#036 – Meeting Madness: The Organizational and People Impact of Meeting Overload (with Lauren Sergy)

Lauren Sergy

Podcast Summary

It’s been 28 months of virtual and hybrid meetings. And for many companies, not much has changed. We attend more meetings than ever yet aside from the convenience, few people rave about the quality of virtual meetings, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

In this episode, of The Working Well Podcast, I’m joined by communication expert, Lauren Sergy, to look at how virtual and hybrid meetings impact our energy relationships and ability to communicate well in the workplace. We touch on everything from the neuroscience of video conferencing to the responsibilities of leaders and organizations in shaping communications in this new world of virtual and hybrid work. Of course, all this comes back to impact the overall wellbeing and performance of people and teams.

Lauren Serge is a public speaking and interpersonal communication expert who has helped thousands of professionals become more powerful communicators. She’s worked with clients and audiences in Canada, the United States, the UK and beyond, including KPMG, Grant and Thornton, Cargill, T-Mobile and many. She teaches business communication seminars at the university of Alberta. Her first book, The Handy Communication Answer Book, was featured on the best reference books of 2017 by Library Journal. Her current book, Unmute: How to Master Virtual Meetings and Reclaim Your Sanity, is available at online book retailers worldwide.

Bonus Resources

Connect with Lauren on:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/laurensergy/

Website: www.laurensergy.com

YouTube: https://youtube.com/c/laurensergy1

Grab a copy of Lauren’s Books:

UNMUTE! How to Master Virtual Meetings and Reclaim Your Sanity www.unmutebook.com

The Handy Communication Answer Book: www.laurensergy.com/books/

Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the Working Well podcast. I’m Tim Borys, CEO of Fresh Wellness group. This show explores the diverse aspects of workplace health and personal performance on the working well podcast. We dive into the foundations of what makes wellness work in workplaces around the. We connect with corporate leaders, executives, and industry experts who are helping make life more awesome at work and home. Join us to learn workplace wellness, best practices, personal performance tips, and access resources to jumpstart your personal and corporate programs.

It’s been 28 months of virtual and hybrid meetings. And for many companies, not much has changed. We attend more meetings than ever yet aside from the convenience, few people rave about the quality of virtual meetings, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

In this episode, of The Working Well Podcast, I’m joined by communication expert, Lauren Sergy, to look at how virtual and hybrid meetings impact our energy relationships and ability to communicate well in the workplace. We touch on everything from the neuroscience of video conferencing to the responsibilities of leaders and organizations in shaping communications in this new world of virtual and hybrid work. Of course, all this comes back to impact the overall wellbeing and performance of people and teams.

Lauren Sergy, Public Speaking and Interpersonal Communication Expert, Author of UNMUTE! 

Lauren Serge is a public speaking and interpersonal communication expert who has helped thousands of professionals become more powerful communicators. She’s worked with clients and audiences in Canada, the United States, the UK and beyond, including KPMG, Grant and Thornton, Cargill, T-Mobile and many. She teaches business communication seminars at the university of Alberta. Her first book, The Handy Communication Answer Book, was featured on the best reference books of 2017 by Library Journal. Her current book, Unmute: How to Master Virtual Meetings and Reclaim Your Sanity, is available at online book retailers worldwide.

Tim: Lauren, so great to have you on the show. I’m excited to chat. It’s been a little while since we chatted and connected so I’m looking forward to soaking up your insight. So tell me a little bit more about what’s going on in your world these days.

Lauren: Well, summer just started. Let’s like fix this podcast in recording time. Summer just started. So I’m actually kind of having flashbacks to the beginning of COVID when the kids all went home, but we still had to keep working. Because now my husband and I are once again, figuring out that split shift schedule – Okay. You work in the mornings. I will take the kids. I will work in the afternoons. You will take the kids. So we’re kind of back to that whole debacle again.

Tim: Totally. That’s well, anyone that has kids is dealing with that right now. And the great news is working from home, we can do that for a lot of us. I feel for those people who are back in the office on a consistent basis or more challengingly being forced back to the office and especially during the summer, it’s got to be really challenging. And that’s why we put our kids in summer camp all summer.

Lauren: exactly.

Tim: We still have to drive into summer camp and pick them up, but at least they’re not running around the house or sitting on video games all day.

Lauren: That’s okay.We gave ourselves a one week break of where they’re both in summer camp at the same time. And I’m just like, okay, that can’t come soon enough.

Tim: And you’re going somewhere tropical

Lauren: Yes.

Tim: It’s a sleepover camp, right?

Lauren: Oh yes, absolutely.

Back to Office and Hybrid Workplace Challenges

Tim: Awesome. So today we’re talking about, well, a range of things, but mostly around virtual meetings, and pretty timely, communication within corporations. What are the big things you’re seeing right now? What are the big challenges people are facing as they’re coming back to the office or this hybrid, is it getting extended? Tell me about those challenges you’re seeing.

Lauren: Well, I think that many people kind of clung to the hope that at some point we wouldn’t need to rely quite so heavily on virtual, that there would be a mass migration back to the office and that we would be mostly in person again, and now not everyone wanted that. Many people, I am absolutely one of those people, lots of people found that they were more productive at home and they are happy to continue doing the virtual meeting. But for many people they kind of use that, “Oh, we’ll be going back some time as an excuse to not learn to how to get good in this medium. And as the reality is sinking in that virtual isn’t going anywhere. Whether or not your office demands it, some of your clients are going to demand it. Your partners are likely going to demand it. It’s now here and it’s going to stay.

As that reality sinks in, people are becoming frustrated with the medium again, and kind of piling on that is the fact that we are now more frequently in a hybrid scenario where some people are in, some people are out, and you’re having meetings where there is a physical presence of a few team members in an actual room together, but then everyone else is on a screen. So you now have live meetings, taking place in real-time with people in wildly different communication environments. And that’s really taxing and people are having a hard time figuring out how to make it work.

Keys to Successful Communication

Tim: For sure. And I love how you said people did held out hope that it was gonna change, so they didn’t take that opportunity to learn. Yep. And it still boggles my mind how some people haven’t learned how to use the key virtual platforms or not learned how to use them well. We still looking up people’s noses when they’re on camera. And there’s like, they’re in witness protection if they have their camera on, cuz there’s like huge backlight and like simple things like that. But even more so just the communication strategies that people use in meetings, haven’t evolved a lot. In some companies they have. But tell me a bit about what success looks like and what not success looks like.

Lauren: Well, the big marker for success in terms of how I view communication is are your people able to clearly communicate with one another? Can they connect easily, reliably when they need to? And are their stress levels manageable? Now, loads of things, of course, affect stress. I mean, your work deals with the whole gamut of things that create or exacerbate workplace stress and how to deal with them.

When it comes to communication, though, when I really laser focus in on communication related stress, I pay attention to whether or not their communication activities are being facilitated by the technologies or the policies that are in place, whether or not they feel like they can easily communicate with other people. And crucially, whether they’re getting burned out by communication to the point where they’re starting to actively avoid it.

This is hard. Communicating even in really good scenarios can be very difficult. It takes a lot of brain power. It takes a lot of thought, a lot of agility. We do it constantly throughout the day. And when you start throwing in wrenches, like hybrid, like some people only having the webcam, like some people being face to face and all of the cultural changes that can happen within a company that way, the difficulty of the communication ramps up, and so does the stress behind it.

So that’s what I really watch out for in terms of communication, how stressed out do they feel when a meeting notice pops up or when a request for a one-on-one pops up or a phone call or whatever? When they’re asked, Hey, can we talk? Does their blood pressure shoot through the roof? Are people reporting that they are now hiding from the communication and the engagement? That’s when I’m like, Ooh, be careful.

Now some companies are doing a wonderful job of figuring this out. They are making every effort to be very nimble and agile in terms of their communication practices. And for those who can, and not every workplace is going to be conducive to this, but for those who can, there’s many out there that are giving a lot more power to their employees to set the terms of their communication. So they’re not requiring them to show up to every meeting. They’re not requiring them to be a hundred percent there and ready and accessible all the time. They’re allowing them to create boundaries and barriers and say, you know, “No, I don’t wanna be in front of a camera today. If you want to meet with me, it’s a phone call only.” They’re they’re allowing them to do that. And that’s helping hugely. Others, not so much, they haven’t quite gotten to that point yet.

Communication Related Stress and What to Do About It

Tim: Yes, I love that companies are adapting. How much of that adaptation is being looked at through the lens of, Hey, if someone’s retreating from the camera or the communication, I guess you would say in an organization, how much of that are a red flag for mental health or for burnout?

Lauren: Yes, the difficulty there is that it’s sometimes hard to peg what the behavior is until they’re long past that point, until the intervention that is needed is much more significant. And keep in mind within framing this, I am not a mental health expert by any stretch, but by the time that they’re actually avoiding the phone, that they’re avoiding their email. Things are really serious because people who are doing that know that it’s to their detriment,and frequently it’s not perceived as, oh, wait a minute, this is a bigger problem that we should work on. It’s often at first, just perceived as the individual’s own lack of engagement or lack of productivity or something.

So it’s kind of pegged on the person too early and it doesn’t get addressed until people start hitting the breaking point. And where I get clients contacting me saying, “Hey, can you help our teams figure this out?” is really when they do see the relationships within their teams start to be affected and start to deteriorate. They used to work well together. They’re not working well anymore. So and so never turns their cameras on. Everyone else is mad. Like it’s when those visceral emotions are now affecting how well they can communicate with each other. That’s when people start to tend to wake up. But by that point, you need to do some, some pretty, pretty effortful, pretty mindful intervention in terms of communication practices to turn that ship around.

Tim: Okay. And so if we take a step back to I guess, well, a couple years ago, when this all started, you’ve talked about how the hybrid meetings and online virtual meetings can zap energy, change relationships and challenge communications.

What does the ideal situation look like or how do companies set themselves up for success?

Creating  a Consistent Communication Environment for Everyone

Lauren: To me, the ideal situation is that everyone involved in a meeting, excuse me, everyone who’s communicating together in real time are doing it in the same way. So if they can all be in a room together, they are all in a room together. If you know, it’s going to be half of them are in the room and half of them are out of the room, get everyone out of the room and on camera.

There’s no perfect answers. Like how many people is the exact number of people that it’s acceptable to have on camera before we turn it into a virtual only? I can’t really answer that for people because it’s going to depend on the situation. You know, it could be that a meeting that was intended to be fully in-person, there’s one or two people who simply can’t physically be there today.So, okay, fine, get them on camera, you adjust. But as much as possible, you create a consistent communication environment for everyone. And on top of that, especially with virtual, you set up consistent etiquette. Consistent ways of saying this is the expectations for how you turn up and for how we communicate with one another. Not because it is super important that everyone is showing up in full business wear or whatever. You can all show up in t-shirts, for all I care. As long as everyone is kind of there in the same way, because that makes the engagement and the interaction much more easy.

Communication is contextual and what we’re seeing and the way that we are present with one another is part of that context. And the more that you set this out and you tell people what’s expected before a meeting, and it can be as simple as this is an in-person meeting. Here is the meeting room. This is a virtual meeting, camera’s on. It can be as simple as that, but once you set that expectation, then people don’t have to wonder. And then you don’t get the situation of Joe who never turns his camera on and is now again on there without his camera and five other people who are there with their cameras on making the effort saying, Hey, I’m here. I brushed my hair. Is he even present? Is he looking at his email? What’s going on? Why does he never turn his camera on? Now, you don’t have those questions running through people’s heads.

And another area that I strongly recommend companies do, this goes for in-person hybrid and virtual only, pull back on the number of meetings you’re having. Yes, that gets huge. It is so huge. The amount of time I help people, right size the number of meetings as well as the number of people participating in them is incredible. The more breathing space you can give people the better. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t like meetings. I like productive meetings. Nothing feels better than a meeting where everyone’s like, Yes, we’re clicking, we’re getting stuff done. Nothing feels as good as that, but we don’t have as many of those as we would like.

So it’s really important, especially as I find people are less tolerant of overwhelm than they used to be, I think that’s still something that’s a fallout from the pandemic still. We just don’t have as much capacity these days. As people become less tolerant, you really have to ask yourself, do they need to be here? Is this something that if they were in the meeting, they’re either contributing to the decision that’s being made or the action that’s being taken or they are required to give us like mission critical information. If the answer to either of those two is no, if it’s just will, it would be nice if they heard, no. Give that person a break. Let them go. Let them not be in there only bring in mission critical.

Tim: Well, and some of that comes back to the communication you talked about earlier. If it’s being communicated effectively is like, here’s the agenda of the meeting. Here’s what our outcome is supposed to be. Here’s, who’s contributing that becomes pretty clear of who needs to be there and who doesn’t.

And so many companies are recording meetings now, so if someone doesn’t need to be there, they can always, and they just, it would be nice to have some of the information, a summary that like transcripts are being done in meetings that you can just go have a quick browse of it. So and so said this great, done. But I find that so many companies aren’t doing that and there’s this like sea of cameras off and there are like three or four talking on a town hall or something. Totally understand that but that’s a certain type of meeting.

Lauren: That’s a very specific type of meeting. And most of our time is not being taken up with town halls. That’s the thing. So if you say like, what is the purpose, like you said, what is the clearly identified outcome that this meeting is going to have? You can really quickly filter out who doesn’t need to be there.

Now, what I find people do when they’re sucking others into meetings is if they’re sucking down people who are lower on the organizational ladder than them. These are not people who are necessarily, they know that they’re not going to contribute. Usually what they’re doing is treating the meeting as an orientation or a training type activity. If someone is new, sure. Invite them to a whole bunch, let them see the personalities. Don’t expect them to contribute, let them get the feel of it, but it shouldn’t be used as an activity that you drag people into so that they can learn. Well, what are they learning? What’s the point?

Similarly for people who are getting pulled in, who are above the ladder, that tends to fall into a worry that if they are left out, the person who called the meeting will get into trouble. So it becomes a covering your butt type scenario. I have to involve them. What if they’re angry that I don’t? Well, then you apologize and you send them the relevant information and say, do you wanna be in the next one? Okay. I will put you in the next one. But otherwise, if they’re not involved in making a decision that you then carry out, they’re probably too busy to be there. And they are likely just overwhelmed, like absolutely everyone else.

So being ruthless in terms of who gets invited and who doesn’t is important. And it really, again, it really helps if companies empower their employees to make decisions like that. They say, Hey, middle manager, I trust you to know your project well enough to say that this upper supervisor does not need to be there. I trust you that you know what you’re doing well enough to use that kind of judgment now go. Which can be scary.

Tim: Totally. And it’s also scarier for a lower level employees to be able to speak up and say, Hey, I’ve attended the last seven meetings and haven’t said a word and no one’s asked of anything of me. Why do I need to be here?

Lauren: It’s very frightening for people to do this. And you know, this is when you can usually see communication practices, reflecting the overall health and wellbeing of an organization. The way that they speak to each other reflects the entire dynamic within the team. If they’re not given that latitude, then that’ll come out. And if they’re given that latitude, then it will come out and things will be more relaxed and more efficient.

Something that I find really helps with with that and this is kind of diverting into why this is again so important, especially right now, you know, saying no, this person doesn’t need to be here is understanding how difficult this environment actually is on our brains. So normal meetings are difficult, like regular in person face to face, they can be really, really intense.

When you layer on a technological environment on top of it, our brains have to multitask like you wouldn’t believe. Well. I mean, you do a lot of virtual speaking tips, so I know you would, but many people don’t really appreciate everything that we’re having to process as soon as we’re in this environment. Because now you have to say, okay, the interaction isn’t happening me to you, it’s happening me to the camera, the camera to you. So there’s an intermediary and now we have to work through that intermediary. Well, how do I let people know that I’m listening to them?

Usually it’s through direct eye contact but no one’s looking at each other. Now I’m looking at you. It sure as heck doesn’t feel like it though. And everyone says, oh, are they disengaged? Oh, no, it doesn’t feel like anyone’s engaging. Yes. Because eye contact doesn’t work normally and our brains have to actively think around it and they are thinking around it while we’re sitting in this meeting, they’re processing around it.

Then there’s the flurry of screens around us. Usually people have at least two screens and maybe a device or two that’s also on and begging for attention, begging for our eyeballs to look at it. So another part of your brain is now tasked with actively ignoring all of those other distractions. Those are two of the easiest things to pull out that we’re doing as soon as we’re in a online virtual environment.

So when you pile on all of that alongside everything you need to do in the meeting and then multiply it by four or five meetings a day, which is not unreasonable for many of the companies that I work with.

Tim: I’d say that’s low for some people I’ve talked to.

Lauren: I know it’s normal now. You can see how people are just bagged by the end of their day. We’re demanding that people multitask like we’ve never demanded before, without even realizing that that’s what we’re asking them to do. Because again, not everyone needs to professionally obsess over the effects of technological communication on human interaction. That’s my job.

Tim: Absolutely. And I, I like how you bring up the we’ll call it the cognitive stress or the workload. It’s like, well, we were talking about the fan on my computer over working over time. Our brains are working overtime just to have what was considered a normal meeting, and the stats are showing that there is like depending on which one you look at anywhere from a 20 to 40% increase in the number of meetings that people are having. So layer extra stress in for a one meeting, but then increase that number of meetings and Yes, it makes sense that people are a mess.

Lauren: And looking at again, the hybrid scenario where some people are in, some people are out what you’re adding there is two separate communication environments, which can actually create a lot of siloing in terms of the communication in the workplace. And as you know, siloed teams don’t always work that well together. It’s hard to, to culturally make that work. It can happen even with the best of intentions. Again, the difficulty is that everyone who is attending virtually does not have the nonverbal communication ability that everyone who is sitting there in-person does. And these are things like the ability to give direct eye contact, the ability to orient your body towards the person you’re speaking to, to give the knowing glance towards your buddy on the other end of the table, when so and so starts going off on one of their tirades. All of that is now missing for the people on the camera and they feel it. They really do feel that distance and feel that separation. For the people in the room. It is really difficult to not engage in that kind of communication. That’s human behavior.

Tim: I’d say all that stuff is going on, but it’s just going on in the Slack channels and the text back and forth or the private chats.

Lauren: It’s all going on there, but that’s again, more difficult and more taxing than those quick little, the, the quick little look that communicates like five Slack messages worth of vitriol.

So the people who are in person have that ability to engage in that kind of communication, and that tends to simply create, just because of the environment, it tends to create stronger relationships among those people. This is a bit of a generalization. There are plenty of very high functioning teams that have wonderful relationships who work remotely, but they tend to work at that relationship. They create opportunities where they can get together. They know how to communicate well in this built environment. It’s something that they have figured out. Right now, most companies are in the process of figuring that out. So they’re going through the growing pains.

Choosing the Right Technology Platform

Tim: Yes. And so how much does which technology platform we choose?

Lauren: It entirely depends on how cranky that technology platform is being with said technology. I’m very, very platform agnostic. I have my favorites, but that’s mostly because I’m comfortable with using them. At this stage, most of the platforms are pretty equal in terms of performance. So the big question is, does the platform make it easy for you to join and easy for you to converse? If it does that, cool. If the platform is working but the meetings are not, then the problem isn’t the technology, and switching the platform, isn’t going to work. What you need, and this will sound like a complete plug, I do not intend it to be as such, what you need are things like virtual skills training.

People need to learn how to be in this environment. What they might need again, are better policies regarding etiquette for hybrid and for virtual. It could be that they need more external facilitation of these meetings. They need to dedicate someone to say, “Okay, Jamie is just facilitating the conversation. She’s not providing reports. She is not providing an opinion, nothing like that. Jamie is facilitating so that everyone can have equal opportunity to participate in this meeting.” If it’s doing something like that to improve the flow of the meetings, especially big ones, those kinds of actions are going to be what improves the overall experience and helps reduce some of that stress and just improve people’s skill on these platforms.

The Future of Workplace Communication

Tim: So from a future standpoint, I agree with you. I don’t think hybrid meetings are going anywhere anytime soon. And in fact, I’d say because some people are in the office, it’s even more challenging now than when it was just one or two people and people were connecting from different places. I think we’ve added a whole other level of complexity with the people who aren’t there.

And as you said, creating those silos within the teams so there’s not just the tech logistics of it. There’s the team culture, organizational dynamics of it that companies and leaders have to think about. And if we layer that on top of some people being mandated back to the office, other people not, and a lot of companies are starting to I guess influence what their partners are doing as well. And if different vendors have to assume certain, I guess, practices that the company might want to uphold, how do you see that as affecting the long term transition of communication at work and how people are dealing with it?

Lauren: I think that we’re going to continue. And this is a good thing to see more flexibility in terms of how people do connect. However, there will become an expectation that a certain amount of time is being spent in person. So you might not have 100% flex time. Maybe it is a situation where you’re out of the office three days, you’re in the office two days. And you will need to coordinate and plan when you’re in the office. I’m in the office not because I need to do deep work. I’m in the office because I need to do people work and relationship, work and face to face conversations. So that all gets front loaded into the office time.

Get ready to book your meeting rooms way in advance, way further in advance than they used to. I do think that will be an issue there. However, we might also see situations almost like what you see with distance education, where there’s a residency period, where people might go off and work remotely on the other side of the country for four months, but then they spend one or two weeks in the office to get that face time in. I think you’ll see a little bit more of that happening.

I do believe that you’ll be seeing fewer regular big in person meetings. Like the kind of meetings where they used to fly people in from around the country, from other countries, from across the pond. Fewer of those will happen partially because of the cost savings and now because this has been normalized. And that’s a good thing. Our planet will be very grateful for this. You know, I think that that’s a good thing, but you will continue to see annual or semi-annual conferences taking place where all of those meetings then happen. So that nimbleness I think, is going to carry on a great deal.

My concern is that it will become naturally easier for those who are physically located in whatever area, headquarters is in, for those who are physically present to advance more easily. And that’s something that I think companies should be aware of, be mindful of. It’s not like watch out for it, because it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe the in-person is the best, but they need to be aware that that could create a lot of bias in terms of how they view people and their contributions to the organization.

Tim: Yes. I definitely agree with how things

are going now, that can be the case. Is that a sign of poor online meeting management and leadership or is it just the fact that in person is that much better?

Lauren: I think that there’s nothing like in person. However, the advantages to virtual are such that very often it will make it the better choice. And that’s where we need to look at our meetings and any of our communication and really ask ourselves, why am I choosing this medium? Why am I choosing in person instead of virtual? Why am I and vice versa, why am I choosing a phone call instead of virtual? What’s the purpose of this engagement and why is this the best medium?

So it means being much more aware of how the mechanisms of communication and how our communication environment affects the bigger picture in terms of how we work together. That is something that for the majority of workers, they have never had to consider before from that angle, how is this really affecting things? They’ve never had to worry about it.

So this practice is going to take some getting used to for many people for others that might, oh, why do I need to spend this time planning on its etiquette for the virtual, whatever, just show up. They might be a little bit annoyed at having to spend time thinking about their meetings and their communication this way. However, the more you do it, the easier it gets. And the mindfulness that you bring to your communication choices are going to result in better outcomes, better work, more efficient outcomes, and they will result in less stress. So it becomes a virtuous cycle, but to kind of get that, to get that cycle going, it’s gonna take a push. They’ll have to say, this is a priority for us to figure out we are going to remind and challenge and work together to figure these communication questions out so that we can work with this in a sustainable manner.

Why Leaders Need to Strategically Plan Their Meetings 

Tim: How many of the leaders you’re seeing are taking that approach these days to strategically planning what the method and reason for certain meetings is and what the mode of that meeting in-person, online, hybrid, what percentage of leaders are doing that?

Lauren: Not as many as I would like. Again, I am biased because this is my whole world. This is what I obsess about professionally. Not as many as I would like, I would say that among my own clientele, if I think about the makeup of their company, about how much training I’ve delivered to people and so on, I would say it’s probably about 30% are saying, we need to do something about this now. And they’re trying to pull the others in. But that’s accelerating. More people are starting to say, okay, this is an issue. This is a big issue. Never knew it was an issue before but let’s do something about it. I of course would like to see that number go way up 30% is too low.

Communication is everything that we do. Everyone should be thinking about it all the time. Darn it. Maybe not, maybe not that maybe not going that far. But I do have good hope that this will become more normalized in our conversations and more normalized in terms of human resource planning, in terms of designing workspaces, in figuring out what the expectations are for how people work and how people are, or are not present. So it’s gonna be a number of years before this becomes standard practice, but especially in the big companies with widely distributed teams and complex work environments, I think it will become a more normal part of work.

Tim: That’s good to know. I’m waiting for that time to happen. Because I agree with you. What I’m seeing is not many leaders or not many companies are there yet. And they’re still thinking like it’s two years ago and they’re like, wow, this either online or in-person or we do hybrid, but there’s no real strategy behind it. It’s just because there’s no strategy. We’re just running meetings and…

Lauren: Yes, we just do it. We just go with the flow. And the tricky thing is that when I say 30%, these are the people who are coming to me and self-identifying saying we have a problem. So the real number is probably a lot lower than that.

Tim: Oh, I guarantee it’s a lot lower than. Yes.

Lauren: Those are just the ones coming to me saying we need help and no one else has figured this out yet. Okay. Let’s work on this. Yes, we will get there, but it’s going to take a lot of time.

Tim: You’ve brought up a couple of key points that I think they’re gonna define the next few years. Well, anywhere from the next three to 10 years or more, is the organizational design, workspace design, and even from building layouts of real estate is going to change if companies don’t need as many in-person places, how are buildings going to cater to the people that are in in-person, and the needs of being in person. Whether it’s leadership retreats or all-hands meetings or collaborative environments that are best facilitated in person compared to day-to-day average meetings that can happen online just as easily.

So I think we heard just touching the tip of the iceberg in terms of the change that’s gonna come down in those areas. And I’m excited to see. we’ve got some companies leading it already, but there are the 99.9% of the companies that aren’t in the lead are, some of them aren’t even close to figuring it out yet.

Being a Good Communicator Is  A Learned Skill

Lauren: Yes. And hopefully they figure it out because it is, again, it is a pretty major issue. One of the, I don’t wanna say traps and I don’t wanna say mistakes because it’s pretty understandable. But one of the situations that happened, especially when March, 2020 hit was that as one of my clients put it, I was sent home with a laptop and a webcam and expected to be brilliant, and I have no idea what I’m doing on camera. So these skills, as more people realize that this is not intuitive, that being a good virtual communicator, even being a good in-person, communicator is a learned skill. Then you will see more emphasis put on it .And I’m already seeing more emphasis put on both virtual communication skills and in-person communication skills.

And that’s one of the cool, from my perspective, silver linings out of this Schmos that we’ve found ourselves in is that it’s forced us to sit back and say, wait a minute, why aren’t I getting it? Why isn’t this easy? Why shouldn’t I just be able to continue working with my colleagues in the same way and feel the same thing about them. And it started getting us looking at communication as a human activity and thinking about it more than we ever have, which places more value on saying we need, we actually need to spend time developing these skills. Let’s put some time and attention in on it.

The beautiful thing is that it results in better interpersonal one on one communication, better meetings, better presentations. You know, you get better in one area of communication. It bleeds into other areas.

Tim: Don’t even get me started in presentations.

Lauren: Yes.

Tim: The virtual presentations death by power, at least with death by PowerPoint, you can turn your camera off and not have to worry. Were was there any room and it’s.

Lauren: That’s a whole other, that’s an excuse to get off camera, Tim.

Tim: Exactly. That’s a whole other podcast.

Lauren: Everyone listening. I’m gonna wag my finger at you and say, do not use your slide deck as an excuse to completely disappear from the camera.

Tim: Exactly. I’m saying when other people are presenting and it’s horrible, you can turn your camera off and they don’t see the, the, ah, the shock on your face. But that’s a whole other podcast,

Lauren: Whole other podcast.

Key Takeaways

Tim: Alright, so now, as we’re moving forward, again, there are so many companies and leaders that are just in that process of trying to figure things out. If we had to sort of summarize some of the things that we’ve talked about into like the, you know, the top three things, like, what is it, what’s the most important thing to do? What’s the second, what’s the third as a leader, that’s trying to improve the communication and effectiveness of their teams and their meetings?

Lauren: Most important thing is to recognize and understand the demands that your communication environment is placing on your people. And the demands are going to be different in person versus virtual versus blended or hybrid, but understand what those demands are because that will help you more accurately gauge their stress levels just from engaging in the meeting So that’s the first thing.

The second thing is set consistent expectations and even policies across the board for how people are showing up. Not every meeting needs to be on camera, but make sure that everyone communicates that expectation. So maybe the policy is simply that every meeting request will state, is it in person mandatory in person, is it on camera, or cameras on or off? It can be as simple as that but set those expectations.

And then, give people the tools that they need to develop these skills. Communication is learned skill. It is very rarely an inborn trait. There are very few people who are naturally brilliant at this. And then they tend to become motivational speakers or something. I don’t know. Most people they get good because they learn the skills. So give them those tools, give them access to those educational and learning resources to get good in the environment.

Tim: Awesome. I think those are perfect. And if everyone did that, we’d have way better meetings.

Lauren: Virtual and in person, they would be great.

Tim: And people would have energy. There’d be less burnout.

Lauren: He would be in two meetings a day instead of five. How does that sound? Whew. Woo.

Tim: Or if you were in five, they had a clear agenda and you knew who everyone needed to be there was there. I do have a question on the, on the camera side and this is more of just general interest one. I’m interested to see where you go with it, but what if people are, you say mandatory cameras on and people say they just still don’t turn their cameras on\, and they refuse to turn their cameras on.

Lauren: Okay. Sounds like an easy question. It is not. First up, when it comes to mandatory cameras on, be human.  Like if someone is attending a meeting from home because their kid is sick and they’ve got that kid plastered to the side of their head, but they really don’t wanna miss their meeting be okay with them having their camera and microphone off. That is an exceptional circumstance.

Occasionally, one thing to consider as well is neurodiversity in the workplace, because for some people, this is extremely difficult and I’m not referring to the neurotypical this is tiring because there’s so much distraction and it’s a weird environment. I mean, for those who really genuinely struggle with this. If a case like that is if a manager is made aware of a case like that, be human about it. Right. Maybe not require them to be on camera as often.

Otherwise, and what I find is the situation, the majority of the time is that the person who always has their camera off, simply doesn’t like being on camera. And I’m really hardnosed about this. I don’t care that they simply don’t like being on camera. If there is no other reason for it then they’re not, they don’t like staring at themselves or they find it annoying. They must understand that their choice to be off camera, communicate something specific to everyone who was on. And it says, I am not willing to put in the same kind of effort as you into this interaction and this relationship. Want to know where fights start? That’s huge. That is a huge issue.

So making those people aware that this is what they are intentionally or usually unintentionally communicating usually is enough to get them to stick the camera on. Otherwise, it could become a performance issue and I’ve worked with some organizations where that did genuinely become a performance issue.

Now, if it is at that point, there’s probably other indicators that there’s something wrong as well. It’s not just the camera or it’s not always just the camera. There might be something else going on there too. So I’m a stickler for camera etiquette when it comes to this.

Tim: Well, I talked to a leader the other day that several people in a fairly large team that they were hired, went through over a year of work and fired without their camera ever being on. And the leader never actually saw them. They had lots of talks, but they never actually saw who they were. working, hiring .

Lauren: This is a way of developing relationships with people. Being able to see each other’s faces to do all of this sort of thing is a way of embedding yourself even within a company. And it’s important for us to show up that way.

Again, each one of these things, when it comes down to communication just about everything is a deliberate choice. So by choosing to stay off camera, you might be making it more difficult for yourself and for your team members and it can come back to bite you. So get used to watching yourself. I always tell people, spend time on zoom in a meeting with yourself, staring at yourself, and getting really used to just how weird you look. Because we all think we look weird and then make peace with it and turn your flipping camera on.

Tim: Yes. And you don’t even have to have your own camera, like your own thing. You can minimize your own. So you’re not seeing yourself.

Lauren: Yes. The consciousness of being on camera is one of those things that does tend to increase the the fatigue. I will say that when we know we’re on camera, we feel the need to perform more or we just don’t know how to be like all of a sudden it’s like, what do I do with my hands? I don’t know anymore. You know, that part of our brain can activate. So it is mentally harder to be on camera. That again is where some of the skill development comes in. There’s resources out there that will show people how to be on camera. Give them those resources.

Tim: Yes. And it’s not that difficult.

Lauren: It really isn’t. Once you get used to it, it’s like riding a bike.

Tim: Probably even easier. Alright, well Lauren, thank you so much. I appreciate your insight and the humor you bring to it. I think this is something that two years in is still so needed, and it’s going to continue to become more and more important as the burnout, the stress, the great resignation, or great reshuffle or whatever we want to call it is happening. People need to learn these skills and thank you for bringing that knowledge to everyone. So where can people find you?

Lauren: Easiest place is on my website. Of course, LaurenSergy.com, L A U R E N S E R G Y.com. I’ve got whole pile of resources on just about anything that has to do with communication and interaction in the workplace there. And if anyone is interested in picking up a copy of my book on this very subject, it’s called Unmute: How to Master Virtual Meetings and Reclaim Your Sanity. And you can find that either on my website or by going to unmutebook.com.

Tim: Awesome. And I love the name of the book because no one has ever had to say, oh, you’re unmute.

Lauren: No, I, I totally didn’t do that. When we signed on to record this interview.

Tim: Thank you so much, Lauren. Look forward to reconnecting again soon and definitely pick up Lauren’s book. It is fantastic.

Lauren: Thank you, Tim. Look forward to it.

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