By Chloe Fowler Founder of The Nest Research (former co-founder of Razor Research) and Inger Christensen, Flex Forum Founder and Independent Consultant

We asked Chloe about the challenges of online communication and whether companies should consider upskilling their employees during this period.

Chloe said “I’m a qual researcher so seeing/hearing myself on video/audio is an occupational hazard. Every time I have to listen back to or watch a group discussion that I’ve moderated, it’s an exercise in humility and a not so humble reminder that I really ought to exercise.  The endless video calls that have marked the last few months have been a fast-track in learning to get over myself and get on with it. 

Aside from the game of personal bingo I play each time I log on to a Zoom call (‘hey, you’re still on mute’, ‘oops, she’s frozen again’), the last few months have been a chance to reflect on how well (or not) we’re really equipped to communicate effectively in the virtual space.  Of course we’ve all had to present on VC before and of course we’ve always Skyped with colleagues abroad, but rarely have the stakes felt so high.   We will, of course, return to face to face business as usual at some point and to some degree, but I sense that we will be even more reliant on virtual communication from now on.

‘Being great’ at Zooming (yes, I know other platforms are available) should become as much a part of our training manual as writing a questionnaire, moderating a group, presenting a debrief.  We need to be upskill ourselves to communicate better virtually, whether that’s with colleagues, participants or clients.  We need to accept that we will be judged (albeit subconsciously) based on how we show up.  In the same way that I do think about what to wear for a face to face pitch, I need to think about how I want to appear in that postage stamp sized box.  I’ve worked hard to allow myself to…be myself.  I don’t hide the real me in client or consumer interactions.  I’m colloquial in the way I speak, I make people laugh, I’m irreverent.  In person, it’s easy to morph between the professional and personal and ‘read the room’, virtually, that’s harder.

My impression is that we have to amplify ourselves – our gestures, our vocal range, our facial expressions.  We have to prep our backgrounds and find the best angle to hide our chins.  Easier if you have years of experience and confidence to fall back on, harder if you’re starting out. 

The MRS is developing a series of ½ day training courses to help us upskill in this area. Company Partners can use 1 voucher against 2 courses or book 2 people onto the same course with one voucher. The courses will feature all the tools to help you facilitate or moderate better in a virtual space.  I encourage you to see if they can help you. I have handpicked a few here:

01 September 2020

Researching children and young people during COVID-19

02 September 2020

Employee Engagement using Gamification

03 September 2020

Innovation in the wake of coronavirus

07 September 2020

How to Maximise Insights from Online Depth Interviews

08 September 2020

Getting closer from a distance – Qualitative Research with Smartphones

08 September 2020 (1/2),
09 September 2020 (2/2)

Online Focus Groups Without Fear

10 September 2020

The AI, the human and their collaboration

We asked Inger how do we ensure that everyone has a voice?And in the meantime, take the opportunity, the next time you have to ‘show up’ in that tiny, awkward, flashing box, to amplify, accentuate and turn your charisma up a notch.  It pays to be noticed.  If you sit back and let others do the talking, you won’t be”

Inger said “During lockdown I have found myself running Zoom meetings (or similar) and I have been challenged on how to best engage the whole group, drawing everybody into the conversation.  Making sure the loud ones do not dominate or talk over each other and giving space to people who are quiet, shy or simply feel awkward about using Zoom. I completely agree with Chloe we need awareness and training to adjust and amplify our virtual communication to better work the Zoom. 

But I also think there are learnings to be had on how to run inclusive meetings, providing a comfortable platform for all personality types.  This is work in progress - we are all picking it up as we go along - here is what I have found working for me:

  • Set and communicate the agenda for the Zoom meeting in advance.
  • Give everybody an opportunity to provide input before the meeting. 
  • Be clear on the length of the meeting.
  • At the beginning of the meeting, repeat the agenda and set out expectations for outcomes. 
  • In bigger groups, have an icebreaker or an intro round. 
  • During the meeting, consider using the chat function for replies or feedback, allowing people to answer at the same time. 

Also, a couple of tips from Heather McCough from The Lean StartUp:

  • Stick to a routine, agree to regular meeting times. 
  • Agree on channels and make it clear what is for phone or Zoom and what is for text, Messenger/Slack or Email
  • If an issue goes on for too long on email/slack, put the topic on the next Zoom's agenda, or call an impromptu Zoom. 

As Chloe says, over the last few months' endless stream of screens we have had to get over ourselves and get on with it. And that is easier if you have years of experience and confidence. To work better together we need to keep thinking on how we can make the virtual room a more welcoming workspace for all”

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