Jillian Ogawa: The widespread growth of remote work changed the workplace as we knew it. Messaging apps became the new office hallways. Camera on in a video meeting became the new definition of Facetime. And along with those changes, organizations are rethinking how they foster company culture and a sense of belonging in the new virtual workplace. I'm Jillian Ogawa, Senior Content Marketing Manager at Workday, and I'm here with Erica Dhawan, author of Digital Body Language, How to Build Trust and Connection No Matter the Distance. We'll be talking about how organizations can create a sense of belonging in a hybrid work environment. Erica, welcome to the Workday Podcast.
Erica Dhawan: Thank you so much for having me.
Ogawa: So digital body language is something you were thinking about and researching before we all went virtual. What do you mean by digital body language, and why does it matter?
Dhawan: Research shows that when we communicate in person, up to 60 to 70 percent of our communication is our non-verbal body language. Pacing, pauses, gestures, tone, the lean-in in a sales conversation, the firm handshake or eye contact. But through my research, I've come to discover that in a digital or even hybrid world, body language hasn't disappeared. It has transformed. We now infuse what I call digital body language, which are the cues and signals we send in our digital communication that make up the subtext of our messages. And I'm not talking about Zoom video skills alone here. I'm talking about all the cues and signals that have replaced the handshake, the head nod, the lean-in, in the modern day emails and video calls and IMs and text messages. Things like the choice of communication you use. Did you choose to email, call, video call? Your response time, your tone and punctuation, capitalization style. Even simple things like how you run your video meeting are not only traditional ways to communicate, they make or break how others feel about you in a modern marketplace. And that's what digital body language is all about.
Ogawa: So it sounds like you're talking about something more profound than Zoom skills. What have you observed about virtual interactions during COVID, and what is changing in our interactions and engagements overall as a result of the pandemic?
Dhawan: Yeah. There's a number of things that have been changing and evolving. I'll highlight them through one specific story from a client. I was working with a client. Her name is Kelsey. And through the pandemic, she got some feedback that her empathy was weak in a 360. And I've known Kelsey for years. When Kelsey is in a physical room with others, she is fantastic. All of her traditional markers of empathy are great. She listens deeply. She uses great body language. She asks thoughtful questions. She makes her team feel heard. But what we came to realize is while her traditional body language cues of empathy were great, her digital body language was abysmal. She would send brief, low-context emails, things like, "Call me now," freaking out her team. She would cancel video calls at the last minute. She would sometimes look down at her phone during video calls, making her team not feel valued or heard or recognized. And so in many ways, what she realized is while her traditional markers of empathy were great, she really needed to adapt them to a digital world. I'd argue that one of the reasons there was a Great Resignation is because we didn't always know how to have a great recognition of our colleagues–
Ogawa: Hmm. Mm-hmm.
Dhawan: --in the world of emails and video calls, etc. And so when it comes to how our interactions are changing, I think first and foremost, we need to realize that the majority of our conversations are virtual first. Even if we're back in the office, we're still sending the same amount of Zooms and emails and IM messages with people not only not in our office, but even on the same floor. Secondly, one of the things that's happened in the pandemic is everything's gotten faster. Our expectations for a quick email response is no longer 24 hours, it's 4 hours. And I think what's important for leaders right now is to really help their teams choose thoughtfulness over hastiness, to make sure that the new version of Facetime doesn't become who responded to the IM or the email the quickest, but instead really reward the thoughtfulness of ideas. And last but not least, I think one of the things that's happened is we've added so many more digital tools, but we may not have been making sure they're being replaced. We're adding more tools, but we're not replacing old tools with new tools. So making sure that we're equipping our teams with choosing the right channel, with reducing connection overload so that we're not exhausted and getting burned out is something that's really important given how virtual interactions have changed.
Ogawa: Those are all great tips. Thank you for sharing that. You know, and also what I'm hearing from you is that it sounds like there is a learning curve as well.
Ogawa: And so what are the pain points you are hearing from organizations in regards to building trust and connection with their employees in a hybrid work environment?
Dhawan: When it comes to pain points, I think that there are three challenges that in many ways I'd argue the myth around that challenge has been busted [laughter] in the pandemic. The first myth or pain point has been, you know, culture was always built in the office. So how do we work this way even in a hybrid environment? And the truth is, is that culture was never built in the office. Research well before the pandemic proved that virtual teams can far outperform co-located teams because it's not about being in physical proximity. It's actually about having great rituals of communication and collaboration on your team. And so again, I think this is a moment for leaders to set new norms, new rituals around what great team spirit and communication looks like. The second pain point that has also been a myth that has been busted is that productivity is also about presenteeism. I need to see you to know that you're working and we're getting things done. And I'd argue that that caused a lot of proximity bias in the past where research shows that leaders tend to reward those they see most often irrespective of their work quality. That's never been the best indicator of leaders of any profession. And so this gives us an opportunity to create what I call hybrid equity, to really check our biases, to make sure that if we're running a hybrid team, we're having those watercooler moments with our remote colleagues just as much as in person. We're setting up hybrid office hours so teammates in different locations can come together, not just those that are lucky enough to walk down the hall on the day we're in the office. The last key pain point that I've heard is that, you know, innovation is challenging given that we're not in the office. And I'd argue that there's a lot of spontaneous creativity in person, and let's make sure to bring that back as we come back to offices where we're not back in the office and our door's shut because we're on video calls all day. But I'd argue actually, and research has shown, that innovation is best when we're not only thoughtful of who's in the office, but inclusive of all of our colleagues no matter the distance, where instead of just asking the same five people on our floor how to solve a problem, we say to ourselves, "Who else across our organization might have solved this? How could I engage them virtually to ask those questions?" And, you know, again, I think really summing this up, it's about really checking our bias and again, maximizing the collective expertise of any employee, not just those in close proximity.
Ogawa: Oh, thank you for that. You know, really, when you were talking, it really sparked this thought that we hear so much about how important empathy is.
Ogawa: And so how should we think and express empathy in the virtual office?
Dhawan: Yeah. So, you know, empathy is defined as the ability to step into the shoes of another while remaining in our own shoes. But the reality is, is most of the ways that we talked about empathy pre-pandemic were built on body language cues. Right? If you see someone on the verge of tears versus excited, you know how to interact with them. In today's world of work, when you shoot off that email, you have no idea if someone's on the verge of tears or excited. It's much harder to read those cues in a virtual video call. I like to say empathy is things like respecting people's time schedules and inboxes. Empathy is reading messages carefully and writing back clearly so that people feel that they've been listened to, that you've heard them, and that you're valuing their time. I also think empathy is things like in a hybrid meeting, checking your proximity bias. Having a live host and a remote host. Have your remote host lead the first part so that you remove your bias. Or making sure that in your meetings, you're thinking like a TV show host where you're calling on people, you're engaging your introverts just as much as your extroverts, you're using tools like chat so that you're not turn-taking all the time. You're really maximizing all of the knowledge of the room. So those are just examples of what I call the new versions of empathy. However, I think the thing that's most important is that empathy in a virtual environment is about not assuming you have all the answers. And I'll close with this one story. I, I know one leader. She runs a global team. She has colleagues in London, Buenos Aires, and Sydney, Australia. She found that her colleague in Buenos Aires was not engaging often on video calls. At first she thought he must be multitasking. Then she thought maybe he's not interested. Finally, she said, "I need to check my bias, value him, and ask." She sent him a quick IM, and he finally wrote back, "I'm having such a hard time translating three different English accents when English is not my native language. An American accent, then the British accent, then the Australian accent at the exact same time." This really allowed her to check her bias. So they started using closed captioning. They recorded the calls. They used the chat tool more. It made a significant difference not just for him, but for the entire team. So empathy in that situation was not assuming that she knew what was working. It was being willing to ask, to get comfortable being uncomfortable with honest feedback, and then taking actions that enabled more equity and inclusion on her team.
Ogawa: Yeah. Thank you for that because, you know, as we're building empathy, it sounds like they also drive inclusion as well in the–
Ogawa: --hybrid workplace. So, building on that thought, are there other best practices where we can build cultures that thrive and teamwork and collaboration from a distance?
Dhawan: I think one other thing that's really important is to understand that just like we have different traditional body language styles on our teams, we have different digital body language styles. And in my research in my book, Digital Body Language, I talk about how on one end there are those I call digital body language natives. On the other end there are those I call digital body language adapters. A digital body language native is someone who thrives in a virtual-first environment. They love text, IM. They hate voicemail. They hate phone calls out of the blue. On the other end of the spectrum are digital adapters. They feel more like the true immigrants to hybrid work. They love in-person meetings. They like that quick phone call out of the blue. And I think what's important is to help leaders understand that we have to acknowledge some of these individual differences. To not assume we're all the same, and, a-and to be willing to talk about some of these differences, but then really align on ways of communicating that aren't based on people's styles, but best serve the task at hand. Uh, and, and again, I think a lot of that goes to having clear norms. If it's complex, we have a meeting, but we keep it to 20 minutes. We always have an agenda, and we always send a quick summary at the end. If it's not complex, it's an IM. Urgency is another factor. Do we respond in two minutes or two days? Having different cues and different channels is also important. And lastly, consistency. Some people wanna hear from you every week. Some people wanna hear from you twice a day. And, and really knowing the difference based on individual styles matters.
Ogawa: Mm-hmm. What about topics that are somewhat challenging, something that is happening in the news or, um-- a-and that's what we experienced a lot during the pandemic? Is there a place in a hybrid work environment to talk about those kind of issues? And is there any tips that you have on building that connection over issues that may be sensitive or challenging or really close to the people that we work with?
Dhawan: Yeah. You know, great question. So whether it's current events, whether it's phrases like Great Resignation or quiet quitting that have become topics in, in weekly team calls, I think that there is this space in place for having these conversations. And at the same time, I think that there is a difference between a space for people to, to just share, and then there's also spaces for teams to, to help reframe conversations to make them productive at work. There are certain things that, you know, will never be resolved at a family dinner table. So we bring them to work, they'll also never be resolved. Like, ancestral misogyny. It may be a hard thing to, to solve on a work team. So I think an example of this would be, as a leader, regularly having what I would call hybrid watercooler moments where there are spaces where you're not running through an agenda, but you're actually giving space for people to talk about what's been a win of the week, what's been a challenge of the week, what's something professional, what's something personal? And it really creates this environment-- it doesn't have to be another 30-minute meeting. It could be 10 minutes at the beginning or end of another meeting, for people to share things. I know one leader who always asks his team, "What's one piece of bad news I normally wouldn't want to hear?" He doesn't assume they'll share, but he designs a space to talk about things that are hard right now. I also think that it's important for leaders to also think about how can you use these conversations as a way to make them more productive? Because there are things that will just never be resolved, as I shared earlier.
Dhawan: So for example, there's a phrase right now, quiet quitting, that has been topical in the news. And I actually recently wrote a LinkedIn piece about this because I hate the term quiet quitting. I think that it's very confusing. At one end, I love that it sort of acknowledges that we have to end this hustle culture and toxic workplaces, but on the other end, I think this idea of normalizing that it's okay to sort of slack on your job or coast, that's never been good for anyone's career. So I'd encourage leaders on their teams to say, "I know this is topical. You know, first and foremost, if you think you're quiet quitting, talk to me. Let's figure out if this is the right home for you, or I can put you in a better part of the organization, or it's better for you to leave and train someone." Right? Let them know that quiet quitting isn't the answer. Another thing that I've seen is change the conversation. Let people share, but then talk about what does joyful engagement look like? The opposite of quiet quitting. And how can we get there? So try to focus on spaces to make the conversations productive for your team, because again, there's things that will never be resolved on a family dinner table that can end up creating more confusion on a team if we go down a path and we're not able to resolve it. And then last but not least, I think what's most important is to be able to embrace different viewpoints. I think there's not a one-size-fits-all answer. But the more leaders are authentic, the more they're willing to create spaces, the more they're willing to then know when they need to move on or adjust the conversation to be productive for the team, I think are factors that matter now.
Ogawa: Thank you for sharing that. I really loved that phrase, joyful engagement.
Ogawa: Really something that I'm gonna keep in mind interacting in a hybrid work environment as well.
Ogawa: Before we wrap up our chat, I just wanted to see if you had any top three or four takeaways that you want to highlight for our listeners about creating a sense of belonging in a hybrid work environment.
Dhawan: Yeah. A few key tips. So the first is, in a hybrid work environment, don't be brief, be clear. As I said earlier, reading carefully is the new listening. Writing clearly is the new empathy. Second, don't forget to show gratitude. Right? Think about it. If someone stayed up all night working on something and they get a K, period message, or a THX, they don't feel thank you. Take the time to really acknowledge and show appreciation. And last but not least, don't be hasty. Be thoughtful. Remember when to choose the right channel or slow down to speed up. I created a four-page summary of best practices on hybrid work. And anyone can get it at hybridtoolkit.com. It's available for anyone to use with their teams to really jump-start better hybrid work in our new normal.
Ogawa: Thank you so much, Erica--
Dhawan: Thank you.
Ogawa: --for joining us today on the Workday Podcast.
Dhawan: Great. Thank you.
Ogawa: It's great to have you here.
Dhawan: It was wonderful to be here.
Ogawa: We've been talking about creating a sense of belonging in a hybrid work environment with Erica Dhawan, author of “Digital Body Language, How to Build Trust and Connection No Matter the Distance.” Don't forget to follow us wherever you listen to your favorite podcast. And remember, you can find our entire catalog at workday.com/podcast. I'm your host, Jillian Ogawa, and I hope you have a great workday