Previously published on Forbes
Are you worn out after a day in front of your computer screen? You aren’t alone.
Thanks to the global pandemic, we have done all of our coaching, training, and facilitation via Zoom or Microsoft Teams for these past ten months. Don’t get me wrong. I’m super grateful for how user-friendly these robust platforms are as millions of workers, leaders, students, teachers, and far-flung families have suddenly had to rely on them. We’re power users now.
And it’s exhausting.
On Mother’s Day, my two adult children dreamed up a virtual family get-together where we would all log onto Zoom and make brunch together. I was dreading it. I thought it would be full of obligatory smiling and over-cheerful chatting, like a news anchor talking about a tragedy with a small smile pulling at the corners of their mouth. Painful.
Why did I fear this? Because of my relationship to screens. And I’m guessing that, by now, we all have a similar relationship to them.
What We Want from Our Screens
Think about it. When you turn on your television and press “Netflix,” you expect to be entertained. You choose programming that will keep you engaged. Your job is to sit there and do nothing. The same goes for your computer screen when you log onto a TED Talk. If you aren’t captivated within minutes, you click to something else — your email or another website.
We have deep training in passive engagement with a screen. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, American children between ages 8 and 18 years spend an average of seven hours a day in front of a screen. Of course, this is now being linked to all kinds of adverse impacts, including sleep disruption, depression, and obesity.
Enter the post-Covid-19 era where most of our work is done in front of a screen. How do you imagine you might engage with it? Maybe you hope or expect to have your attention captured right away. Maybe you think you should be entertained (or at least not bored out of your skull). These are reasonable expectations. But none of this is dependent on you. You are just along for the ride.
How to Improve Your Relationship with the Screen
If you’re the leader of a team that’s now working in a virtual environment, this is why you are so tired. Your audience is conditioned to wanting to be engrossed in whatever is happening on the other side of their screen. But let’s face it: You cannot possibly be as entertaining as Schitt’s Creek.
So you look at the “Hollywood Squares” faces in front of you, and you see blank stares. Nothing. To make matters worse, everyone has their mute button on, so you are speaking into a black void of nothingness.
Here’s what we found can help:
1. Challenge your team to change their relationship to the screen. Invite them to be more than “just along for the ride.” Encourage them to participate fully and take on some responsibility for making the meeting more interesting by sharing more of themselves so others don’t have to work so hard to interpret a limited set of visual cues. If they are bored, invite them to do the thing that will end their boredom — share with colleagues the thing that feels risky, the thing that makes their heart race.
2. Ask that everyone keep video and audio on all the time. They can momentarily mute if a fire engine is screaming by or the dog is barking its head off but set the ground rules for an always-on standard. This ends the experience of being lonely while with your team. You can hear all of the sighs and uh-huhs and hmmmmms, the small sounds of life out there. And if someone has to get up to use the washroom or get a cup of tea, let them. After all, we make space for this in a face-to-face meeting.
3. Don’t try to be charming or entertaining. Be real. Do a check-in and invite everyone to share what is really going on for them during the pandemic. Cause openness and vulnerability. I promise you, no one will be bored or change the channel.
4. Create playful consequences for multi-tasking. You don’t have to get nasty or be militant. In collaboration with your team, decide on playful consequences if you catch someone multi-tasking during a virtual meeting or conversation. One team had small red “flags” that they threw across the table, like a flag on the play in football. It made everyone laugh and stopped the multi-tasking in its tracks.
5. Take good care of your eyes. Get a pair of blue-light blockers and consider investing in a stand-up desk so you aren’t in a fixed position for hours on end.
Together we can change our automatic way of engaging with a screen and become more active, engaged participants in a conversation that just happens to be virtual. I promise, you will be less tired at the end of the day.