Combatting virtual fatigue
Picture the scene, it’s another day in the office (also known as your study, lounge, spare room, kitchen…or whatever space you can claim for the day). You take a look at your working day – another back to back day of meetings via Teams or Zoom.
What emotions does this fill you with?
A combo of all of them perhaps?
No matter what our emotional responses might be, or how any particular day in the diary is looking, one thing is for certain – we’re all looking for ways to keep our energy levels and focus up and ourselves fully switched on. Sometimes there might also be a need, or desire, to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, or just a lack of engagement and (dare we say it) boredom when it comes to the virtual day ahead. This is probably intensified when it comes to the prospect of remote learning and working .
But guess what, there is no point whatsoever giving yourself a hard time if you find that you’re struggling with any of the above; it’s an inevitable consequence of working in a predominantly virtual world of work.
We often talk about self care, nurturing and enriching ourselves, as well as others, so the tank doesn’t run dry on us. Perhaps it’s more about asking…
What are the ways I can sustain my own levels of energy and engagement first and how, as a leader or manager, might I then help facilitate that for others?
Bring on the stimulus
“A thing that evokes a reaction or energy in someone or something; a spur or incentive.”
Communications Architect, Kari Henley, makes a great point about the power of stimulus and its impact on how we learn.
“In our normal day, we have lots of physical state changes that keep us alert. We have to get up and fully dress, drive somewhere, park, socialize… This extra stimulation actually keeps us interested and engaged when it comes time to sit down and learn”.
During a recent coaching conversation with a client, we reflected on a virtual team event we’d recently facilitated for them where discussions had led to creativity in meetings, namely a perceived lack of it. They were already utilizing a raft of online tools to keep sessions varied but there still felt to be something missing and they wanted to look at how they might consider more creative ways of working together.
The conclusion was that creativity wasn’t actually the issue, in fact they were highly creative in how they structured their time together, instead they realised that it was the lack of stimulus above and beyond processes that was having an impact on how they tackled their meetings and agendas. Once this realisation came into play the team quickly (and creatively) looked at where and how they could add more stimulus into their time together to keep things interesting. For example, in their next meet they used the simple tool of imagery to stimulate discussion on how they were feeling in relation to a particular business objective. They cleverly aligned the business challenge with a guided self-facilitated discussion around emotions, energy level and capacity via the power of the image. Interestingly the conclusion was the use of imagery took far less time and opened up a much richer discussion than if they had simply relied on words.
The use of imagery as stimulus is not new of course – it’s something we reference frequently in our leadership programmes – but it is an easy addition to any meeting and a quick way introduce something different and fresh. Actually, what it sometimes takes if you are doing it yourselves without a facilitator is a bit of bravery and conviction. Are you willing to introduce and try adding new stimulus into your own meetings and sessions?
Tuning into our senses
But what about the other senses we can tap into? How might we combine them to create the best learning or work experience and help reduce those feelings of stress along the way?
For some of us the coffee catch ups, working lunches, and after work drinks were an essential stimulus and a perfect way to engage and interact with colleagues. OK, back to our current reality now folks! But there are other ways to ‘share’ the sensation of taste in this virtual world of ours.
Day to day virtual coffee catch ups on screen, easy to set up. Bit of celebratory sharing now and again is nice too, whether it’s ending an agenda after a really busy period with ‘champagne moments’ – (we were lucky to be part of an event where each team member was sent a bottle of champagne for the occasion – we popped the corks in unison and it created a real feeling of connection) Or enjoying a box of shortbread biscuits with a cuppa which another client organised to be sent out to everyone in advance of one of our sessions. Small gestures, but powerfully effective at creating that feeling of ‘digital intimacy’.
Unbelievably, the doorbell interrupted the writing of this with a delivery of a sweet little Devon tea hamper in preparation for a team event later in the week. Honestly, the simple delight this brings – so uplifting
Now this is a trickier one at present, as a handshake or hug is out of the question and quite difficult to deliver through the medium of the screen! But, here at Maier we were determined to find ways to incorporate all the senses into our virtual sessions. The ‘object’ exercise is a great one for touch – each team member brings an object that represents something to them (important to be creative and relevant re positioning the context for this) and they share it on screen. The combination of both the visual and touch instantly changes the energy for all and again can actually enrich the discussion more than you might think.
Hear and See
One of our clients recently reflected on where he has adapted his leadership style for the better as a result of leading virtually. As a larger than life character, his extraversion was often a motivator and energiser in a face to face setting. Virtually, however, this was a different story where it could become too dominant and ended up reducing participation. As a result of a bit of timely HOT feedback he realised he had to dial up the ‘active listening’ – to sit back and really tune into what others are saying and encourage greater contribution. Couple this with some ‘active seeing’ and things really take an upward turn. A funny phrase of ours but this is about really looking at everyone on screen, no one allowed to turn cameras off and making sure to get the best view up so you can really see folks’ faces.
Studies have shown how scent and fragrance can do wonders for your wellbeing. If you have a particularly challenging meeting or client, then perhaps consider burning a scented candle or an essential oil diffuser for some light relief. Might sound a bit hippy dippy but apparently a ‘whiff of cinnamon’ can improve cognitive functioning and the smell of pine decreases anxiety. Try it! What have you got to lose?