The strange world we now live in is one of tiny squares filled with just the top halves of people we've known forever or worked with for years. Now we are all tightly wedged into four right angles constantly checking if our mic is on.
What does it do to us now that we've become so two-dimensional? And how can we authentically show up when so little of us is seen? During this crisis, authenticity isn't just important; it's is all we've got.
1) Watch how much you watch yourself
The most drastic change from an in-person meeting to a virtual one is that you can see yourself. Just imagine if in-person meetings had a mirror propped up in front of you on the conference table. How much would you manage your expressions, or fiddle with your hair or practice better posture?
There will be difficulty in turning away from yourself on camera. And you should feel free to enjoy, or learn from, the brief glimpse into yourself that others have always seen. But be aware that any time you watch yourself, you'll change the way you behave. As best you can, keep your eyes moving around the virtual room. And I know what you're thinking, but no, you don't look as tired in person as you do on camera.
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2) Make small talk big talk
Small talk is usually thought of as a nicety we extend to people in the few minutes before diving into a meeting's agenda. But in a time of crisis, small talk becomes crucial. Those seemingly nothing conversations are the escapes of self that bubble up to the surface the minute our squares populate the screen. Pay attention to those because they are now no longer small talk. They are big talk forced into a small amount of time.
There's an opportunity to explore those small bits of dialogue that are often fear, emotions, or guilt, masked behind exasperated laughter or hand waving. When you meet with your team, or one-on-one, devote as much time to talking about how they are doing and feeling — or Tiger King, if what is needed is a distraction-as you do about the task at hand. Because in the middle of a crisis, carving out time to check in on people is the task at hand.
3) Don't hide what's just outside the box
The only thing that feels like the office is the tiny square you take up when the camera and the microphone are on. Which can make it feel like everything outside that box has to somehow stay hidden. How much effort do we put into making our children (or dogs) be quiet? Just yesterday I realized I was saying the phrase, "Shhh, Daddy's on a call" to my kids more than the phrases they usually hear me say, like, "I love you," or "Stop hitting your sister."
Your professional life and your personal life have always been impossible to separate, and nothing brings that home more than your child yelling for a string cheese across the house while you pretend you aren't wearing sweatpants during a virtual call on your makeshift desk.
If all of this crisis has given us anything, it's an opportunity to be stripped of pretense, posturing and pretending. It's a chance to give only the most authentic version of yourself because the weight of everything makes it feel like you have so little of yourself to give. We may all be deeply concerned, panicked, and full of fear. So let's not squander this time being anything less than who we are. Sweatpants, screaming kids, and all.
Meg Myers Morgan is the director for graduate programs in public administration/nonprofit management and co-director for the Office of Community Engagement at University of Oklahoma-Tulsa.