pensive  looking woman on a phone  call
PHOTO: Siavash Ghanbari

How many videoconference calls have you had so far today? Last week? Are you over them? You can bet your colleagues are feeling the strain. Having a pandemic happening outside your door isn’t helping either.

Look at it this way: Every casual chat you ever had in the workplace is gone. And too many of them are being transformed into a web meeting which turns that casual talk into something you have to prepare for.

However, if you are a leader, you need to check-in on a regular basis to see if people are alright, even if you don't ask in so many words. This was part of your job before COVID-19, but that walk to the kitchen or out to grab lunch, asking how the weekend went, hasn’t taken place in months. So how can we keep in touch without adding to our collective video fatigue?

Our Lives Are Built on Routines That No Longer Exist 

The fatigue isn’t solely due to the technology, so don't blame the video tools. The pandemic has constrained and broken people’s routines and limited the possibility of establishing new ones. Routines help all of us get through our day-to-day.

To makes things worse, nobody can say for sure when things will return to a state where we can reestablish normal routines, even in different forms.

As a leader, you need to establish a foundation that helps your people stay grounded, at least in their work life. You need to reach out on a regular, ad-hoc basis. When you do, don't just check on their project work or career development, but ask if they need any assistance away from work, even if it means taking time off to collect themselves mentally.

How do you do this without adding to their daily burden?

Related Article: It's Not Just What Your Say, It's How You Say It

Fit the Medium to the Conversational Need

You likely have some sort of instant messaging (IM) tool available. Slack and Teams are the two leading contenders these days. Use them to their fullest. Part of their strength is in the open conversations they facilitate which help with decision making. But what people need more of now are smaller, private spaces. Create small conversation areas, restricted by team, where the conversation doesn’t only have to focus on work-related topics.

More importantly, when you have an individual IM conversation with a teammate, ask how they are doing. Be ready to share something about how you are doing in return. If a conversation becomes too complex for IM, move it to a voice call. When that happens, include some personal touch-points. A quick tangent about how things are going, even if it is just asking about the weekend, helps.

Moving conversations to higher quality mediums improves conversation. However, do not escalate a one-on-one conversation to a video call unless the other person requests it. Being on video can add stress. Not everyone wants to be on camera, and they may not be video-ready at that moment. Unless it is a formal touchpoint, I've found a phone call works best for one-on-one conversations.

Video works well for team gatherings. This is in part because not everyone needs to be on video at the same time. People can choose their level of participation. That is a key factor. They need to choose. Everyone is undergoing different levels of stress. Forcing participation is only going to add more stress.

Related Article: Dealing With the 'Soft' Challenges of Remote Work

Remember: The Tech Is Secondary

As we move forward, we will continue to see things that technology does not do well. Breakout rooms are one potentially cool feature where the technology hasn’t fully matured yet. However, we do have the tools to handle our day-to-day activities. The key is to make sure those activities include time for those informal check-ins.

We are all missing our former routines, but that's all the more reason to help people stay connected. Replicating those small touch-points in the digital realm takes work and sensitivity for what others can handle. But done well, it can bring back a small sense of the "normal" we enjoyed just a few months ago.