5 Body Language Tips for Remote Workers

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(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Daniel Barrios)

With more of us today working behind a computer and video camera rather than in person, how we communicate through body language requires attention. When we're able to meet someone in person, we shake their hand, look in their eyes and assess their mood, feelings and confidence by how they appear to us.

In the past, we had more data to consider when forming new relationships. Today, we have a small window on our computer monitor through which to do the same. The game has certainly changed.

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Non-verbal communication (body language and tonality) accounts for between 80-95% of the information communicated, according to experts. What we see when someone introduces themselves, what we feel as they tell us what they care about, and how we interpret their sincerity as they proclaim, "I'm perfect for this job!" explains much of whether we believe them, want to hire them and whether we trust them or not.

The Pros and Cons of Remote Body Language

Let's look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of working remotely, interviewing virtually, and building rapport through a computer webcam.

Advantages:

  • As you view someone on your computer, you can spend more time considering their background and environment -- which often reveal a lot about them. You can also spend more time observing their body language, which might be awkward to do if you were face-to-face.
  • You can project more excitement and enthusiasm on screen than might feel comfortable to do in person.
  • You'll be less concerned with where to place your hands, whether to cross your legs or not, and how to sit since you'll be viewed in a much smaller area (computer).

Disadvantages:

  • Unlike in-person meetings, remote workers often find they miss the human-to-human connection, making it harder to bond and communicate trust with co-workers virtually.
  • It's easy to let your eyes wander off the computer, giving the viewer the impression you're disinterested.
  • Your quirks, idiosyncrasies and facial tics will be very noticeable now. In person, you can camouflage those with gestures and repositioning. Now, with everyone focused on your face, it's harder to hide.

Managing Your Body Language on Camera

Whether you're now working remotely or interviewing via the computer as you exit the military, consider these best practices for managing your body language on camera:

Practice! Don't let your first important job interview be the time you learn Zoom, Skype, Meetings or any other platform the employer will be using. Get familiar with as many of them as you can in advance. Most of the commonly used platforms have either free or free trial versions, so you can ensure you have the right equipment and can test out the features. Adjust the audio and video so it sounds good and looks presentable (you'll be less distracted if you do this in advance).

Look at the camera. Remember, the camera is NOT where you see the faces of the people you'll be speaking with. It's typically higher. Put a sticker next to the camera to remind you to look there. This ensures the viewer sees you looking at them, not at the computer. It's okay to periodically look at your monitor (instead of the camera) when the other person is talking. You want to see their body language, too. Return your eyes to the camera when it's your turn to speak.

Record yourself. Yes, in advance of your first remote meeting, use a program (both Mac and PC have several free or low-cost options, as does Zoom) to record yourself speaking and delivering an important message. I did this with a client recently and realized I look away when I'm concentrating! I had no idea! Time to fix that.

Don't multitask. Unless it is part of your work, resist the urge to check email or answer text messages, which obviously reveal you're not engaged.

Sit square in front of the camera. Avoid sitting in a swivel chair or recliner where you'll look too relaxed. In a job interview, your body language should communicate the same level of seriousness and respect as you would do in person.

As businesses assess productivity, possible remote working may be here to stay. Leverage your body language on camera to enhance your message and not distract.

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