How to avoid online overload and keep energy and engagement high in the new world of work.
The last few months have seen huge shifts in the way the global workforce communicates. Before the pandemic, 100% online communication was saved only for the techiest of companies.
Now, most colleagues in a much larger number of organisations are spending all day online. Going from meetings and presentations to briefings and training workshops and suffering from virtual fatigue.
Workforce burn out now means something quite different and organisations are experiencing tired and disengaged employees as a result.
As a verbal communications specialist, I have spent 20 years in Leadership Development and the last six years in entrepreneurship running an online verbal comms and speaking business. In that time I have picked up some handy tools to help employees and business owners keep energy and engagement high, embed learning and deliver messages that stick.
We know what happens when kids get too much screen time, and it’s the same for adults. Being regularly plugged into the virtual office can take its toll.
- Sensory deprivation
Although I have successfully been delivering virtual training for the last six years and will always be a promoter for online learning, there is still nothing quite like face to face. When in the same room, we have an enriched experience of sights, tastes, sounds, smells and feelings. When you reduce to a two dimensional screen, it reduces that experience and dulls the senses.
Organisations have become pretty good at setting boundaries in face to face meetings, presentations and training courses. Mobile phones are off the table so distraction is minimised.
Online? You have many potential distractions including tabs open on your computer, apps on your phone and anyone else who happens to be at home with you!
- Constant gazing
When in a virtual room for a period of time, the phenomenon of constant gazing can be a real problem. Attendees can become fixated of their image on the screen (whether positive or negative) leading to fatigue, disengagement and distraction.
- Data boredom
It’s inevitable that data still has its place when communicating via virtual presentations, meetings and briefings. When done online however, it can be even more disengaging, to the detriment of the project or task.
So what can we do?
As we move forward into an alternate future where online communication is the norm, it is crucial to maintain energy, engagement, learning and productivity to prevent virtual fatigue and burnout.
We can do this by managing, monitoring and enhancing the virtual experience in simple and effective ways.
9 ways to combat virtual communication fatigue
- Increase focus /decrease distraction
Setting out best practice for all online events helps everyone get into the right mindset and respect the space from the start. For yourself and for your attendees. Closing down tabs, removing phones from the area and closing off any environmental distractions really go a long way in keeping focus.
2. Video on or video off
Constant gazing (see above) can be remedied by allowing people to turn off their cameras when they aren’t speaking or contributing. I recommend this for meetings, but for training sessions I have found that keeping the cameras on (apart from in down time or self reflection exercises) can enrich the experience and increase connection and the vulnerability to share.
3. Give space for down time
Allow for down time in any form of online communication. It could be a 5 minute break to turn off the camera and shake your legs, or it could be a reflective exercise off camera and in silence, with the facilitator on hand in the private chat box. Blocking time off screen can help keep energy and engagement high.
4. Deliver with purpose
In any presentation, briefing, meeting or workshop, always have a clear outcome and purpose for every part of the experience. If delivering a virtual workshop, be crisp on your session planning and timings and ensure all learning styles are met using a variety of exercises with key learning outcomes.
5. Break state
Breaking state and shifting energy is crucial in any form of online communication. This can be achieved by switching up your delivery to include downtime (as above) icebreakers, quick energisers, and varied exercises, frequently shifting the energy to keep people engaged and energised.
6. Replace data with stories
I work with clients to enrich their communication with the innate human skill of storytelling. We are all hardwired for stories. It is how we make meaning and connect with each other. This means it’s a pretty nifty tool to use to increase the impact of your communication. One great way of maintaining engagement when using data in presentations and meetings is to tell a story around the data. Bring it to life by giving it a situational journey, context and purpose.
7. Use journeys not narratives
Next time you give an online briefing or presentation, or are reporting on something, try explaining it as a journey rather than a narrative. For example, instead of ‘I did this then this and then this’ You can set the scene, explain what happened, any challenges you faced and your key golden nugget takeaways as a result. A journey is much more engaging to your audience and adds depth to your communication. And every journey is different, so don’t worry if it doesn’t fit into the classic ‘hero’s journey’ structure, there are many others!
8. Give the ‘world tour’
One of the best ways to sprinkle some magic into your online communication is to give people a world tour with your words. This means enriching your dialogue with analogies, quotes, metaphors and scene setting stories.
Just like when you read a book and get immersed in the environment, a world tour puts your audience in the middle of whatever it is you are explaining. The sights, the sounds, the feelings involved. Adding these little extras to your delivery results in more engagement, a higher transfer of learning and less fatigue.
9. Vulnerability = connection
Virtual communication is at its best when every attendee feels connected to the experience. The best way to do this is to get real. Be open, share vulnerabilities and stories that show who you are as a person, not just a professional. Whether it be a personal (and relevant) story, putting your hands up about a mistake you have made, sharing your feelings about something (always with purpose) or getting to know people on a more personal level. Engagement comes from connection, and connection comes from vulnerability.
Right now I am helping organisations to combat virtual fatigue by introducing the versatile tool of storytelling to their online communication.
If you’d like to discuss how to increase energy, engagement, productivity learning then book in for a free chat here or send me a direct message.
I’m currently offering my ‘Power of Storytelling’ workshop that helps employees harness the many versatile uses of storytelling to increase engagement, maintain energy and deliver results in virtual meetings, briefings, presentations and workshops.