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Empathy online

Online meetings split the room, figuratively speaking.

Some love it. They move quicker. They cover more ground. They get more done in a day. Others aren’t so keen. It feels like something important – something essential – has been stolen away from their working life.

When it comes to human connection, there’s certainly more than enough research out there to show how it contributes to creativity. The sparks of human innovation fly much further when we’re able to engage our emotional intelligence and respond to triggers only really picked up when we’re in the room with others.

But what is almost impossible to deny is the time and money saved by the meteoric rise of virtual meetings. As a result, businesses around the world are now pursuing their own particular version of ‘hybrid’. When the dust settles, a new balance will be struck. In the meantime, the task is, how do we get the best of these forums?

At Teamscapes, we’ve been thinking a lot about this. In particular, how do teams engage more empathy when working together online? In remote-working land, where the default position so easily turns to the transactional, how do we introduce those essential human cues which aid ideation and collaboration?

Let’s strip it back a few thousand years. It is claimed that Confucius once said...

“I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”

Aside from the fact that it’s a humdinger of a quote that promotes experiential learning, it also indicates something deeper. When we are simply passive passengers within an exchange of ideas – just a witness to a stream of thoughts – we take very little away from it. Brilliant ideas may be bestowed from above, but it matters for nothing if we’re not compelled to develop or translate these into something more tangible. However, when we are practically engaged within an exchange of ideas – an actor within a solution – things begin to stick. Understanding develops, collaboration grows and innovations are found.

How do we do this online? The trick is to make space for it. You almost need to force it in alongside that transactional-minded slide-deck which someone is attempting to download into everyone else’s brain passed a gallery of disinterested head and shoulder images.

Why force it? Well, when the unvoiced human cues which underpin collaborative and challenging conversation are gone, the confidence of team members to create that space for empathy themselves also subsides. In time, lack of confidence leads to exhaustion. Finally, the brain hits mute.

It’s for this reason we’ve created, and continue to develop, a suite of online activities which team leaders can introduce to their virtual meetings and run themselves. Teamscapes Online Membership is a gateway to a host of resources which can be used at the beginning or end of any session, or periodically throughout, to support online working. These activities make that room for empathy and enable genuine online collaboration. What is more, they plug into any video conference session.

New ways of working online don’t start and stop there. Many of our clients are adopting new approaches in pursuit of that hybrid balance. We’re seeing rules of online engagement being drawn up. Limits on hours. Pre-reads which shortcut presentations. Professional facilitation to ensure inclusion and engagement. Well-designed sessions which prioritise the user experience as much as the content itself. And these all come back to the same truth. It doesn’t matter what the forum, getting people ‘doing’ together always creates more engagement and meaning.

Confucius was on it when he once said... “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.” - And he didn’t need Zoom to work that out!


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