Last month I began a new blog series entitled ‘Changing Perceptions’. It was at a time when the US was beginning to reopen, and I planned to discuss the ways in which our feelings and perceptions of employers and employment itself have shifted during the COVID crisis. But 2020 never ceases to amaze, and that same week a different – but far from new – revolution took hold of our country when anger and action erupted over the sickening murder of George Floyd. Perceptions changed again.
The word “perception” has its Latin roots in “per” meaning “thoroughly” and “capere” meaning “to take”. Hence the English dictionary definition “the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.” This lexicon lead me to think about the way our perceptions change. It’s an immersive and experiential thing to perceive something, and we have it in our power to enhance, shape and shift our perceptions. In fact, we have a responsibility to.
According to data by Civiqs the first two weeks of June saw support for the Black Lives Matter movement increase by nearly as much as it had done in the past two years. A perfect storm of timing and the particularly grotesque nature of George Floyd’s death brought the US to a tipping point. And – as with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery – video footage made this real and unignorable to people everywhere. It took hold of our senses, and our perceptions are changed forever.
We see this change in the marked uptick of people of all races taking responsibility to educate themselves on racism – understanding the need to change their own perceptions, and making use of resources to better and more thoroughly understand.
At Havas People, we have taken that responsibility seriously, and below share some of the resources that have helped to change our perceptions. We stand in solidarity with the Black community, and passionately believe that Black Lives Matter.
A Glossary of racial equity terms
Ted Talks to help you understand racism in America
The 1619 podcast series on the entanglement of slavery with American history
Black Lives Matter toolkits to help you learn about injustice – and how to take the message to your community
If I’d heard the term “essential worker” back in February, my thoughts would immediately have turned to healthcare workers. Even in a pre-COVID world, we needed them, simple as that. Fast forward to late May, and as the (very lengthy and 6ft-spaced) line of people outside my local Trader Joe’s in Austin moves slowly inside the store, people stop to thank the employees for their service.
The definition of “essential worker” has significantly changed, and not just in terms of guidelines or rules. The term itself now holds a meaningful place within our emotions – inspiring gratitude and pride. These are the people who put themselves at risk so that we could stay home. These are the people who helped us all to keep going – providing food, sanitation, infrastructure. These are the people standing outside Trader Joe’s in masks, wiping down hundreds of shopping carts every single day. So when we say “essential worker” now, it’s understood that this means those brave healthcare workers, but also grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, distribution center operators, and even fast food servers. For people like me who have spent their entire career working in an office environment, it’s humbling.
But as stay at home orders end, and hazard pay and benefits for many of these essential workers is walked back, has anything really changed? And if so, what are employers doing to reflect this?
For healthcare workers, “hero status” has rightly been conferred. We literally applaud them for their work. At a time when celebrities feel irrelevant (Madonna bemoaning this “great equalizer” from one of her mansions didn’t sit well with most of us), we are increasingly seeing and hearing from our frontline healthcare workers, and looking up to them as role models. Dr Fauci’s #PassTheMic campaign brings this idea to life with nurses, doctors and medical experts taking over the social media accounts of celebrities including Julia Roberts and Millie Bobby Brown.
We are far from the end of this, and the long-term effect on healthcare professions is yet to be seen. But, for now, while most of us are in awe of them, many people want to be them, with universities reporting a rise in numbers of applications for nursing programs (similar to the surge in recruitment of first responders that followed 9/11).
But what about those essential workers who are on a different frontline? Will the same hero effect remain for our grocery store workers, sanitation workers, and delivery drivers? Many of these often hourly-paid workers felt that they had no choice but to go to work or risk losing wages and benefits. There have been significant difficulties, and we’ve seen walkouts from Amazon, Walmart and Fedex, as well as fast food franchises and Instacart.
No doubt, it’s an unprecedented challenge for employers to manage, but they must realize that their employer brand and reputation are now one-and-the-same as their business brand and reputation. It should come as no surprise to them, precisely because many are seeing record sales at a time when they could not have functioned without their employees taking on some level of personal risk.
For right now, what are they doing to protect their employees? Do they have masks? What kind of leave is available should they become sick? Hazard pay was introduced by many in March, but is now coming to an end or being limited. Yes, stay at home orders may have been lifted, but for workers who come into direct contact with the public, the hazard has not disappeared. The way that employees are treated in these circumstances can – and will – be shared on social media. And it stands to reason that the safer your employees feel, the safer your customers will feel too.
But beyond the immediate crisis, how do employers share the value that their essential workers bring?
It’s even more apparent than usual that businesses thrive because of the people who bring them to life. And those people have stories to share. As essential workers during a global crisis, they have adapted, learned, set standards, and experienced new situations that the rest of us are blind to. Employers should empower their people to share those stories – and to do so authentically. Yes, there will have been times they felt stressed, and scared. There will be times that they didn’t know what to do. Sharing such insights only helps us to better appreciate and respect the work that they do. There will also be great, heart-warming tales that celebrate the impact essential workers have made.
I started this article discussing the definition of “essential worker”. But more important than how we define the term is how we value it. At some point this crisis will come to an end. That won’t make essential workers – all of them – any less essential. By celebrating the efforts and endurance of their people, employers can help to make sure that we don’t forget that value, and in doing so magnify their own employer brands and their meaning in society.
April Bryce, Director of Creative and Strategy
Havas People North America
Breaking up with multi-tasking: how my time in quarantine is helping me move on from an unhealthy relationship
Over the last few weeks many of Americans, myself included, have launched into full-time #WFHLIFE. While some of us have been exposed to the occasional work from home day, I don't think anyone making the transition was quite ready for the challenges it would present. And while everyone’s experience with working from home is unique, my experience has led me to one conclusion. I need to stop multitasking. Here’s why:
Studies have shown that when humans try to multitask, our brain creates a type of selection “bottle-necking” and as a result, leads to time lost as the brain decides which task to perform. I don’t know about you, but I already feel like there are not enough hours in the day. So, the idea that multitasking is actually making me less productive is reason enough to stop.
Research has also shown that multitasking contributes to the release of stress hormones and adrenaline. This was my ah-ha. For the longest time, the days where I felt the most productive also happened to be the days that I felt the most stressed. I would finish a day trying to accomplish a million and one things physically drained and with a splitting headache. Realizing that this was not sustainable, I have started to rewire my brain and focus on the task at hand. Now, when I hunker down and start working on a task, I eliminate distractions. I turn off email banners on my computer, I put my phone on silent and I set a timer. Once the timer goes off, I allow myself to check my emails/text and see if anything urgent came in. If not, I set another timer and get back to the task at hand. So far, this is working, and nothing has gone up in flames. I am getting my work done, I feel just as productive and at the end of the day I feel a sense of accomplishment – not stress.
Adjusting my expectations
There have been many days in quarantine that are filled with good intentions to accomplish 100% of what I set out to do. Unfortunately, life has other plans. Living in New York City comes with many challenges, most of all space. On top of that I also am working from home with a two-year-old and a husband who is also working from home.
Can someone tell me why I started this quarantine thinking I needed to bake a loaf of bread twice a week? There is so much pressure on social media to “make the most” of the time we are stuck at home, but when you are already time poor those expectations start to feel like a burden.
I’ll admit, I initially had very high expectations for myself and a very glamorous vision of what working from home is like. It took about a month, but I have since lowered those expectations and that vision is now covered in peanut butter and jelly. And this is okay. I don't need to work out twice a day, read a new book once a week, start a blog, all while working full-time and taking care of another human. Coming to terms with this has helped me tremendously and when I do manage to do something for myself like read, I am focusing on doing it one chapter at a time.
There is no doubt in my mind that many of us are feeling overwhelmed by the new state of work. However, I do think that we will come out of this with a better understanding of what we want the world of work to look like. I expect that employees will become better advocates for themselves and employers will need to make adjustments accordingly.
As for me, I hope that my willingness to NOT multi-task carries into an office environment. I except initially it will be hard to not be distracted by my co-workers and will naturally find myself multi-tasking again, but just like I did with #WFHLIFE, I will focus on making it work one day at a time.
Sarah Green, Account Director
As we continue working from home, we asked a few of our US colleagues what their routine looks like, what gets them through their day and what they miss from an office environment. Hint: its people – it’s always the people.
Here is the second interview from our series:
Tim Middleton, Agency Director
If you could describe your WFH self in ONE WORD, what would it be? Fernweh (German word for the ache for distant places/travel. Opposite of homesickness.)
What does a typical WFH day look like for you? Do you have a set routine that helps you focus? I’ve been thinking a lot about routines. It’s been important to find ways to delineate the start/end of my days now that I don’t have the walk to/from the subway and rides to make that clear. So, whether that is stretching or actually getting out of the house for a walk – I take some time to make that distinction clear.
Beyond that, I’m trying to avoid establishing too much of a routine or rigid approach to WFH. While this time may go on for longer than I hope – I’m trying to avoid establishing any ‘new normal’ I’ll have to abandon later on.
Tell us more about what your "set-up" looks like! Currently, I’m in the kitchen using my island as my de-facto office. I typically have a podcast, YouTube nature stream, or Twitch stream running on the TV for some background/white noise. Once it gets warmer out, I’ll shift to the balcony for sure!
What's you go to way to beat the afternoon slump? In the office, it used to be another cup of coffee. That meant cleaning my mug, taking a walk to my favorite coffee machine, maybe meandering in a conversation or two, before getting back to business. That’s not a ritual I’ve found success mirroring at home yet. On good weather days, I take my bike out for a quick ride. On days I can’t make it out, I just end up bothering my cats a whole lot!
What's one thing you now know you took for granted about working in an office? Doing more than just a nod and hello when I pass by someone in the hall or wherever. There are people I have seen almost every day for years where that is the depth of our relationship. Now I’m not saying that necessarily needs to or will change in all cases. And I’m probably not going to magically transform into the most gregarious, outgoing person ever. But, wow I really miss all of the small talk and being around familiar faces that aren’t part of my day-to-day team. The folks you wouldn’t really ever work with who are still part of your working experience.
At Havas, we’re fortunate to be part of one of the world’s largest marketing and communications groups. Havas People is one part of that, and we ourselves are global, with colleagues spread around the world from Melbourne to Austin, and at many points in-between. By the very nature of a global crisis, we’re experiencing this pandemic together.
Recently I picked the brains of some colleagues in different regions about their take on ‘pandemic working’ and how their lifestyles are changing. Some cultural differences were apparent, such as existing attitudes to remote working in different regions, which range from it being extremely rare to the norm. Of course, we’re all at different points on this weird and uncertain journey. While things are just starting to reopen in my home state of Texas, colleagues in Singapore have been in and out of lockdown, and are now back under lockdown for the second time, and for the next few weeks.
We’re in the same storm, but we’re all in different boats. However, certain things seem to ring true across our regions. I asked my colleagues what has surprised them most. Below, I share some of their responses. If you’ll please allow me a moment of intense cheesiness: we might be going through this in different corners of the world, but in some ways we’ve never been closer.
You can see and hear more from our global team by following Havas People on Instagram, where you can check out #HavasAtHome, and our #QuarantineRoutines.
Eleni Konstantinou – Berlin, Germany
The most surprising aspect for me has been a little piece I like to call #coronacomms. And by that I don’t just mean corporate communications, but also the increase in communications with friends and family. My husband and I both live abroad. He’s from Iran, which is heavily impacted, and I’m from Greece, so catching up with loved ones has become a part of our daily routine. This includes the challenge of caring remotely for our parents – helping to set up online grocery orders and prescriptions while keeping up with the latest rules and regulations. All with a smile on our faces as we need to keep their spirits up!
It’s been interesting to see a sense of camaraderie evolving. Somehow distances no longer matter. People seem to be much more understanding and willing to support others.
Tim Middleton – New York, USA
It’s not a surprise to me, really. We already had a strong culture and great working relationships, but I think we’re expressing it in different ways now. There’s an appreciation for having one another. For experiencing something unknown together. Seeing people thrive, or adapt, or just maintain is inspiring. People’s resilience is wild!
That said, no matter what, losing a sense of close proximity is extremely difficult. Your synapses just don’t fire the same way having a conversation over Teams vs. doing it in person. But as long as we keep making it a priority to care about each other, I think we’ll come out of this with an even better appreciation of each other and how we fit together.
Charlotte Fenney – Manchester, UK
I think people are being nicer to each other! Whether on email or over the phone or video conference, there’s a very friendly attitude and an interest in each other as people – an appreciation of what people are coping with. I’ve had meaningful conversations with people who I haven’t spoken to properly in six months.
We’re pretty resilient in Manchester. Our sense of humor continues to shine through! And I do see people becoming more considerate and thinking of others. I’m a Trustee at Manchester Central Foodbank, and the generosity we are seeing right now is incredible. Let’s hope that continues once things return to normal.
April Bryce, Havas People North America
Creative and Strategy Director
A few weeks ago, in an article from The Atlantic Our Pandemic Summer, the author mentioned a friend who described how society is currently living due to the virus as the ‘now normal.’ In the context of our day-to-days and especially in the context of our work, this idea really strikes a chord.
As April and I were planning this webinar we decided it needed to be clear that working – whether that’s virtually or on the front lines – in this moment and time is anything but normal. For those of us working remote, we’re not actually remote working. We are pandemic working.
And there are a ton of us now working away from the office. According to MIT research, 34.1% of Americans who were commuting are now working remote. There are also massive numbers of workers who have been laid off or furloughed too. In only a short few months, the working landscape has changed an improbable amount.
This change means employers now have to reconsider who the audiences they are communicating with. There’s the veteran remote workforce whose routines are suddenly changed, but who may have answers to unforeseen challenges. The new remote workforce who are managing a new working environment with little preparation and all sorts of other important life things happening. Your furloughed workforce who are in a state of limbo and worried. Who lost their work community and need to still feel connected. And, last but not least, your pipeline who will matter again very soon and will be watching everything you do very closely.
All of those groups matter. What also matters is taking their very different realities in this ‘now normal’ into mind as you develop and communicate programs to keep your people engaged.
The Meaningful Brands report we run annually at Havas recently found that consumers look for an experience that is seamless, memorable, and personalized. It also found that anything less than this was considered an irritant.
It’s no different for your employees in this situation. In fact, understanding the difference in personal situations is probably even more key now. Some employers are doing truly brilliant things right now to keep people engaged and connected – eLearning, virtual workouts, virtual happy hours, virtual coffee breaks. A lot of activities that mimic the workplace. This is crucial to helping people navigate pandemic working. But, it’s key to remember that not all employees will be able to join or take advantage of those opportunities. That can be even more isolating.
One size will not fit all, so it’s key to listen to your people in order to build the most inclusive possible “now normal.” As you review and optimize your current employee engagement and outreach efforts, here are some of “the now rules” to consider:
LEAD FROM THE FRONT
Whether you are the CEO, chairing a call, or just writing a message to a colleague - make your optimism contagious. As Talent Leaders, continuously monitor engagement and stress levels to proactively respond.
Now is the time to overcommunicate. Update your employees even when there are no updates. Stay in regular, but brief touch across all departments, working groups, projects etc.
LOOK AFTER YOUR EMPLOYEES
Reset your expectations. Support continued learning but be flexible. Use ambassadors, mentors and buddies to add more moral and structural support.
LIVE YOUR VALUES
When in doubt, remember it’s your values that guide your culture and set behaviors. You’ll need to reset expectations, but your purpose still matters.
I’ll end this by saying, times may be uncertain and we may only have guesses as to what the future will bring, but what I can tell you for 100% certain – your people will remember the way you treat them now for a very, very long time.
Want to learn more? View our webinar here: https://usa.havaspeople.com/webinars.html
Tim Middleton, Agency Director
Havas People North America
As we accept working from home as the new normal, we asked a few of our US colleagues what their routine looks like, what gets them through their day and what they miss from an office environment. Hint: its people – it’s always the people.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing the routines and highs and lows of our current working situation.
First up: Megan Scott, Account Supervisor
If you could describe your WFH self in ONE WORD, what would it be? Hydrated
What does a typical WFH day look like for you? Do you have a set routine that helps you focus? I wake up at 7:30am and work out for an hour. Then I take a shower and put on clothes that are *not* the pajamas I wore the night before. I make my hot lemon water and yogurt and get to work around 9:00am.
At 10:30am, I’ve gone through my emails and made my list of things to do today, so I start cracking on with it.
At 10:45am, George (my cat) is probably bothering me to play, so I pull out his favorite shoestring and run around the room with him to tire him out.
At 12:30pm, I make myself some avocado toast with egg. Ideally, I’ve drank 33oz of water, so I fill up my water bottle again (have to meet the 90oz quota!) I go back to work ~1pm.
Around 1pm, George is probably acting up again. Out comes said shoestring.
At 3:30pm, I make myself a snack – apple with peanut butter (Jif and crunchy, duh).
At 5pm, I start thinking about dinner. But at 6pm I actually put my computer away and cook. Around 7pm, my family starts watching West Wing (I’m only up to S1 E7, no spoilers!)
Tell us more about what your "set-up" looks like! Primarily, I’m set up in a bedroom upstairs with a vanity (using it as a desk). It’s cold and boring, so I like to switch it up by moving outside to the lanai, or outside of the lanai in the sun. My computer charge doesn’t last too long, so I usually only get to do that for a couple of hours before being forced back into the bedroom upstairs.
What's your go-to to beat the afternoon slump? Matcha! My mom bought bags of Lipton matcha – it’s no Maman, but it does the job. If that doesn’t work, a strict timer of 30 minutes on TikTok.
What's one thing you now know you took for granted about working in an office? MAINTAINING RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR COLLEAGUES!!! When you’re in the office, you don’t have to work very hard to remember to say hi or participate in passing convos. Seeing people triggers you to have friendly conversations. But when you’re working virtually and you’re NOT seeing people to trigger those conversations, you have to make a real effort to ask people about their weekends, or what they ate for dinner, or how their significant other is.
Photo Credit: NBC
For the past five weeks I’ve been sharing insights on working from home through our Remote Working Blog Series. As someone who has worked remotely for the past two years, five weeks ago I considered myself a bit of an expert at this whole thing. I have my workspace set up just how I like it. I live my life through conference calls and video meetings. I know to avoid the fridge at all costs. I was all set. What I didn’t realize was that I am no longer working remotely: I am working remotely during a global crisis. In my case also working remotely with a ten-month-old baby at home. I know others are doing the same, or working while homeschooling, or coping with the daily challenge of living alone in this climate. Let’s be clear – there is nothing normal about this.
I’ve learned that, while a lot of my standard advice on remote working still applies (and I hope if you’ve read any of it you did find it useful), I myself have significantly shifted my expectations. Not just in the way that I work, but the way that my colleagues and clients are working too.
Throughout this blog series I’ve also focused largely on people who, like me, would otherwise be working in an office environment. So I want to take a moment to give a shout out to the teachers who are teaching remotely, healthcare workers who are providing telemedicine, trainers who are running exercise classes over Zoom, and all the inventive, energetic people who have found a way to make things work from a home office, living room, or kitchen table.
Last weekend Saturday Night Live was broadcast not from 30 Rock in New York City, but from its cast’s homes. OK, it wasn’t actually live. It was filmed in advance and edited. But the cast were all working from home to produce the show – a first in its 45-year history.
Tom Hanks opened the show from his kitchen (it’s a very nice kitchen), and set the tone immediately, “Will it make you laugh? Eh, it’s SNL. There’ll be some good stuff, maybe one or two stinkers. You know the drill.” Alec Baldwin impersonated President Trump, but without hairstylists and makeup artists to physically transform him he played the role through voiceover in a sketch about a phone call from the President. Kate McKinnon made me laugh as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with homemade props and her cat playing the role of RBG’s personal trainer.
Adaptability was the lifeblood of the show. But did it work? Make no mistake, this was not the same show. However, the rough and ready nature of it conveyed a sense of resilience. It made me feel something. And it fulfilled a need that we have right now – to find humor in the world around us.
The cast of SNL are not alone in this adaptiveness. The weekend also saw ESPN broadcast NBA players in a virtual game of H.O.R.S.E. from the safety of their own homes, and home basketball courts. From what I’ve read, it was no substitute at all for a basketball game, but – hey – they gave it a try to at least attempted to fill the hole left by sports. And for that reason, people did watch.
Talk show hosts and news reporters are increasingly filming without the polished production values we are accustomed to. Chris Cuomo has been broadcasting his primetime show from his basement since being diagnosed with COVID-19 himself.
None of this is the same as it was pre-COVID, but we’re sure grateful to have it. Our expectations as an audience have changed, just as the expectations of professionals everywhere have.
At Havas People one of our values is, ‘We find a way’. Perhaps it’s never been more of a mantra. Now, mantras are great to steer you right and keep you going, but how do we actually do it? How do we find a way through this?
I think we do it by leaning into another one of our values, ‘We work together’. We need to realign our expectations of everything, including those we work with. And to do that, we need new depths of empathy. Because this affects us all, but in different ways.
Empathy is stronger than sympathy because it requires you to actually see things from someone else’s position. The best way to do that is to learn what that looks like. Ask the important questions like, “How are you feeling today?” and be curious and aware enough to follow up on that. Know that if someone tells you, “I’m fine”, they might not be fine at all. Because if anything is normal right now, it’s feeling anything but.
Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be using our blog to share some experiences of our teams at Havas People while working remotely during the COVID-19 crisis.
Spoiler alert: nobody has a kitchen quite as nice as Tom Hanks does, but we do have a lot of cats.
Stay safe, stay well, and stay connected.
Director of Creative and Strategy, Havas People North America
When is it appropriate to turn into a potato? (And other important questions about video conferencing)
By now you may have heard the story of Lizet Ocampo, Department Head at non-profit People For the American Way. It’s a tale of challenges in the face of remote working, video conferencing mishaps, and the importance of laughter at times like these. Lizet accidentally turned herself into a potato on a video call with her team. Not being totally familiar with filters, she was unable to turn herself back into a human. The incident – shared on social media by one of her colleagues – quickly went viral. Probably not because it’s note-worthy. But because it’s so relatable.
In Lizet’s case, this was a technical mishap, but as those of us working remotely spend an increasing amount of time on video calls and conferences, let’s stop to ask ourselves this important question: when is it appropriate to turn into a potato?
It’s a question of boundaries. Lines between work life and home life. Between friends and colleagues. And colleagues who are friends. Team calls and client calls. The difficulty is, everything is blurred at the moment. By necessity, home life, work life and family life are overlapping in ways that we never imagined. However, we still need for our meetings to be productive and efficient. Which means, while it might seem like common sense, it could be useful to consider some simple guidance on how to get the most from video conferencing.
Here are three things I find helpful:
1. Have a chairperson. Whether it’s an important client discussion, or an informal team catch up, you want to get the most from the video conference – and you want to make sure everyone is heard and understood. Make sure you have a chairperson who is able to act as a host. Although it’s not an in-person meeting, it’s still appropriate to make introductions and check everyone is in attendance. Even if the call is informal in nature, let your chairperson’s demeanor set that relaxed tone, but you still need someone to be in charge of the multi-way communication. Also, make sure you know who the chairperson is in advance. Most importantly, make sure the chairperson knows.
2. Encourage dialogue. It’s easier to have discussions face-to-face. Face-to-face you can read people’s energy. You can interject more easily. It takes extra work and planning to encourage dialogue on video conference. First, consider the platform you’re using and how many people will be in the meeting. Will you be able to see everyone on screen? Microsoft Teams only allows you to see four people at once, which can add to conversation lags and disjointedness if the meeting is bigger. Let your chairperson encourage dialogue by asking opinions. In smaller meetings it can help to ask people directly by name, “Kate, what do you think?” Kate might struggle with the less organic nature of a video discussion, and that’s OK. Acknowledge that it is less natural, and that there might be a delay, or an echo, or a child crying in the background. It’s more important that everyone leaves the video conference feeling that they got what they needed from it.
3. Know the tone. This is perhaps where the all-important question re; potatoes comes into play. Is this a client meeting or a team catch up? Is it a meeting with your boss or your team mate who usually sits across from you? Is it a quick check-in or a pitch? You need to know the tone of the meeting and set things up accordingly. So ask yourself:
1. How is your lighting?
2. Does your background environment look free from clutter and the leftovers from your sandwich?
3. Are you wearing a top that could be misconstrued as pajamas? (Are you wearing pajamas?)
Most platforms offer backgrounds that can be used to mitigate the need to control your environment. This is a nice touch, particularly for client meetings. And, yes, most platforms also offer filters. Some with the power to turn you into a potato. I’m going to be firm here: it’s not best practice to appear as a potato in a serious business meeting. I would add, it’s not best practice in a time-sensitive status call, and nobody really wants to see you as a potato when they’re discussing their personal development or any sensitive issues. Why? Because it’s a distraction. And because these are conversations that require an indication of intent that you take them seriously and are showing respect to your fellow attendees. So in answer to the title question of this blog, when the reason to hold a video conference is to have clearer, more authentic communication between people, it’s not appropriate to turn into a potato.
That said, there is a time and a place when it’s entirely appropriate. Be a potato. Be a unicorn. Be whatever makes you smile. These are unusual times, and often unusually stressful. Much as you can try to keep them separate, the lines between work and life are blurred. So when you’re chatting casually to your team or having a virtual coffee break with a colleague, why not have a little fun?
Lizet Ocampo agrees. Speaking with Time Magazine (that’s how big this story got), she said her team works incredibly hard and – while she was unable to remove the potato filter – she also left it on because, “laughter is needed for many reasons.”
That’s a remote working rule to live by.
After our second date, I very nearly never saw my (now) husband ever again. It was a good date. Great even. But the texts that followed… not so much. The tone of his texts didn’t show me he was interested. My texts gave him the feeling that I was seeing other people. In truth, we were both agonizing over every word that we typed – trying so very hard get across the emotion and energy that we wanted to convey. And then it happened. He picked up the phone and called me. Actual tone of voice and laughter and personality filled in the gaps where words and emojis had not been sufficient. We’re about to celebrate our second wedding anniversary. Thank goodness he made the call.
As most of the world moves to remote working, I’ve been thinking about the channels we use for communicating in the workplace. We’re spoilt – we have so many. And yet, we’re now missing the most important one: face-to-face communication. Yes, we have all kinds of video calling, and I think we’re using them more than ever both for work and keeping in touch with friends and family. But I can tell you as someone who has worked remotely for the past two years, it’s not the same. There are sometimes technical issues. It’s not as effective for reading body language or gestures. Most importantly, you can’t just walk over to someone’s desk and have a conversation – sensing the right moment to do so, reading their energy, engaging in dialogue in the same physical space.
Right now there’s an extra spanner in the works: many of us are working to different schedules in order to juggle childcare and other responsibilities. Skype, Zoom and Google Hangouts are highly efficient when there’s time in your diary, but it can be tricky to mimic that day-to-day, face-to-face workplace communication in real time.
In short, whether through a messenger service, email or text, we are all relying more on written communications right now. That carries a few risks, but also a great opportunity.
Research by UCLA psychology professor emeritus Albert Mehrabian found that 7% of a message was derived from the words, 38% from intonation, and 55% from facial expressions and body language. There’s much that we can do with written communications to create the right intonation. We have word choice, syntax, punctuation, letter case, and sentence length to help us reflect our mood. We have emojis. But when you send that message or email, you lose the control. Because the mood that you write in is not the same as the mood of the person who receives the message. That’s when our imaginations go wild filling in the blanks as to what the sender of the message intended, gaps left by the lack of non-verbal cues.
That’s a tricky situation at the best of times, but let’s be honest – at this moment in history many of us are feeling stressed, anxious, tired, even scared. Just the right cocktail of emotions for you to potentially misread the tone of an email.
So what can we do to write effective communications that help fill the gaps when we’re missing non-verbal cues?
First, recognize that much depends on the relationship you have with the person you are writing to. I have team members who I communicate with almost entirely through emojis and cat gifs, and everything is understood loud and clear. But that’s not the same for everyone.
The grey area usually lies with people who you know, but not particularly well. You don’t need to be overly friendly – that can come across as inauthentic. Conversely, however, you don’t need to be formal. High levels of formality, if that’s not typical of your workplace culture, can be read as cold, and put people on edge. You don’t need to sound formal to be professional.
The best advice I have is to try and match the tone you would use when speaking to people face-to-face. Do that well, and you’ll create an even stronger working relationship – building on efficiency and productivity, but also feelings of camaraderie and togetherness, which are all-important at this time.
And here’s the real opportunity in this situation. When we’re dealing with uncertainty, unusual schedules, and a world turned upside down, how wonderful to be able to write carefully chosen and considered words that can really make an impact on someone.
Beyond deadlines and work requests, I can send a message to a colleague in Europe asking how they’re doing, and know they will read it in the morning and it might make them smile as they begin their day. I can choose just the right words to motivate a team I’m working with across timezones and working schedules. A colleague of mine recently sent an email sharing his feelings after standing outside his home in London and applauding during ‘Clap for the Carers’ in the UK last week. He was deeply moved by it, and in turn I was moved by his email – carefully chosen words, generously shared.
There’s no doubt that with a bit of thinking upfront, written communications can be incredibly powerful and a great tool for reaching people on their own schedules. Of course, I still recommend planning those video calls – we all need as much facetime as we can get right now.
And don’t forget the telephone. Sometimes just calling to follow up on an email or text can truly change everything.
Havas People Director of Creative & Strategy, North America