Among the many facets of this new way of working: a not-always smooth shift from officemates to virtually connected nomads who communicate and work via all sorts of virtual channels: social, mobile and video. A statistic that’s been reverberating since I first read it: by 2015, which is now, 1.3 billion of us worldwide will be working remotely. That’s about 40% of the global workforce. Another: HR technology alone is a market worth more than $15 billion. That’s a whole heap of screen time for your personal brand.
In this virtual, hyper-connected and hyper-competitive culture, body language is more critical than ever. There’s plenty of coaching to be had, and data — charts tracking testosterone and cortisol changes and the like. But I’m still hearing questions on the why side from leaders, employees and brands alike. We tend to follow direction and get to a task because we’re team players in a fast-moving workforce: we take care of the who-what-where-when first. But in simple mechanical terms, why a soft skill like body language is ever-critical is an interesting question. The bottom line: essentially, we’re all onscreen. We’re on Digital TV. And the tech has its own impact on how we appear.
A Tighter Visual Frame
Not only does body language translate via digital and video hookup, it’s intensified. Twitter Chats, video interviews, conferences, virtual meetings: what they all have in common in a tighter visual frame, with talking heads (and sometimes bodies) front and center, going mobile shrinks us down even more. This is the new normal: an increased and consolidated visual presence.
This different framing also means the data we transmit — via our physical positions, breathing, voice — is distilled, so it’s going to convey even more. We’re not just watching, we’re scrutinizing each other. We need to be more mindful of the impression we make, and think a bit like directors managing our actors — without losing sight of being authentic as a brand. And the more we all spending time on digital teams and in virtual workplaces, the more sophisticated we’re becoming at recognizing tells: those quirks that reveal when someone’s not engaged in the conversation or is less than enthusiastic.
What gets lost in digital translation are the accessory factors, which rounded out our experience in the analog past — something as simple as the scent of your perfume or the atmosphere of the interview space, which in the past might enhance, distract, or even dilute our impression of one another. That means every gesture, every expression, is a focal point. Be very self-aware.
A Different Sense Of Time
Digital time is faster, shorter, and moments are more isolated; they create their own context. That means a gesture isn’t tempered by other gestures. We get a moment to speak our minds and hearts, and then it’s onto the next face, the next brand in the screen. So be intentional. Be mindful of the direction and clarity of your idea. That’s a good exercise for all of us, but especially now, it’s key.
Given the brevity, that also means that what we say, and how we say it, are even more important. Social etiquette is a necessity. Being conscious of the particular norms or behaviors of a given social channel is just part of the job description now. And in general, that means not really throwing your emotions out there: just like all caps, things get very loud and conspicuous in a millisecond.
The truth is, we all still need each other. Human to human matters most. There’s no working in endless isolation for most of us, and between teams, departments, projects and discussions, we’re spending a whole lot of virtual time with each other. Technology, fortunately, is developing less static, less formal venues that allow us to be ourselves and interact in a more spontaneous way, such as online discussion groups, social media hangouts, brainstorming chats, and the like. But it’s still, well, different. And giving good face has never been more important. There’s a new emotional intelligence to it, and we’re getting there. See you on the digital screen, talent stars.
A version of this was first posted on Forbes.