Working from home and discussing a lot via Zoom or Teams is not as stress-free as it sounds. It literally hurts your brain. Many people experience how exhausting it is to go from one virtual meeting to another. Stanford University calls it VCF – video conferencing fatique. Professor Jeremy Bailenson came to this term after researching thousands of people as test subjects for the use of Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts.
COVID-19 has us firmly glued to the screen. On the one hand, virtual working is a blessing. On the other hand, a concern. It is nice to be able to meet online and work together on the implementation of projects. However, it is also important to remember that we are social beings who have a natural need for eye contact, touch and connection. The impact of working under corona is not only huge on the economy. The impact on our ‘being human’ is also huge. How do we get healthy energy back from the way we work?
Jeremy Bailenson’s research shows that frequent digital working disrupts the communication pattern that people have developed to survive. Communication requires synchrony, or an “interplay of talking, gestures, movement and timing” in the interaction between people. Even among newborns, this synchrony is observed. Communicating through digital video creates distance between people and a lack of non-verbal signals. According to Bailenson, we have evolved as humans to gain meaning from the blink of an eye. It is part of our survival art to communicate meaningful signalling in this way. Video meetings have a huge physiological impact due to ‘out of sync’.
To sense our fellow human beings and hear their needs, we must first feel comfortable with ourselves. The stress surrounding technology, the fatigue, to see yourself and others either too big or too small on the screen, the delays in transmission due to internet speed, does not contribute to a more relaxed state of being. In addition to this digital world, we need interaction with other people. A true smile energizes. The same smile through the screen loses a lot of its power. In our virtual meetings we miss the physical facial expressions. We do not always get exactly what we need what we desire for emotional contact. We miss the physical encounters, the cups of coffee, the contact from person to person without the intervention of a computer or mobile phone.
Sherry Turkle is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and has been researching the interaction between human beings and technology throughout her life. Her books are about the importance of human contact. She is not against technology, on the contrary, but she is a great proponent of the real conversation, and sincere connection between people. In today’s digital world, she advocates ‘sacred zones’ such as the dining table, car, and bedroom where smartphones should not be taken out of the handbags or pockets. In these places, the focus is on the other person and not on the phone. Of course, we can share messages online such as “You’re the greatest!” or “Go for it!” but Turkle says that its effect is too limited to really connect with the other person, from heart to heart. For that connection, we need real conversations.
Digital World Handbook
Within Eurapco we do our best to make the digital world as energetic as possible. At the same time, we look at how people can continue to be themselves and each other offline as well. For the digital world, we have developed a handbook to stay connected to each other as humanly as possible. This is also linked to a buddy system whereby employees from different generations guide and support each other. In addition, we encourage our people to exercise regularly, get some fresh air and plan some time in between the virtual meetings to find themselves again. As far as I am concerned, a dynamic online world goes hand in hand with the ‘sacred zones’ for human contact as proposed by Professor Turkle. In this way, we ensure that humanity, empathy and compassion remain the basis for our interconnection. That gives meaning, energy and meaning to life. It is the best basis for looking forward together, sharing best practices and responding to the biggest challenges of our time.
From my position, it is a blessing to see how we are finding new ways across Europe in different ways to deal with the communicative consequences of the corona crisis. In addition to the disastrous financial and economic consequences, increased loneliness and social problems, I also see the best in people in all sorts of places. It’s wonderful to see people getting up everywhere to help their fellow man. In Italy, for example, I have seen people assisting others in the crisis with baskets of food and drink. From Latvia to Germany, I have seen the movement #hackthecrisis born with thousands of people working together online to find meaningful solutions making a creak impact to major societal challenges.
I also see numerous positive signs within our own network. Our Italian partner Reale Group protects its employees with a chain or key fob that automatically starts vibrating if you accidentally get too close to someone else. Gothaer in Germany has developed a digital advice platform that shares their own knowledge and experiences to help their customers move forward. Each of our partners gives its own ideas to valuable solutions in these challenging times.
The most beautiful side of the corona crisis is when people connect to each other, so they can stand with each other. The digital world offers many tools for this but let us also never forget that the digital world should serve people, not the other way around.
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