Month. There are very serious stressful situations that far too many are facing right now and it’s important that we’re aware of the ways that you can combat and alleviate stress. If you find yourself with serious negative feelings or prolonged depression, please reach out for help. But there are plenty of everyday situations that also cause us stress, in smaller and often less obvious or even hidden ways. It’s important to address this kind of stress as well. One of those unavoidable things for those of us working remotely?
Video calls really do take more effort – it’s more work for our brains to process everything, especially compared to a phone call. There’s a lot of stimuli. We miss out on many of the non-verbal visual cues we’re used to. We’re also distracted by technical issues and constantly staring at and judging ourselves, usually unkindly. Is it any wonder we’re stressed when the call ends? Remote work is here to stay, so it’s not indulgent but rather important that we figure out how to have less stressful video calls. Here are few ideas. I hope they help.
Does it need to be a video call?
Start simple. Fewer meetings in general is also a good stress reliever, but sometimes you need to connect and talk. Does it have to be on Zoom? The phone is instantly more relaxing. You can just talk –take notes and concentrate on the conversation, not what you or anyone else looks like. I think if there are only two of you, even three, it’s a phone call. Use the platform to connect if you like but no video. In an effort to replace the office experience, we’re tempted to make everything as “in person” as possible. Well intentioned perhaps but not always a good idea. We talked to each other on the phone plenty before – it still works.
Use technology to help
Video conferencing technology itself can help reduce distractions. One trick: set your view so that you are excluded from the screen. This way you are not constantly looking at yourself! You can also set your screen to promote the speaker to be the primary or only square, making it easier to focus on them the way you would in a room together. Consider creating company backgrounds that people can use. The uniformity eliminates the distraction of what’s behind everyone, and no one has to worry about being in front of something inappropriate! Check your settings and learn about the features of the platform(s) you are using. They can help alleviate some of the things that really jangle our nerves.
Invest in better equipment
In the office, you didn’t meet in a conference room with uncomfortable chairs or where the temperature was too hot or cold. Don’t do it virtually. We covered this last year in detail but it bears repeating – investing in better technology and equipment will improve the quality of the call and reduce issues, leading to less stressful video calls. Frozen screens and tinny speakers interrupt our concentration and make it harder to focus. Consider developing standard recommendations for remote work and giving people budgets or the equipment directly. Subsidizing good internet and quality headphones will make a difference.
Employ a hybrid of on and off camera
Consider starting out with everyone on camera – catching up, sharing casual conversation, starting things off – then having everyone go off screen unless they are speaking. This makes it easier for all attendees to pay attention to the speaker alone, more like in an in-person meeting. Perhaps two people discussing something are on at the same time, but you reduce the cluttered screen. There are some that subscribe to cameras on to ensure involvement, but for me, we are adults who are paid to do our jobs. If the conversation is useful, and the attendees belong there, everyone should be engaged.
Bonus tip: virtual conference rooms can be used for good, not evil
In the office, people could just swing by your cubicle to chat; managers had “open-door” policies, and if someone was already there, you might join the conversation, wait nearby, or come back in a few minutes. You can actually recreate that with video conference. Let people know what hour(s) you’re available and give them the link to your “room.” Sign on and wait. If people want to “stop by,” they’ll know you’re in your “office” and will. The waiting room and join functions will give you some control but try and keep it as casual as possible.