The Importance of Non-Verbal Language in Remote and Hybrid Work Set Ups

February 8, 2023

The Importance of Non-Verbal Language in Remote and Hybrid Work Set Ups

“Nonverbal communication forms a social language that is in many ways richer and more fundamental than our words.”—Leonard Mlodinow

Pre-pandemic, the subtle non-verbal cues we see from our colleagues in the office allows us to communicate without words. In this post-pandemic world where remote and hybrid work setups see an increasing adoption, how do these non-verbal cues translate over the digital space?

How do we communicate better with our teams remotely, and how do we bridge the gap in communication crucial to building better relationships when we see each other through pixels on a screen?

The thing about non-verbal cues

Non-verbal language, such as our gestures, facial expressions, intonation, and minute reactions when talking to people, participating in business meetings, or going to an interview says a lot, if not more, about us than the words we choose to say. The small nod or smile your boss gives during your presentation, the uncomfortable shifting of your colleague in his seat, the way you maintain eye contact with the person you are speaking with—all of these convey a message as loud, though not always as clear, as what you are saying.

We know the importance of non-verbal cues. Part of it is how others perceive us, the other part is how we perceive and interpret other people’s body language. A lot of this depends on the existing relationship and experiences we had communicating with the parties involved.

In business, albeit subjective, we are aware of the psychological implications our body language contributes to the conversation. That’s why NLP (neuro linguistic programming) gained a lot of traction in coaching and upskilling in different areas of business (such as sales). Some of us study these subtle gestures in order to appear a certain way or to understand other people more.

But during COVID, when we had no choice but to work from home and communicate with each other mostly online, some of these non-verbal cues were unavailable to us. Sometimes, we jump into a video call for a meeting with our cameras off. Sometimes, the internet lags and you’re just frozen pixels on the screen.

For a few years, we are missing part of the equation in the way we interact with other people. That’s why a lot of people suffered from loneliness at the height of the pandemic.

Now that we are in the recovery phase, a lot of us still prefer to work remotely or in a hybrid setup. So, how does non-verbal language translate into digital conversations in this new normal?

Non-verbal communication in the digital space

With the technology we have available, we can easily talk to people from the other side of the world. 

We will increasingly be communicating digitally, judging by the trends of how new technological advancements and innovations are reshaping our everyday lives.

Aside from watching body language and intonation—the non-verbal communication we were used to pre-pandemic—new ways of non-verbal communication can be seen online.

Despite its reputation for being a curation of only our highlights, our social media posts still provide a glimpse of what we enjoy and value. Our profile pictures say a lot about what kind of impression we want to project to our general audience, and influence how we are perceived by the people we interact with on that platform. 

Choosing whether to use an emoji or not when we send work or personal messages also changes how people feel about us. If you are the kind to use emojis a lot and suddenly stop using them, it sends a message to your recipients—they will either think you are upset, something is wrong, or you are too busy to even type a smiley.

Our background on video calls—or the fact that we choose to turn our cameras off—says a lot about our lifestyle, interests, and even our level of professionalism. Some of the “traditional” non-verbal cues such as grooming (hairstyle and clothes), posture, facial expressions, gestures, and eye contact might still be available over video calls, but it feels a little different in person and on screen.

There’s a bit of a learning curve to understand and interpret new non-verbal cues in online communication, but it is important to factor in these new behaviors. The more we adopt remote and hybrid work setups, and discover a whole new way of working digitally, the more we can recalibrate and interpret these new non-verbal cues available to us.

Why it matters

Communication plays a large role in engagement and trust within teams. As leaders, we want to understand the people we are working with more. Non-verbal cues play a large part in that communication.

We want to make sure that our teams remain engaged, and that we are building harmonious and trusting relationships within the organization. That’s why we look for ways to understand the new non-verbal language available to us in the digital space.

We also want to figure out how to convey the right message with our non-verbal cues.

For instance, you might not be good with tech, so you jump into a video call with your team, with a camera from a low angle. On-screen, this could feel like you are looking down on them, making your team feel uncomfortable—even dislike you—when really, it is just how you set up your equipment.

Knowing that informs you that maybe it would be a good idea to have a proper video call setup that captures your image from a more flattering and less off-putting angle, literally and figuratively.

Figuring out how non-verbal cues translate digitally helps you create more friendly, inclusive, and conducive remote work environments for your team.

Thanks for reading “A Brilliant Tribe.”