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Practice Management > Marketing and Communications

Turn Off the Camera, Pick Up the Phone

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What You Need to Know

  • Some simple communication tips can improve productivity in virtual offices.
  • Limit the amount of camera time to three hours or less a day to reduce employee exhaustion.
  • Use the phone, rather than relying on chat apps, to have more in depth conversations and convey tone.

The sudden shift to remote work over the last year was a difficult transition for many advisory firms, but now most firms are embracing the change. With that, many firms are deciding to remain virtual even after the COVID restrictions are lifted.

Even with the embrace of virtual, though, it can be difficult to manage emotions and communicate well if you don’t know how virtual requires different behavior than a traditional office environment.

Recently I wrote about the three ways to be a great remote manager, but here we’ll focus on ways to be effective in a virtual world. This is from the perspective of managing a virtual firm myself for the last six years. Two changes made the biggest difference for my team:

Turn Off Your Camera

It might sound counterintuitive, but you and your team will be more productive if you limit your time on camera each day.

We discovered that when we attended more than three hours of virtual, camera “on” meetings a day, our team’s productivity decreased significantly, and exhaustion increased. We decided to limit ourselves to less than three hours of camera time each day, and our culture switched dramatically to the positive.

In normal human interactions, we share energy with each other. But with video meetings, the monitor and camera act as a barrier. We see each other, but we’re unable to effectively pass energy back and forth.

In-person meetings include natural movements, like standing up, getting water and the ability to see the space a person is occupying.

A camera, though, dramatically limits our scope and field of vision. Instead of experiencing the fullness of each other’s existence, we see each other in a small box that confines our natural movement.

As we know, those limitations create mental exhaustion — and we haven’t even talked about how unnatural it is to stare at your own reflection for hours a day. It’s not how humans are wired to behave.

The irony is that as a society we talk endlessly about the benefits of limiting screen time for children, and then we ignore those same arguments for ourselves in the name of productivity.

If you think that your clients will think less of you, don’t. We have clients and prospects all over the world, and all it takes is a short explanation to help them understand why our cameras are off for the remainder of the day. Being present in a conversation, even if it’s voice only, is more important than being seen on camera.

Require Phone Calls

In virtual environments, teams tend to rely on chat apps like Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams or Slack. The benefit of chat apps is that conversations can be instantaneous, like you are in the office.

The drawback is that it becomes so easy to chat back and forth, many questions getting asked that should otherwise be handled by an employee’s own decision-making abilities.

Further, when you rely only on text communication, it becomes difficult to communicate tone. Feelings can get hurt easily when no harm is intended.

Our team became overwhelmed with internal communications, emails, chat, etc. so we made a simple change. I required phone calls when questions needed to be asked.

This decision transformed our internal communication. It’s easy to open a chat or send an email. It’s much harder to pick up a phone and call someone without knowing if they’ll be available to answer. It requires more thought and planning and consideration.

After the change, our team began to self-lead and make decisions on their own without seeking my or other leaders’ validation. If an essential and urgent communication came up, we began to have those conversations, voice to voice.

Instead of allowing technology to create barriers, we opted to break those barriers by diversifying our communications. The interesting things is, to do it, we took away certain uses of technology that were not effective long-term to our productivity.

Moving Forward Virtually

Looking back, these two changes don’t seem entirely logical, but they made the biggest impact in creating a positive virtual working environment for our team.

You would naturally think that an always-on camera and instant chat would make communications faster, but all they did was speed up communication to the point where no one could handle the volume. It overwhelmed our entire team.

If you haven’t already, try out these two changes in your firm. No doubt you’ll find that the amount of team management you need to do will decrease, empowering teams to work together, yet alone. And, you’ll improve productivity without exhausting and overwhelming everyone at the same time.


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