The On-switch is never Off in the new world of work


The new world of working in COVID-19 can be exhausting, with a lot time spent in online meetings, presentations and events. If you play a major role in these activities, then you find that you need to be ON all the time. No looking away, checking your phone, leaving the room for a toilet break – but continuous focus and engagement. In this article I explore why this is the case and gives a few tips for being able to enjoy this rare time in our lives.


Building intimacy, presence and expanded awareness

I am not sure about you, but I am finding myself strangely exhausted at the end of each week now most of us are locked down working from home. I say strangely because it’s not as if I am travelling inter-state, ferrying children to extra-curricular sports, dance and drama activities or syncing my husband’s teaching calendar with my work schedule. Instead I am sitting at my home desk with my headphones on, ensuring the internet connection is running smoothly, gearing for my next two-hour presentation or networking event and remembering to login to yet another Zoom meeting or Hangout or GoTo meeting or.....

Last week I attended a webinar that gave me some good insights into why I am feeling so drained – and it’s not just lack of sleep for those of you sprung responding to my emails at 1am in the morning.

The webinar was with Dr Louise Mahler, a master in the area of vocal intelligence who regularly interprets the body language of politicians and public figures; she maintains she picks the four finalists in The Batchelor series in episode one and has done so for years!

Louise was interviewing Achim Nowak, who lives in the USA and helps CEOs and C-Suite executives in Fortune 500 companies around the world “show up with relaxed authority and amplify their personal influence”, on the topic of ‘the new intimacy’ that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A key message was that need for intimacy, presence and expanded awareness is significantly amplified in the online environment. This means we can no longer get away with being half-present or pretending to listen. We have to be ON all the time….and more than that, we have to be very prepared as it is much harder to fudge a lack of knowledge or competence in the online medium.

Being forced to be very present & focussed on our audience, team or listeners and intentionally build conversations requires greater concentration and commitment for a substantive period of time. This is largely because we are missing many of the environmental and personal visual cues which enable us to easily speak or present face-to-face.

To be successful we need to strengthen and build the muscles we use to build intimacy and presence – such as maintaining constant eye contact and our capacity for expanded awareness, so we can look at and read the chat & questions while presenting, assist people having difficulty, mute and unmute participants etc. Our attention needs to be everywhere, yet appear to be 100% on the people we are speaking to - many of whom we cannot see. 

Even before COVID moved all of WOB’s events online, I used to have to take a long lunch and walk after my once (or at most twice) a week webinar. Now I can be doing two a day! That is a lot of walking.

Tips from the experts

The good news is that there are some tips to assist us to build these new muscles and skills.
  • Maintain eye contact with the camera (rather than the screen) – resist the temptation to look at yourself or check your phone or email.
  • Work out if you need to be energetic or quietly attentive - this will determine if you should stand or sit. Consider both the nature of what you are saying and your audience.
  • Sound is very important - a high-quality microphone is essential and will reduce your stress level. Headphones are also great.
  • Expanded awareness is important in performance – you need to be across the experience of your audience or listeners - so develop skills to multi-task.
  • Your spacer is smaller – so gesture in with your hands, not out as you might normally do.
  • Pause occasionally but keep eye contact and make it obvious you are going to continue.
  • Let your audience know what you are planning to do – so if you are answering a question and will appear momentarily distracted, then let them know. It's a bit like talk back radio in this sense.
  • Keep as much as possible to the structure and agenda of your presentation, do not contaminate with additional materials as this becomes confusing.
  • Develop the ability to be fluid and adaptable – New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern switches easily from serious & structured with her COVID briefings at her desk to warm & caring with her NZ mum updates from the sofa.

On a positive note, there are many activities I am really enjoying doing online. This includes speaking with friends - I find I am more mindful; attending social gatherings - no travel time or bother about who is driving home; and going to church - I can do it in bed in PJs with pancakes and I am never late!

Let WOB know how you are getting along. Join our member WOBChat sessions every fortnight - often with a special guest speaker - for a catch up, check in and just to help keep you sane!


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