Guest Post: Tina Dietz
Much has been written about improving team connectivity and maintaining company culture in a remote working environment. The prevailing solution to increase team communication and productivity is having virtual meetings through Zoom, Slack, Skype, Google Meet and other video meeting platforms. Yet, we can all agree that “Zoom fatigue” is real and can undermine team cohesion and job performance. So, what do we do to enhance our team’s relationships, bolster company culture and lead our team well, even when we are working remotely? There’s a very simple, yet powerful answer: We listen!
Research shows that with audio-only communication, we develop better listening skills, become more attuned to our team’s needs, form deeper connections and establish a culture of verbal equity. In turn, this increases overall productivity and happiness, strengthens dedication to the organization and reduces stress levels.
A recent academic study suggested that audio-only communication improves team cohesion and productivity, whereas video communication can undermine group problem-solving and may contribute to verbal inequity (which is an unequal distribution of talking time for each person). This can lead to some people dominating the conversation and can result in an unintentional relational strain among team members, which will negatively impact effectiveness.
However, the study also showed that when audio-only communication is used, team communication is more evenly distributed, because members are not relying on visual cues that indicate that others are continuing to, or are about to, speak. This frees up people who are inhibited by the fear of interrupting to add to the conversation. The study also revealed that in audio-only meetings, members mirrored one another’s vocal tone and pitch much more than they did in video interactions. This vocal mirroring increased their connection and their ability to problem-solve. Furthermore, some people rated their peers as more likable and trustworthy in audio-only interactions.
In addition to increasing productivity and strengthening team connection, audio-only meetings help us understand our team members better. Auditory discernment is a powerful tool. Our ability to determine others’ emotions simply by hearing their voices is evident through our personal experience and has been proven in multiple studies.
We’ve all had the experience of knowing if a friend is talking to a coworker or a family member without even hearing the name of who they’re speaking to. In fact, in one study, participants were instructed to listen to an audio clip of someone asking the simple question, “How are you?” and try to determine whether they were talking to a platonic friend or to a romantic partner. Interestingly, participants had an accuracy rate of 60.2%. This implies audio-only meetings help us better understand our team because we are not distracted by the mixed signals that visual cues and vocal tone can potentially send. Therefore, over time, we can become more attuned to our team’s needs and know when it’s best to address issues, adjust our communication style or offer support.
Furthermore, through audio-only communication, leaders encourage active listening (intentional listening and emotionally-intelligent engagement) among the entire team. According to researchers from the University of Iceland, when supervisors actively listened to their employees, employees reported higher dedication and vigor. This correlated to an increase in reciprocal communication, more psychological safety throughout the organization and improved physical and mental health. Taken further, this indicates that when leaders establish an environment where everyone’s voice is heard and people engage in thoughtful participation, we create a climate where we can maximize strengths, address weaknesses and curb burnout.
Audio allows you to be yourself
Finally, one of the most powerful ways audio-only meetings increase team relationships and performance is by reducing stress. On the technical side, audio-only meetings help mitigate issues due to a poor internet connection (we’ve all had our faces frozen in a contorted expression for everyone to see, haven’t we?). Additionally, it is human nature that we become more self-aware when we see ourselves on camera. Sometimes, we focus so much on what we look like that our attention is divided and we do not engage in the meeting as well as we could have. In audio-only meetings, no one has to worry about making sure we get the proper camera angle or the lighting is correct. It doesn’t matter if our hair isn’t done, our background is a mess or if our child runs into the room. Audio-only meetings allow everyone to be more relaxed, which leads to clearer thinking and higher productivity.
When we turn off the camera and adopt audio-only meetings, we can improve our team’s communication and efficiency, strengthen relationships, have a deeper understanding of others, better engage in active listening and reduce stress for ourselves and our colleagues.
So, what can we do to capitalize on these benefits, other than turning off the camera?
- Be patient.The benefits will not happen overnight. At first, the conference call will be filled with interruptions. However, as your team learns one another’s rhythms, these interruptions should lessen.
- Relax during the conversation.Because we are so used to “Zooming” into every meeting, we’ll initially stare at our computer or phone, as if we are on camera. Nevertheless, with each meeting, you and your team will relax, which will allow everyone to be more transparent with one another.
- Intentionally listen during the call.Who else has accidentally zoned out during a phone call because they were free to do something else, like laundry? An easy way to ensure you are actively listening on team conference calls is by imagining that you are in a one-on-one conversation with whoever is speaking. This will help you be more attentive and gain insights into every member of your team.
Ironically, audio is sometimes better equipped than video for the modern professional’s lifestyle. One client of mine is a top-notch salesperson who is constantly driving to client meetings. She finds it so much more efficient (and safer) to stay in touch with her team via conference call than Zoom when behind the wheel. Another colleague is a competitive triathlete who squeezes two daily workouts into his packed schedule. While he doesn’t try to have client meetings on the bike or in the pool, he does find himself frequently eating meals at his desk or dressed in workout attire. He finds audio significantly more efficient than video for staying in touch with clients and team members.
Remember: Turn off your camera, be patient, relax and focus on whoever is speaking. Try going “old school” with audio-only meetings where you can and implement these steps to give yourself and your team a new level of connection and the potential for higher productivity.
Tina Dietz is the CEO of Twin Flames Studios, an award-winning audio production company dedicated to transforming senior leaders and mature companies into global industry thought leaders.
#conferencecall, #zoomfatigue, #podcast, #audiovisual