I moved countries and teams in the middle of a pandemic. For the first time ever, every single person I was working with was someone I had never met in person. Many of them I’d never seen over a video call either. For all I know, they could just be a very smart robot. For someone who believes in building strong foundational relationships via in-person interactions, this proved to be the biggest challenge I’d ever faced. In my struggle to adapt to this strange new world, I learnt a few things along the way. While one of the things I learnt is that I’d always prefer working from an office and meeting people in ‘real’ life, I also learnt how to minimize the pain to the extent possible.
- Humour & small talk: On most days anxiety took over and humour was the last thing on my mind. But every time the person on the other end made a joke, I became a little more comfortable. I learnt to shrug the weight off and bring light-hearted versions of me to the calls. I learnt to take things seriously but not forget the smiles and laughs along the way. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of bringing humour to work. Now more than ever. It is the best glue that exists. The people I laughed with are the ones I get most work done with.
If on days you find yourself bereft of humour, leverage small talk. I have had long discussions on food, weather, and the banking system – anything that makes you appear a little more human and little less distant. We did this when we walked into work, why not now?
- Switch the video on: It is tempting to switch off your own video when the person on the other side has. DON’T! Always let the other person see you. If you are having a bad hair day, make an effort and look nice. On some days, I’d look terrible but I would still switch the video on. Sometimes the person on the other end might feel guilty and switch theirs on else they’d just be looking at me. And if you feel self-conscious, switch your self-view off. I would recommend you that even otherwise. The human brain isn’t wired to see yourself talk. It is distracting and if it isn’t, switching it off won’t impact the conversation anyway.
- Don’t give back time: When someone accepts your meeting invite, value it. Time is precious and they are giving it to you despite not knowing you. Now a lot of us take it for granted. It’s their job to talk to us! Well, it isn’t. I realized it after chasing one person for an entire month. Now that that’s happened, I make it a point to turn up to every meeting prepared. And even when there is no “need” to talk, I find a topic. It could be as easy as ‘please explain this to me’. It is a great opportunity to demonstrate vulnerability, give ownership to the other person on the call to groom you and spend time talking – all of which goes a long way in building a relationship.
- Honesty: Lastly honesty. Now honesty does not mean you go ahead and tell the other person that they’re a fool. You can be honest yet kind and the first step to honesty is seeking to understand. A lot of things will be different and it is tempting to feel that it is all wrong. This is something that was told to me on Day1. First understand why things are the way they are, seek to understand and then be honest and not necessarily ‘brutally’ honest. There is a difference. Find it.
I still have a long way to go and I know I’ll never be as effective as I am in in-person meetings. Yet, until then, these four have helped more than I’d like to admit. If you are joining a new team, organization or moving countries, try these out but more importantly, know that it will be just fine.
Cut yourself some slack.
P.S: This post was first published here.