Nowadays, most of us are spending a lot more time on video calls than we ever have before. Video calls are a great way for us to connect, communicate, and collaborate across distances. They are also a great way for us to continuously stare at a computer all day as we multiply the effects of meeting fatigue, screen fatigue, and social isolation.
If we are careless, video calls can cause us to feel like computer zombies that struggle to feel the connection, belonging, and togetherness that we need to sustain ourselves and work effectively together. But if we are intentional, we can avoid some of the pitfalls of the medium and work with it to benefit our mental health and our team cohesion. Here are ten simple things we can do to make video calls more enjoyable and effective.
1. Take a Transition Moment
Right before a video, call we are often doing some other task on our computer. If we don’t take a moment to mindfully transition out of that task and into our video call, we will carry whatever emotional and mental posture we assumed to complete the previous task into our call. It’s the same as when we connect with someone in person. If we are in the middle of calculating spreadsheets and balancing budgets when our friend walks in the room, our interaction will have a different starting point than if we had put away our computer, walked out of our office, took a few moments to breathe, and met that friend in a park.
The trap with video calls is that it’s possible to transition from our previous task (which may involve no human connection) immediately into a meeting that requires us to relate to a person, and that person appears to us in the exact same place on our computer screen as the non-human things we were working with before. It a perfect recipe for us to relate to each other the same way we were relating to whatever tab we just had open. Needless to say, it isn’t the most pleasant experience for anyone involved.
One way to address this is to take a few minutes of quiet time, away from screens, before getting on a video call. Just taking a few breaths, feeling our bodies, and orienting our emotions to the people that we will be interacting with can make a world of difference. Not only does this help us release whatever we were experiencing and meet the new interaction with more freshness, it also signals to our nervous systems that we are engaging with people, not screens, which enables us to feel more connected to the people we are talking to. This connectivity supports our well-being and our ability to collaborate effectively in teams.
2. Check In as Humans
It always takes us a moment to fully arrive somewhere new. As we start our video call and begin to bring our attention to the people and tasks at hand, we often notice all sorts of thoughts and feelings arise. Some relate to the moment we are in, some relate to the past, and some relate to the future. When we express these things, we often feel more fully present. When we hear little snippets of each other’s lives, we often feel more connected; when we are transparent about what external things are impacting how we show up in a meeting, we often engender more compassion.
If you are going to have a video call about a specific topic, try taking a moment before diving into that topic to have everyone share a bit about themselves. Everyone could respond to a specific prompt, or just share whatever will help them feel more fully present in the space. This gives everyone a chance to arrive, feel more connected, and orient to the fact that they are engaging with a group of people with vulnerabilities, feelings, and lives, and not just a bunch of floating heads on a screen.
3. Prepare Your Windows
We all know how annoying it is when the person with whom we are trying to have a conversation keeps looking away to check their phone. Well, when we are on a video call, we don’t even need to look away to be distracted by a screen. When we have another window open during a video call, it’s almost as if we are holding our phone up right beside the other person’s head, just begging to be distracted. Even though all of us have been known to surf the internet or do other work during a video call, we all also know how obvious it is when someone is doing it and how much it disrupts the flow of the calls and leaves us feeling personally disconnected.
Try closing or minimizing all windows on your screen except for the video call and any documents you need for the call. If the documents you need in on a web browser, open a fresh window that only has what you need. It’s a little ritual that can help bring our attention to the meeting, and it makes it just a little less tempting to get distracted.
4. Adjust Your Screen Positioning
Your distance from your screen can have a big impact on you and the people you are on the call with. For yourself, you will have a different experience if your screen is occupying most of your field of vision, as opposed to being able to see both the screen and the non-screen world. Your fellow callers experience you differently if your image is filling up most of the little box they see on their screen, you are off in the distance, or you are just a head resting at the bottom of the screen with a bunch of empty space above you.
Try playing with your distance from the screen, the way the camera frames you, and even the angle at which you sit in relation to the screen. It can have a big influence on how connected we feel to ourselves and each other.
5. Hide Your Self View
Can you imagine having a conversation with someone while also looking in a mirror that was reflecting your every move? Would you feel more natural, or more self-conscious? Would you feel more or less connected to them?
When we have our little self-views up on video calls, that’s pretty much what we are doing. The self-view is great to make sure we are well positioned in front of the camera, but leaving it on throughout the call can have quite a bit of impact on our attention and our sense of connection with one another. Obviously, there’s no right or wrong way to do anything, but it’s definitely worth experimenting with your self-view and getting curious about why you make the choice you do.
6. Disrupt Your Computer Gaze
There is a certain way that we look at our computer, or any external object for that matter. That gaze often leaves us feeling disconnected and stuck in our heads, but it’s not too hard to shift it to become more present and available.
The trick is to switch between (1) using eyes to reach out and search and using eyes to receive and (2) making sight the primary sense and making hearing and feeling the primary senses.
You can try it right now. Pick an object and look at it as if it were something outside of you. Feel how far it is from you, how separate. Imagine there were little tendrils that emerged from your eyes to scan the thing. If you want to exaggerate it, look at it as if it were some confusing and unfamiliar puzzle to be solved. Notice what happens to the sensations in your body, heart, and mind while you do that. How does it feel familiar or different from the way you usually look at things, specifically at your computer?
Now, close your eyes or soften your gaze, and place your attention on your hearing. Notice all the sounds that arise. Notice how you effortlessly receive those sounds, almost as if they were occurring within you. Don’t try to figure out where spatially the sounds are coming from, just notice that you can do absolutely nothing and still receive the internal experience of the sound. Notice the impact on your body, mind, and emotions. What is different between this way of hearing, and the way of seeing you just experienced?
As you open your eyes, allow your vision to be as receptive as your hearing. Staying centered in yourself, you effortlessly receive