woman wearing a headset working on a computer science degree

Strategies for Virtual Workspace Professionalism

Join us for an enlightening discussion with communication expert Lauren Sergy as we navigate the ever-evolving world of virtual meetings. Lauren, with her extensive background in improving workplace communication, sheds light on the nuances that differentiate virtual interactions from in-person exchanges. Listen in as she offers her invaluable insights into mastering the art of virtual meetings and introduces her co-authored book, "Winning in the Virtual Workplace," a treasure trove of strategies for digital workspace excellence.

In this conversation, we dive into the technical enhancements that can elevate your virtual communication skills to new heights. From the clarity of an external webcam to the crispness of a dedicated microphone, we examine how these tools, along with the right lighting and background setup, can transform your video conferencing experience. Lauren and I discuss the subtleties of personal branding within your virtual space and share tips on how to maintain a professional and engaging presence online, ensuring you leave a memorable impression on your virtual audience.

Lastly, we tackle the pressing issue of virtual meeting etiquette and the importance of respecting boundaries in this digital age. As we chat about the impact of back-to-back video conferences on our mental health and productivity, Lauren provides practical advice on scheduling and attire that respects both personal rhythms and professional expectations. Our exchange is not just informative, but also a testament to the power of positivity and humor in overcoming the challenges of remote business activities. Tune in for a lively discussion that promises to enhance your approach to virtual meetings and business scheduling.

Show Notes

  • 0:03:49 - Virtual vs in-Person Meetings (125 Seconds)
  • 0:17:08 - Video Communication Background Importance (144 Seconds)
  • 0:21:10 - Improving Nonverbal Communication on Camera (126 Seconds)
  • 0:25:23 - The Power of Virtual Meetings (29 Seconds)
  • 0:28:39 - Enhancing Virtual Meeting Communication Skills (65 Seconds)
  • 0:34:59 - Virtual Dress Code Communication Importance (69 Seconds)
  • 0:38:59 - Managing Burnout in Virtual Meetings (69 Seconds)

0:00:01 - Announcer

You are listening to the National University Podcast.

0:00:10 - Kimberly King

Hello, I'm Kimberly King. Welcome to the National University Podcast, where we offer a holistic approach to student support, well-being and success- the whole human education. We put passion into practice by offering accessible, achievable higher education to lifelong learners. On today's episode, we're discussing virtual meetings, and joining us is communication professional Lauren Sergy. Lauren has helped thousands of people become more effective leaders by developing key interpersonal and workplace communication skills. She's worked with companies such as 3M, KPMG, Cargill, T-Mobile and others, and Lauren holds a master's degree in library and information studies as a bachelor of arts, plus a certificate of management development. She has taught business communication at the University of Alberta and Concordia University of Edmonton and regularly guest lectures at other post-secondary institutions. She has authored two books: The Handy Communication Answer Book, named on Library Journal's Best Reference 2017 list, and Unmute: How to Master Virtual Meetings and Reclaim your Sanity. Love those titles. We welcome Lauren to the podcast. How are you?

0:01:24 - Lauren Sergy

I am great. Thank you so much for having me.

0:01:28 - Kimberly King

Yes, why don't you fill our audience a little bit in on your mission and your work before we get to today's show topic?

0:01:34 - Lauren Sergy

Well, at the very start of the business that I now run, my mission was to save the world from terrible presentations, one speaker at a time, and it's shifted over the years. So now it is really about enabling people, especially leaders in a variety of different workplaces, be more powerful, clearer communicators, because communication is what makes our businesses work.

0:02:03 - Kimberly King

I love it. Oh my goodness, I can see so many places for you to be, and you do need to save the world in that. In these presentations, it's like fingernails on a chalkboard, isn't it?

0:02:15 - Lauren Sergy

I've had some doozies and I’ve given some doozies myself. [Laughter.]

0:02:18 - Kimberly King

Right, we all have. We all have, oh my gosh. [Laughter.] Today, in addition to our topic, we are pleased to announce the new book that Center for the Advancement of Virtual Organizations has published. It is called Winning in the Virtual Workplace, an innovative book authored by 10 leading experts in the field, including yourself. Packed with invaluable insights, practical strategies and cutting-edge techniques. This book is your ultimate guide to thriving in the digital workspace. And so, Lauren, tell us a little bit about this project.

0:02:47 - Lauren Sergy

This project was a wonderful opportunity for communication nerds like myself and virtual workplace nerds like myself to get together and put together a book that is ‘boots on the ground’ useful for anyone who is running a business that is either in part or in totality remote and virtual, because it's not the same as running things in person, so you need to have a good understanding of everything from how to build teams to how to communicate with them and everything in between.

0:03:26 - Kimberly King

And it's so relevant, it's so important, important and you're right, it's funny, I look at you and your personality just burst right through the screen, which is great, but imagine when we were all in COVID and everybody was learning this, and so I love your experience and your transition from being in person to being virtual and really making sure people stay engaged and awake during these presentations. So today we are talking about virtual meetings and so, Lauren, what is easier? In-person meetings or virtual meetings?

0:03:56 - Lauren Sergy

It depends, isn't that just the- That is the sort of answer that you'll get from communication professionals, because it really does depend on an individual's preference. I find in-person to be easier. That is because I can read the reactions of the people in the room much better. You get that energy flow going back and forth. You know, actors love to say you can feel the energy of the audience, and it's true with even just one-on-one communication as well. But I also know many people who feel more comfortable communicating from their own space and find that engaging virtually just means that they're able to be less distracted and more effective throughout the day. So there isn't a right answer to that question. You have to judge for yourself. Where am I more comfortable? And preferring one over the other doesn't make you a bad communicator or make you weird. It just means that you're more comfortable in one environment over the other. It's fine.

0:04:58 - Kimberly King

You know what? It's so funny that you said this because I grew up, my former job was being on air. I was on air with NBC and CBS in San Diego, so a little small market here, but it's so funny. I mean, for 20 years I was talking to a camera, which is what we're doing now, but and then it was harder for me to go in person. Now I enjoy, just like what you said, I love seeing people's feedback and their reactions. So I really prefer to be in front of an audience where I can kind of see that and feel and get engaged with that energy. So it's a whole different.

0:05:33 - Lauren Sergy

Both modalities are great, and there's times when I'm very glad that I get to do something virtually instead of having to schlep myself on an airplane halfway across the country or whatever, and there's other times where I'm craving that in person. So it varies.

0:05:51 - Kimberly King

Yeah. Yeah, that's a good point, it's true. What is the biggest difference between communicating in person versus via webcam?

0:05:58 - Lauren Sergy

That's something that we touched on. Actually, it is the nonverbal interaction, and there's a number of reasons why that affects the communication so much. A lot of our cues in terms of how a conversation is supposed to flow is given nonverbally. So we will look at the person that we're addressing in particular. Or if we're meeting with eight other people, let's say, and we want one person in particular to take a turn, it's their turn to speak. We'll turn our shoulders and reorient our body towards them. Little things like muscle tension don't translate across the camera very well. It's hard to see these things through the camera and in cases of the eye contact and the physical posture, they're lost completely. So that conversational cuing is what is where people find this mode of communication very difficult and very tiring, as our brains will try to backfill that information and it does make for- again, just less- you can't get into flow of conversation quite as easily as you can in person.

0:07:10 - Kimberly King

And that is so true too. I never really thought about the way you're posturing, but sometimes, as you're thinking about it, when you're virtual, if you have a specific question rather than being general, maybe you have to think about okay, who am I directing this towards? So you are constantly with that ongoing thing going behind your head there. So why do some people find it difficult to pay attention in virtual meetings?

0:07:34 - Lauren Sergy

It would be, unfair to ask you this question, but for most people I would say how many tabs do you have open in your browser right now? This environment has been engineered by the people who create the software, who develop the apps, to be distracting. That is something that we need to realize is that it's the way that we use the software, the way that we engage with our devices, and our computers is set up so that we are constantly flipping from one task to another. So the fact, even if you don't have all of the tabs open, even if you're just focused on the one meeting, for many people even the knowledge that they could open their email or they could quickly check that thing is really really difficult to distract, to ignore. So we end up using part of our brain space to ignore all the other stuff that we could be choosing to do right now, and that is an active mental process. It can overwhelm our decision-making capacity and our ability to pay attention.

Then, of course, there's the other distractions that might be happening in your environment. In the case of an office, it is not uncommon for virtual meetings to be interrupted by people popping in and out of the meeting room because they didn't know it was booked. If you are at a home office I mostly work out of my home office there could be a cat scratching and screaming at your door, like mine likes to do every now and then, or other little blips and bleeps going off in the environment around you. So this is what I consider an inherently distraction-heavy environment. When we are face-to-face, we know where we're supposed to be focused. When we're on our devices and our computers, our focus could be all over the place, and we've trained ourselves to be that way.

0:09:27 - Kimberly King

Right, as you were speaking, there are some lawn blowers out here, those really large, loud, and I was thinking maybe you can hear that and and my dog is scratching at the door inside the house. So too funny that's- Yeah, you're right, and I do have that- that remember when COVID first happened, and there was a gentleman walking behind the camera right in his underwear or something at of my office. So we all remember those moments.

0:09:50 - Lauren Sergy

Oh yes. My kids have come in, into my room when I’m giving online courses, despite all the threats that I’ve issued at them to stay out of my office. My son once came in army crawling hand over hand into my room and then slowly rose up behind the other side of the monitor while I am in full flow trying to teach a corporate class and one day, I just had to tell them everyone on the screen, I'm like, excuse me, I need to kill my son. [Laughter.] I turned the screen off like get out of here. You're supposed to be in bed! It humanizes us. What can I say?

0:10:31 - Kimberly King

It does, it does, and then, yeah, of course everybody's laughing there and really back to normal right?

0:10:38 - Lauren Sergy

That's the sort of thing that can happen in the office too. Once again, people popping out of the meeting room, ‘I thought it was free.’

0:10:47 - Kimberly King

So we just talked about distractions. I think it's funny, but it is very human. So what should we watch out for during virtual meetings?

0:10:55 - Lauren Sergy

During virtual meetings. The big one is to ensure that notifications on your devices and on your screens have been turned off. I will go so far as to use blocking apps so that I can't open up new browser windows, and that's because I know myself. If someone asks oh, I wonder what the answer to this is. That librarian that I used to be in my former life rises to the surface is like. I can find that in just a couple seconds.

0:11:21 - Kimberly King

Right, the research side.

0:11:26 - Lauren Sergy

So the reason my distractions- lots of people I know will intentionally block their email, um or other sort of uh, other sort of apps like that that tend to get you sucked in. I also, for those who work in areas where there is a problem with people popping in and out of the meeting room or they're in a home office and they want people to know, I will recommend posting notes on the outside of the door right. It's like the old on-air sign right in a meeting.

Tape it to the door. This is not fancy technology, but then everyone knows that you're not supposed to be interrupted and it works. The nice thing is that if you know that those things are set up that part of our brain that's on constant alert for the distractions what if someone comes in? What if someone calls me? It can calm down because it knows, we know that we've set ourselves up for success and to not be distracted and it's easier to relax into the actual conversation.

0:12:23 - Kimberly King

I love that and it's a boundary. I mean, I guess our boundaries when we're in person is a door that's closed and you know meeting in progress or on air or something like you said. But but that's yeah good, I like those boundaries. What are the minimum requirements in terms of technology for a productive virtual meeting?

0:12:40 - Lauren Sergy

The absolute minimum that you have to have is good audio. If the audio doesn't work, nothing else works. And that might seem, you know, for some of our listeners out there that might seem really, really basic, but it's easy to forget that if you are, you know, out for a walk, if you're having a walking virtual meeting, which I encourage people to do, if the wind is kicked up, people can't hear you over the microphone. If your connection is bad, because you are taking this from your as I like to call them, your mobile office out in the middle of nowhere, as you're driving to a job site, if you don't have a good connection, they won't be able to understand you. So, at a minimum, your audio has to be dialed in. That means a strong internet connection, hopefully one that you can hardwire into if you're using a computer or a laptop, and a basic microphone and headset. If you’re using just the one that came on your laptop, then I always recommend plugging in microphone and headset, the kind that you get with a cell phone. Because those microphones are really good, and then you are wired into your ears, so the microphone is not going to pick up your speakers, which means you won't get any echo. That's the absolute basic.

From there, for those who are doing a lot of virtual meetings from something like a laptop or a computer, I recommend then upgrading to an external webcam. The one that comes on your computer sucks, it's terrible- the one that comes on your computer, and that's because you have to sacrifice bulk in terms of size. If it's that little thing that's in the middle of your laptop bezel, it's not going to be a good camera.

But a good upgrade is something like- I use a Logitech C922. It costs less than a hundred bucks Canadian, so it's probably 34 cents American at this point, it's really inexpensive. It plugs into a USB port, it can handle poor lighting, it's got a good frame rate, so it's going to make your image nice and crisp and for a very, very small investment you can upgrade to something that can give you nearly studio like quality.

If you’ve got that external webcam and you’re wondering what’s next, it’s an external microphone. The one that I've been using is probably 10 years old. It's an ATR2100, plugs into a USB. It has never failed me, and with these two things and some half decent lighting, I can get studio quality virtual meetings and virtual presentation sessions going from my basement office. It does not need to be expensive, but it should be an upgrade just from what comes packaged in your laptop.

0:15:31 - Kimberly King

That's such great advice. That is really key and I'm sure everybody was running there writing it down what your camera and your microphone are. And it's true- Like don't break what's fixed. You know, if you've had your microphone for 10 years and it's never failed you. That's great

0:15:47 - Lauren Sergy

It's still working! One of these days- I do have a fancy clip one that I wear, but that's specifically when I'm recording video. I use that mostly just for video recording. Otherwise, for the majority of my video conferences, this is the setup that I have.

0:16:07 - Kimberly King

Well, it's beautiful, it looks great, and um- and lighting is everything too. When you're on camera, right?

0:16:12 - Lauren Sergy

Lighting matters a lot but you don't need to over complicate it. Well, you don't, and what you want is enough light shining on your face from the other side of the webcam. You don't want it pointing into the webcam, because that's going to blow out your camera and wash you out. What I have set up- Of course everyone listening cannot see this, but I'm actually just using two desk lights with daylight level light bulbs in them, which is, I believe, if you're going to get technical, 5,000 K is what you want to look for on the box. When I'm doing virtual keynotes and I've really dialed up everything up, I pull out a couple of inexpensive photography studio lights that I got off of Amazon, again, less than $200. And I light myself that way. It's lots of light, it lights me up nicely and it ensures that that camera image is nice and crisp.

0:17:05 - Kimberly King

Right, right. Key. I love that. What about your background? How much does your background matter?

0:17:12 - Lauren Sergy

I think it matters a lot. I think- I'll warn you. I'm getting on a soapbox right now. Stop blurring out your backgrounds! [Laughter.]

0:17:18 - Kimberly King

Right? I feel the same way.

0:17:25 - Lauren Sergy

Wooh! Part of the reason we're on camera and having video conferences as opposed to just audio conferences is so that we can see each other and that we can see each other in a real space. As soon as you put on a virtual background or a blurred out background, you're actually disrupting that sense of sharing a space with the person. If we were sitting across the table, I would be able to see what's behind you, and our brains pick up on those kinds of details. So when you, when you're blurring it out, you're just removing a little bit of context and making it seem a little bit weirder to that little lizard communication area of your brain which is just evaluating things based off of what it's seeing. No weirdness.

All that your background needs to be is neat and tidy. It doesn't have to be fancy, it doesn't have to be particularly beautiful. It should never be your bedroom headboard, which is something that I don't need to tell people now. But when we started, at the start of the pandemic and people were saying, can you please, please, help my employees have better communications, consistently I was telling people to get out of their bedrooms. That's too intimate of a space, TMI, right, exactly.

But right now, if it's just a plain background, that's fine. The great thing, though, is that if you look at your background and ask yourself, what do I want my background to say about me as a professional, you can start to inject a lot of personality and even a little bit of personal branding back there. Make it interesting, right, you can. You can figure out what sort of tone do I want to convey, what kind of feeling about me do I want to signal to the people that are watching, and then style your background. Try a different color of paint, pop in some accessories and see if that gives the vibe that you're looking for. So to blur out your background or to put a virtual one behind you is missing that opportunity to really personalize the experience. And I think it matters.

0:19:24 - Kimberly King

Yeah, it's true, you can have the personality behind you, but also when you blur out the background, doesn't it? Anytime you make a shift or a movement, I can see what you're doing.

0:19:37 - Lauren Sergy

Thank you for mentioning that, Kim, because that is a big deal. As soon as I believe that you should be moving, you should be gesturing on camera. Again, this is what makes it feel like it's like we're actually communicating together, and if your background is blurred out or if it's virtual, your camera cannot handle movement. So you get, you know, a hand being chopped off at the wrist or your head being cut out, and again it's that weirdness factor.

We know that you're not actually being chopped into pieces, but it's really distracting for the people watching you.

0:20:13 - Kimberly King

It's like those old Godzilla movies where the sound wasn't matching the mouth right. It's kind of like, yeah, there's something really off about that. Yeah, so should we all go out and buy a ring light and a fancy webcam and with podcasting mics? You really just kind of covered that a little bit

0:20:34 - Lauren Sergy

No, for the most part, you can work with what you've got. Like I said, upgrading from the, from the webcam that's in your laptop, to an external webcam will be huge. For most of people It'll be like night and day. Aside from that, if you're wondering, okay, how can I make this look better, just start grabbing lamps around your house, see if you can brighten up the light in your space. Play around with what you've got and you can probably make something that looks pretty darn crisp on a minimal budget.

0:21:02 - Kimberly King

Right and I love that. You yeah About how much you didn't spend on upgrading, just those little simple upgrades. So how can I have a better nonverbal communication on camera?

0:21:15 - Lauren Sergy

There's some fun stuff that we can do with nonverbal communication. Um, the number one thing is to number one, as I'm going to throw in like three number one things here. First up, please make sure that your camera angle is dialed in, and what I mean by that is that the aperture of your camera, so the lens, should be in line with your eyes. That way we're not getting any up the nose shots or any weird downwards like Instagram influencer angles. We don't want those angles. Chin level with the floor, eyes pointed straight ahead. Get your camera aperture in angle in line with your eyes, because that way it feels normal.

From there, I would like people to sit far enough away from their webcam that the camera can see them from, I would say, mid chest up to the top of their head, with a little bit of space between their head and the top of the camera frame. This way we can see some of your gestures. You're not so far back that it's like you're shouting at us from down a hallway. That's strange. And you're not crowding the camera so that the only thing people see is your face. This feels much more natural when people are crowding the camera and their faces are too close. I like to compare it to being in an elevator with a close talker. You're like, just get back please. [Laughter.]

Yes it really does. It really does make people very anxious. From there, with the camera, with yourself framed that way so we can see you from mid chest up, when you gesture and you should gesture, if you gesture up around that, that upper chest to shoulder level, people can see it. And that ensures that we're getting some nonverbal communication going, that people can see your hands moving around, that you're not just a talking head. It makes things much, much more engaging.

Do you need to be waving your hands around all over the place all the time? No, of course not. We wouldn't do that in real life. Don't do it here. Just let us see your hands every now and then. And then this is the last thing I promise you, make eye contact with the webcam. That's the big one.

And by making eye contact, that does not mean looking at the faces of the people that you're speaking to. It means looking straight into the camera so that the people you're speaking to feel like you're looking to them, like you're looking at them. Rather, that's what I'm always thinking about is do the people that I'm speaking to feel like I'm engaging? I'm not worried about how I feel. I'm not doing this for my comfort and edification. I'm doing it for theirs. Can you look at their faces and check in every now and then? Yes, of course you can. We don't stare at each other relentlessly the whole time while we're speaking. You can look away, you can look around you, you can look at the faces, you can look at your notes, but then come back to the camera aperture on a regular basis. That way, people feel like you're engaging like you're engaging.

0:24:31 - Kimberly King

That's such great advice and it's hard to tell I guess a non-professional when you're really learning the use of these webcams that yep, where that little green light is. Look at that and that is, that's how you're engaging.

0:24:38 - Lauren Sergy

For you and I both, having had that on-camera experience. I did film acting training, I've done plenty of camera work. It's almost natural for us to lock on to the camera. It feels easy. But at the beginning of the pandemic in particular. That was the number one thing and I had to remind myself, Lauren, other people are not used to doing this. It feels very strange to them. This is a habit that you have to be mindful of and that you have to develop, but once it becomes habit, very easy to do.

0:25:09 - Kimberly King

But and it's so great for you that you have turned this into your profession that's much needed. I mean, again, it's so relevant and you're doing a great job, and this has been such a fun conversation. We have to take a quick break, so we're going to have more in just a moment, so don't go away. We'll be right back. And now back to our interview with communication professional, Lauren Sergy. And we're talking about virtual meetings and, Lauren, you're making me laugh. There's so many things that could go wrong, but I love that you're giving people some really great resources as well and some great advice. So how can we reduce people talking over one another in the virtual setting?

0:25:47 - Lauren Sergy

That really comes back to that absence of communication queuing that we discussed in the first half there, and when we can't rely on our nonverbal cues, it means you have to do it verbally. So what I coach people to do is quote, unquote, pass the baton. This means that when you want someone to respond to you, when it is someone else's turn to speak, you name them, you call them by name and then give them something to respond to, and what I recommend doing is going beyond just saying you know, Kimberly, do you have anything to add? Cause now, that really makes people feel like they've been put on the spot and I find that our brains just freeze. When we get asked that. Instead, give them something to respond to. So it could be Kim, do you have any personal tips regarding dealing with those awkward pauses? What do you do to get through them? And now you have something to respond to, which makes it easier for you to continue speaking.

This tactic works in person as well. If you want to draw out those wallflowers who never speak up, ask them a specific question and call on them by name, name, and what I'll do is I do the name first so that they know that it's time to pay attention, they'll be expected to respond, and then I ask the question, and it's always within, of course, context of the conversation.

These are things that, if you are the meeting organizer or the meeting chair, I recommend you have them planned out a little bit. I don't mean that you need to go in with a script like and this time, at this point in the meeting, I am going to ask John for his views on whatever. No, just have a few standard kind of open-ended questions that you can pull out and send to different people at different times. For the most part, when we're communicating within our organizations and our workplaces, we know who the best people are to be responding to certain things. So just think about that and say, okay, at this time I'm going to pass the baton to Mike. At this time I'm going to pass the baton to Joanne, and then call them by name, ask them a question and then let them take it.

If you have been passed the baton and you have nothing to say, let us know. Let us know, say ‘you know what, I don't have anything to add.’ I let's say that we asked, we asked Kim about a client update: ‘I don't really have anything to add to that, but I do know that John had a phone call with that client just the other day. John, was there anything in that phone call that is relevant to this conversation.’ Now Kim has passed the baton to John, he can reply and in this manner, the conversation can kind of move its way around the room without people wondering is it my time to talk? What I find on virtual meetings is that you get those long pauses where everyone's thinking, is it my turn? And it usually lasts about two to three seconds and then two or three people will all pile on at once. Cause they're trying to fill that silence. Passing the baton helps people get over that.

0:29:00 - Kimberly King

I love that and that's a really good thing first of all, to say their name, but then also give them something, and that's great again, virtually and in person. I think it's just part of being a conversationalist is making them feel included and not having them to do a deep dive into coming up with something you know, so that I like that great advice.

0:29:18 - Lauren Sergy

It's a conversational skill, and the big thing that I find is different between virtual versus in person is that with virtual it takes a little bit more planning, or rather it benefits from a little more planning. So much along those lines let people know what you're going to be addressing in the meeting, and even let them know what they will be expected to speak to, because then they're prepared to jump in when it makes sense.

0:29:43 - Kimberly King

Oh, that's great too. Do we have to have our cameras on all the time?

0:29:51 - Lauren Sergy

No, which which some of my, some of my clients, some of the uh of the organizations I work with get all verklempt at first. What?! We've been telling people their cameras have to be on all the time. No, but the way that I focus on whether the cameras are on or off is that everyone shows up in the same way, so the cameras can be off, provided that all the cameras are off, because now we're all on an even playing field, right?

If the cameras are intended to be on, then everyone's are on, and I recommend stating whether it is a cameras on or cameras off meeting in the invitation itself, so that everyone knows what's expected of them. The difficulty that happens when some people have their cameras on and some people have their cameras off is that having your cameras on takes more effort, because now you're also doing the nonverbal queuing, now you're doing that additional engagement, and you are left wondering whether or not the people whose cameras are off are even present and paying attention. A lot of anger in between team members. If there's certain people who are consistently leaving their cameras off, they are signaling that this meeting is not worth the effort of them having their cameras on. That's a really bad signal to send.

So if you are a leader and you are dealing with people who are refusing to turn their cameras on, it is time to pull them aside and have a talk. Turn their cameras on. It is time to pull them aside and have a talk. Say, ‘look, why is the camera not on? These are the expectations. If it's a cameras off meeting, we will let everyone know.’ And with that, you know. Keep in mind that some people find the cameras on to be extremely tiring. There are those differences in preference, so I also think it's a good idea to give people a camera break and every now and then say it's fine, they can, they can be off, that's no problem. This is a more casual meeting. We don't need to be staring up each other's noses. Leave it off, give them that visual break every now and then, but do make it clear whether it's cameras on or cameras off and everyone shows up the same way.

0:32:15 - Kimberly King

Yeah, that's a really good playing level right there. I think that's it's good to. I've never been a couple of zoom meetings or whatnot and um, and never said and I know that somebody would, you know, click in and say, hey, I'm still driving, I'm not going to be able to be on camera or whatever. So if we can do it, but it's true, and then I think everybody should be able to do that as long as it's for bringing that up.

0:32:39 - Lauren Sergy

Actually, that's an important note that there may be extenuating circumstances. Someone is driving, someone is at home taking care of a sick kid or something like that, and they got them glued to their shoulder and, yeah, that's okay. If there's extenuating circumstances, then you can be flexible, but they should genuinely be extenuating. If it is a repeated issue. That might be something to talk to the employee or the team member about separately and get your expectations for the communication clear.

0:33:11 - Kimberly King

Yeah good, very good. Yeah, good, very good. I love that. How directive should leaders be regarding virtual meeting etiquette? So that goes on, I think that falls under the etiquette, but what else can people do to make sure there's clear communication?

0:33:26 - Lauren Sergy

One thing is to have some debriefs with your team regarding how the communication on camera or virtual communication should work. You know, mention things like passing the baton, like giving those verbal cues, so that people feel empowered to have some good skills around them. Other things that should be set in terms of etiquette can include: how are people expected to dress? That's not so much of an issue now, but earlier in the pandemic, when we weren't too certain on how we should be turning up, that was a big pain point with many of the companies that I worked for.

So you want people to know what is acceptable in terms of clothing and attire in different kinds of meetings. If you are meeting with an external client, you shouldn't be showing up in a zip-up hoodie. On the other hand, if it is the Friday team meeting, then maybe it's okay to be a little bit casual. You might want to set times. Just let people know, this is a jackets on meeting or this is a casual meeting. Don't worry about having a full face of makeup or what have you, but set those expectations. That's where the etiquette really does matter. If it feels like it's one of those elevated conversations. You're speaking to an external client, you're having a meeting with the executive, then, yes, your appearance should fit the tone of the meeting. That, however, is something that should be communicated from the leaders downward, so that everyone knows what is expected of them.

0:34:57 - Kimberly King

Yeah, that's a good point too. I know, again, going back to when COVID first started and everybody was going virtual and you see, just pajamas, crazy. You know filters.

0:35:09 - Lauren Sergy

Pants! There were those few weeks where various people were getting exposed in media because they weren't wearing pants. What?

0:35:20 - Kimberly King

It was crazy. Stay behind your bedroom doors. You do that there.

0:35:27 - Lauren Sergy

We mean we've all normalized those big ones at this at this stage, those big ones at this stage. But now it's very much like treating the virtual environment similar to an office environment and saying this is what is expected at these times for these kinds of engagements. Send it out loud and clear and then no one needs to worry. Am I dressed too much? Am I dressed too down? Like what's expected of me? Just communicate what's expected.

0:35:52 - Kimberly King

Yeah, yeah, and I think that's probably what, what is missing. I think because when people think, oh, it's virtual, there doesn't need to be as much communication or something, there was a but you do. You have to say it out loud, you have to spell it out and you have to, yeah again, put boundaries around there and really communicate it. How many video conferences a day can we actually handle? That makes me laugh, because, oh my gosh, you could be sitting here and you're like, oh for the love of God, let's move on now. I need to stand up, I need to get out.

0:36:22 - Lauren Sergy

Yes, and again, there's going to be a lot of variation from person to person here. Some people tap out after just a couple. Some people can go all day long. That being said, I do believe that this is a- it's a cognitively heavy environment to work in. Our brains are processing a lot when we're in front of the screens, because of the distractions, because of all of the inputs, because of dealing with, you know, ignoring our own faces on camera. So all of those things do wear people down and fatigue us more quickly. I think that people should monitor their own tolerance level over the course of several days. So if you have a day that is really heavy for virtual meetings, take stock of how you feel at different times and then figure out okay, what was that tipping point where my brain just turned into mush? And now you have kind of a baseline where you can say I'm going to do, I can do two or three one hour meetings, but beyond that I can't or I'm only good for a couple of half hour meetings and after that half hour mark I just drop. Then, if you do have some flexibility with your own schedule, try to take that into account.

If virtual meetings are really tiring for you. Try to keep your on-camera time relatively short. You know, as a benchmark, stick to half an hour meetings. Every now and then you'll have to, you know, pull yourself up and do the hour long one. But as a benchmark, try to restrict yourself to those half hour meetings if you find them tiring For everyone.

For every hour or so you should have at least a 10 minute break that is away from the camera and away from the computer. So if you are stuck in one of those meetings, it's you know it's going to be one of the big strategy sessions you're going to be in this meeting for two or three hours. Okay, you need to build in breaks where people physically get up and away from the computer. That's really important to reduce eye strain and mental fatigue. I like to give myself a half hour break in between every single meeting, regardless how long the meeting is. In between every single meeting, regardless how long the meeting is. You need the time to get up, get away from your computer but also process what you just did in your meeting and mentally prep for the next one.

0:38:43 - Kimberly King

You know, and that's kind of yeah, I just on that note, and it doesn't actually really matter if it's a physical meetings. I've been in a job where it was one meeting after the next, after the next, or in a virtual meetings. But you also have to have time, as you said, to process what happened, but then to be I'm action oriented and you want to get it done. Then let's start implementing what we just met about and, um, yeah, so if you're going back to back to back, that, just yeah, there's no-

0:39:08 - Lauren Sergy

It’s bad in person and it's bad on camera. The difference with virtual is that it's easier to do that, where we sandwich them all in and you have to fight that urge to do so.

0:39:16 - Kimberly King

Yeah, that's great. How can we avoid burning out from too many virtual meetings?

0:39:24 - Lauren Sergy

The big thing is to be aware of those scheduling parameters. How many virtual meetings can you tolerate in one day? Then dial it back a little bit. What some people like to do is to front load all of their virtual meetings within a couple of days out of the week. That's like, okay, this, these are my meeting days. I'm going to have the full outfit on, I'm going to have my background all nice, I'm going to have the makeup on. And then the other two or three days out of this week I'm a wreck, and that's because no one's going to see me on camera, right? Because everything's been sandwiched into those two days. Other people prefer to spread them out over the course of the week. You have to figure out what kind of rhythm works for you and for your business and then schedule accordingly.

0:40:09 - Kimberly King

Good, this is great. I could talk to you all day. You have excellent advice and you have a pleasant and fun personality and, you know, just being willing to laugh at life right? Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge today and if you want more information, you can visit National university's website at nu.edu. And Lauren, thank you so much for your time today.

0:40:40 - Lauren Sergy

Thank you so much. It was lots of fun.

0:40:42 - Kimberly King

You've been listening to the National University Podcast. For updates on future or past guests, visit us at nu.edu. You can also follow us on social media. Thanks for listening.

Show Quotables

"Preferring [either in-person or virtual meetings] doesn't make you a bad communicator or make you weird. It just means that you're more comfortable in one environment over the other.” - Lauren Sergy, https://shorturl.at/rAIJ6 Click to Tweet
“When we are face-to-face, we know where we're supposed to be focused. When we're on our devices and our computers, our focus could be all over the place, and we've trained ourselves to be that way.” - Lauren Sergy, https://shorturl.at/rAIJ6 Click to Tweet