A Cure For Zoom Fatigue
Updated: Nov 16, 2021
Video meetings are here to stay. But we've all experienced the endless cavalcade of soulless video meetings, where half the cameras and microphones are turned off, you suspect (or can clearly see) that other participants are doing other things, and the whole experience lacks engagement, productivity and any sense of collective wellbeing. The whole video-thing can lack any emotion or personal connection. But what if there was a better way?
My guest on episode 27 of employee engagement and workplace culture podcast, Sticky From The Inside Podcast, Paul Hills from Konektis, believes he has found the cure to what we all know as "zoom fatigue." Below is a full transcript of our conversation, where Paul tells the story of how he happened upon the cure we'd all been waiting for.
You can listen to this episode and all the others in the series here.
00:00:10 Andy Goram
Hello, and welcome to sticky from the inside. The Employee Engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier competition, smashing consistently successful organisations from the inside out. I'm your host Andy Goram and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn their lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them and create tonnes more success for everyone.
This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses, the sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it.
So, if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.
00:01:10 Andy Goram
OK, it's said that technology has leapt forward 10 years over the last 18 months. The pandemic has seen us be far more reliant on technology than perhaps ever before, and that's been good and bad in equal measure for many of us and our waistlines, especially if you've become best friends with your Just Eat or Deliveroo app.
One area pretty much anyone who works has been exposed to is the video meeting. Now whether it's Teams or Zoom, those very words can provoke an interesting reaction in many people, which often reflects the number of good and bad experiences that they've had on those platforms. They've become very much a part of everyday business life now, perhaps, perhaps even too much, as people talk about days filled with a constant stream of impersonal video screens. We even have terminology for the effect that they have on us now terms like “zoom fatigue” have emerged and are now constantly referenced, perhaps signaling are waning love for these communication tools.
But is it the tool, or the abuse or overuse of it by companies, or just the way that we use it that's a problem? I mean, I rather like a video call. I like seeing the person I'm talking to. Now when I have regular phone calls now, it almost feels a little bit weird, like I'm having a 2D conversation. Now I realise not everyone will feel the same as me, but rather than run away from them, is there something we can do to improve them? Maybe make them a little more human and enjoyable for everyone?
Well, my guest today is Paul Hills. Now for 30 years Paul has been a leadership coach and is a meeting expert and an honorary research fellow at UCL. He and his company Konektis, think they found a cure for zoom fatigue (other video meeting platforms are available). And he's here today to share his story, thoughts and insights into how you can cure this technology ailment and improve employee engagement, productivity and wellbeing in your meetings all at the same time.
Welcome to the show, Paul!
00:03:20 Paul Hills
Hello! Hi Andy, nice to see you.
00:03:21 Andy Goram
Nice to see you too. And great to have you here today and in a topic that's a little different from what we normally discuss. But before we get into all that kind of good stuff, can you just give us a little bit more insight into you, your company, and what you’re doing?
00:03:37 Paul Hills
OK. So, I am now very focused on making video and hybrid meetings work better. So, I've got a real focus on that particular issue, which has really engaged my mind and fascinated me, in terms of the dynamics that go on in meetings and how we can do them better. But prior to that I was a bit more broadly spread. I was... I have been a consultant for a long time, working in strategy and then later on in leadership and change. But generally working with teams, so I've worked with over 200 organisations over the course of my career and many, many teams, and the emphasis generally, has been on “How can we do better?” “How can we perform better as a team?” “How can we build stronger relationships?” “How can we perform better?” So, that was kind of my background. Anyway, and then like the rest of the world, I was thrust into this online world when Lockdown started and just became amazed very quickly at often at how dysfunctional the meetings were that I was sitting in.
00:04:36 Andy Goram
Yeah, I mean I think we've all had the sort of roller-coaster ups and downs, from seeing relatives that you weren't allowed to go and see and touch on a zoom call, right? And the joy and love that builds the Friday night Virtual pub with your mates, where you meet up and talk rubbish on a video call, and probably connect more with your mates than you ever had actually in real life. And then into the work stuff. And I think there was a lot of fun at the beginning, a lot of silly hats, and lots of things going on to try and make meetings engaging, but then it seemed, pretty quickly, that it became this kind of, almost eternal reel of the next video meeting, the next video meeting. And we saw some very different stuff going on then, didn't we?
00:05:19 Paul Hills
I agree, and there’s loads of benefits to video calls and they've been fantastic. And like you, I've connected with relatives. I've got groups of friends that we've reconnected. It's been fantastic and it's so nice to be able to work at home and go into meetings. But on the work front, I just increasingly was finding that meetings just weren't that great. They would drag on. People wouldn't really participate. I didn't really know if people were listening to me. I suspected very often that people weren't concentrating 'cause I knew how easy it was to multitask, and I knew how naughty I was in terms of looking up the cricket score or doing some emails in parallel, or occasionally switching my video off. And I just spoke to other people. I just kept... the researcher in me came out and I just wanted to know am I the only one thinking this is a bit weird? Am I the only one stuck in endless meetings that don't seem very productive. 'Cause I've always felt that meetings were an under looked at area in business, even before all of this video stuff.
A lot of people spend a lot of their working life in meetings, and if you just multiply the salary cost up and you know, I'm sure the listeners can do this on the back of the envelope. Work out how much of your week you spend in meetings. If that's the same for everyone else in your organisation, multiplied by an average salary cost, it's a very big number.
00:06:39 Andy Goram
00:06:40 Paul Hills
Yeah, very big number. There's a professor who focuses on meetings in America, who reckons there are 55 million meetings a day, just in the States. Now that's a lot of our national resources spent in meetings, and if they're not very good, then that isn't very good. And it's not just that it's a waste of time. I think it has impacts on us psychologically. In fact, I know it does, 'cause I've delved a lot deeper into the research, so it's not good for our brains. It's not good for our wellbeing. And I don't think it's very good for team relationships. And I could see this happening in teams, and I spoke a lot to team leaders, and I realised I wasn't the only one thinking this. We were all kind of experiencing meeting fatigue. People were going back-to-back meetings very often, spending all day in meetings. The meetings weren't achieving their goals, and people were beginning to disengage. And what's interesting is I started to speak more to team leaders and meeting leaders, and I got very con... the other thing is I got very consistent answers.
You know there was very very, very rarely a variation to the themes I was getting, and team leaders would say,
“I just feel I'm having to carry the meeting a lot more, very often.”
They're saying, “Not enough people are speaking, and I'm really not sure if they're listening.” And I said, “Well, how does that make you feel?” And they said, “I don't feel very good about it.” “And what does that make you do?” And they said, well a variety of answers, but some said, “I just tend to speak more. I tend to try harder. Like because I don't think people are listening, I think it's me, so I put a bit more effort, you know, I perhaps speak a bit more.” And then you'd speak to some people in teams and they'd say, “Our leader speaks too much!”
00:08:20 Andy Goram
That's the paradox of everything right there.
00:08:25 Paul Hills
And other people would say, “Well, I do switch off in meetings, but my reason for switching off is that other people tend to dominate and it's very difficult to get to know when to speak.” And actually, this was true of perhaps people who are a little bit, perhaps more shy, more introverted. They don't like the competition to speak, and they will tend to back off. And others who are more extrovert, actually, other people said, “I don't like the silences, so I do jump in. 'Cause they don't like the silences and I quite like speaking, so I tend to jump in because otherwise, no-one speaks” So, you've got this kind of weird dynamic happening where the leader isn't very comfortable with the meeting, often the extroverts are dominating, a few people are speaking a lot and some people aren't speaking, and people are withdrawing.
00:09:06 Andy Goram
Paul, do you think that that is somehow different to what happens in a boardroom or a meeting room? Because these dynamics are still at play, aren't they, in those environments?
00:09:17 Paul Hills
They are, they are. And I do think it's different, and I started to look into some of the research. And there's a really interesting academic Herbert Clark who did some great work on conversations. And I was previously unaware of him, and I looked into his stuff, and I also looked into the “backchannel” and I understood a bit more about what the backchannel is in conversation. And I realised that there are some very different dynamics happening in zoom meetings now.
In terms of Clark's work, he talks about for a meeting to go well, for a conversation to go, well, you need a main participant and someone who's listening, an addressee, and will tend to have side participants who are involved in the conversation, but they may not be directly speaking at that moment. And you'll sometimes have an eavesdropper or an onlooker, but very, not very often. And I think one of the things in a real meeting, in a boardroom or a meeting, you know, it's difficult to be an eavesdropper or an onlooker, and it's difficult to multitask and do other stuff 'cause people notice. I know there is this habit of people starting to be on their phones in meetings and that that can be a problem.
00:10:22 Andy Goram
People are not as clever as they think they are. They're not as secretive, you know. You just have to follow the eyes.
00:10:25 Paul Hills
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, but it's more difficult to hide and you tend to stay a little bit more present. And but in zoom meetings it seemed to become acceptable, to me, using Clark’s language to categorise yourselves, as yourself as an eavesdropper, or an onlooker. To make the decision that you weren't really going to be a part of the meeting, or at least for some of the meeting you were going to, it was OK, in your mind, to do other stuff. Perhaps particularly where there was a screen share going on. It was OK to do your emails in parallel. It was OK not to really concentrate. And particularly younger generations love multi-tasking anyway, so then kind of playing playing to that dynamic. And so, I think that is very different. You can easily multi-task, you can... it seems to be acceptable to choose the role of not really fully participating and fully being present. And that's very different.
The other thing you haven't got in a video meeting is this backchannel. So, there are some kind of rules we've learned about how conversation works, which have come... they're kind of subconscious, but we know them from when we're very young. Which is that when I'm speaking to somebody, I expect to get, there’s a kind of “your turn, my turn” dynamic. But your turn doesn't need to be you say something, it can just be that you give me a signal to let me know that you're still with me. That you're interested, that you've heard what I've said. That you perhaps agree with it, you acknowledge it. And that can be a nod of the head. It can be a very subtle gesture, or it could just be you going “Aha!”, “Yeah”, “OK” and that's the back channel. And that's really important, because the backchannel helps me know that we're having a conversation, but it also, psychologically, it's very important for me. So I get a kind of cognitive reward when you do something in the backchannel. And I get a bit of a kind of dopamine kick there that says, “Yeah, I'm saying something that's relevant. You're still with me. It's interesting. We are in this process of dialogue.”
00:12:19 Andy Goram
I mean I would say, as a meeting leader, or even when you're facilitating, that “engagement anxiety” that comes with who or you know it's not so bad in every room because you're seeing that back channel. Absolutely right, but on the video screen that absence of feedback is a real worry, and I can absolutely empathise with the things you're saying about leaders then going or meeting leaders going, “Well, then I talk more”, you know, “Well, I'll try some more things to engage, and I'll keep going. Like if you didn't, you just...”
00:12:45 Paul Hills
00:12:46 Andy Goram
You just... total chaos, at that...
00:12:48 Paul Hills
Yes, yes. I've spoken to... some meetings end up being one way. So, there's kind of town hall meetings. I've spoken to a few senior leaders who've done big town hall meetings, and they've said, “And we got together afterwards, and we all had our heads in our hands, because we thought, “What was going on?” “We got no reaction whatsoever.”
We're not used to not getting a reaction. Right from childbirth we're used to being in the cot, and expecting to get a visual reaction or a response. And that triggers something in our brains that says, “We're worthy. We’re valued, we’re liked.” And when we don't get that response, we're not used to it. And so, they said, and again I delved a lot into the research, so Janet (Beavin) Bavelas, Professor of Psychology in Victoria, Canada, has for many years been looking at this backchannel, and there's been some really interesting experiments where she's had control groups and experimental groups. And she has, on purpose, diverted people so they can't operate the backchannel. And then she's measured the impact on the speaker's performance, and this has been not just in conversations, but in perhaps readings of poetry, or plays, or whatever. And the data is very clear. If you haven't got the backchannel, it's not good. It's not good for you. As an individual you don't feel good. It changes your behaviour. You don't perform as well. And I think that's what's been happening very often in meetings.
And I kind of summarised it as a vicious circle, which starts with no reaction. So, the start point of the vicious circle I observe, are often missed, no reaction. I speak and I don't get enough back. So, I think, my self-doubt starts to kick in was, “Did I say the right thing? Do they like me? Have I said anything interesting?” And I don't get that reward. I don't get the dopamine reward. And I also don't get the kind of oxytocin reward, which is the kind of feeling of community with my group. So I'm also not thinking, I haven't got that sense of belonging. And I think, “Well, maybe I won't do so much. Then maybe I'll do less because that wasn't worth it. And maybe I'll withdraw it, or...” So, I give less back and then in turn, others don't get anything from me, so they also withdraw, and that kind of cycle perpetuates to the extent that in worst cases we're all multitasking. None of us are really present. Some people have turned their videos off, and the meeting’s going on for longer. And everything we know about effective teams isn't going to kick in then. So, all of the, you know, the great, the better decisions, the creativity, innovation that rely on being present, having your brain fully engaged and being inclusive, none of that's... none of that good stuff we know from management theory over the last 50 years, none of that's really going to happen. It's a suboptimal process. And for me the start point was a lack of reaction.
So, I was thinking, “Well, how do I bring that back?” What can we do in these meetings that will not force people, but encourage people to respond and give them a means to respond to other people, so that they feel good about participating and then that they want to have their videos on?
00:15:41 Andy Goram
I think we're definitely going to dive into that, and just listening to you speak, Paul, you know, lots of little bits of jigsaw puzzles start to kind of fit together, in potentially what the issue is. I mean, as a, I'm going to give myself the grandiose title of speaker. Let's say I'm a speaker, right? I know if I'm working a room, different to a video screen. And if it is having no effect, 'cause my content is poor, or my delivery is weak, I can draw my eyes to another set of eyes, right? I can focus on an individual. I can talk to an individual. I can move my focus to other people in the room. I can engage people one by one in the story, trying to bring a collective together.
On a video screen. Unless I'm missing the setups somehow, it's not eye to eye. It's eye to many eyes, and so actually trying to draw people in... is a really difficult thing to do on that video medium, right?
00:16:31 Paul Hills
Yes, absolutely, really hard. And it's difficult for people, even if somebody might be giving you some subtle body language, you might miss it. Because they may be smiling. They may have given a small nod and you just may not notice it. Or they may be doing, they may be staring, and you don't know if they're staring is because they're really interested, and they're thinking hard about what you're saying, or they spit their screen and they're doing their emails. You just don't know. And you suspect that unfortunately it's the latter, and that lots of people aren't really listening. And I’ll tell you what's also interesting is that and why this back channel’s so important. It did remind me of being on the phone. And you're on the phone to somebody and you expect them to respond and they haven't responded quite in time. And I get this sometimes when I'm speaking to say it’s relatives and you ,and they haven't said anything. And you think, “They're not listening? They're tidying the kitchen. They're doing something else.” And in me, that immediately triggers a kind of slightly angry response.
00:17:28 Andy Goram
00:17:28 Paul Hills
I'm thinking I've bothered to call you, and you're doing something else!
00:17:32 Andy Goram
It's a personal affront. It's a personal affront.
00:17:36 Paul Hills
It is, yeah! And I think that same dynamic can happen in a more subtle way in the video calls, you know we don't like it. We expect that if we're going to put an effort in and the deal is, it's a conversation, and it's your turn, my turn, and the backchannel, we're used to the backchannel, if you're not sticking with the deal, I'm not happy.
00:17:52 Andy Goram
Yeah! Well, let alone lag getting in the way, giving us loads of false signals about people not paying attention.
00:17:56 Paul Hills
00:17:57 Andy Goram
And you know all that kind of stuff too...
00:17:58 Paul Hills
Yeah, so I kind of... the problem became clear. Then I thought, “What can I do with it?”
And this genuinely happened at the same time, about May, in 2020. I was doing... I was involved in three other things that involve the use of hand signals, and one of them was, I was helping train some lifeguards on the beach in Falmouth, where I live, 'cause the R.N.L.I. weren't able to man the beaches quite early enough, so the volunteer lifeguards decided to do it and we had to kind of do a bit more training to get ourselves ready to take on this task. And we use a variety of hand signals, because it's difficult to shout loudly on a beach and hear each other. And if someone’s in the water, 300 metres away, it's much easier to use a hand signal. And they work really well. And we learned that when we practice them, we stand in a circle facing outwards, and someone says, “What's the hand signal for you're trying to attract attention? Or “What's the hand signal for go further out to sea?” And it's great and it works really well. And I thought that hand signals are a good idea.
And then I'm also involved in a Men’s Charity called A Band of Brothers. A marvelous charity, where we give support to young men in crisis. And we sit in a circle, and we share stories, and we speak one at a time and we're really good at listening. But one, you know, the rule is you don't interrupt, but you can use a hand signal. You can use a hand signal to show that something somebody says resonates with you. And that's really powerful. And it's really nice to receive the hand signals and also to give them.
And I also had a friend who was using baby signing, and I was fascinated to see the bond that the mother, in particular, had with her daughter, and how much they both got from this, and how amazing it was, that the child couldn't even speak, but was able to communicate and say simple things with their hands. And I thought why don't we try some hand signals in a zoom call? And I tried it out with a group of people who come from a choir I’m in, who didn't know each other so well. And we had a zoom call, and we started to share and it just worked really, really well. And we actually started to share some emotional stuff very early on, because the hand signals really helped. And one woman, in particular, said,
“I just feel like I've had a hug from the whole group.”
She said, “I've done lots of zoom calls. I haven't enjoyed them. This one was brilliant. I feel like I've had a hug from the whole group.” And I thought, “Well, that's amazing”, you know, that all I've done is introduced some very simple hand signals.
00:20:10 Andy Goram
With your goal, Paul, of getting over that lack of reaction piece, right?
00:20:15 Paul Hills
Absolutely, absolutely. And what you find is, if you have some hand signals to use, it changes your mind about having your video on. So there's a reason now to have your video on, because you might receive a hand signal and you need to spot it, and but also you have the opportunity to give one. And when you give a hand signal, if you understand the brain science behind it, you realise that you're kind of giving someone a gift by giving them a reaction. You're giving them a gift, and it's good for them, and it's good for you, and it's good for the conversation. And these are pretty simple things.
So, one of the most basic ones is just to double thumbs-up, there, big double thumbs up. So, hands right out in front of you. And often people smile when they do it, which is nice, 'cause we know how smiling is good for us and it's good for other people. So, you're giving and receiving a thumbs up and a smile. And that's really saying to the other person, “I'm listening. I'm not on my phone, I'm not doing my emails. Better than that, what you said resonates with me. I like it, you know, keep going.” And that's in itself, really powerful, yeah?
So, I then built on it. There's a couple of other hand signals you can use for a reaction. So one of them would be if I just put my hand up. And all I'm doing is I'm putting my hand palm up, facing forward. That hand signal means that I also think that, or I also feel that. So, if you said to me, I've had a tough week. And I went like that (puts his hand up), that would mean I've also had a tough week, so we've...
00:21:36 Andy Goram
Me-too. A me-too sign.
00:21:38 Paul Hills
Yeah, me as well. Me as well, yeah. And so, we can connect then, so I can communicate with you. I haven't had to interrupt you and steal the conversation away, 'cause we know that only one person can really speak in Zoom in Teams. But you know, I'm listening, and you know better than that. I haven't just given you a thumbs up. I've also said I feel, or I think, or I have experienced the same issue. In fact, there would be another alternative. Let's say you said, I haven't had a great week, and I've actually had a brilliant week. I can't use that hand signal, 'cause that's not true, but I could put my hand to my heart. So, what I'm doing here is the signal you see..., I saw a footballer doing this the other day, but it's quite common usage. I'm really just connecting with the air by saying I hear what you're saying. I'm sending you some kindness or some kind thoughts, or you know that sounds not so good. I'm sending you some kind of saying that's really powerful. And I found those three hand signals alone really worked.
00:22:32 Andy Goram
And now look, hand signals on an audio podcast are an interesting medium, right, but that is why we have the joy of things like Instagram and Twitter and LinkedIn.
00:22:44 Paul Hills
00:22:45 Andy Goram
So, what we will do on the back of this Paul, for everybody listening, is that we will pull together these key signals, and do you have a name for these signals. Have you got a collective name for these things?
00:22:55 Paul Hills
Video meeting signals.
00:22:57 Andy Goram
OK, great, so we'll harness all this stuff, so you can hear me and Paul talk about these things and try and make a visual impression in your brain, but we will get the visuals out in the show notes. Don't you worry about that.
00:23:08 Paul Hills
That's great, yeah. And that there was one other thing then that I... so they were three basic signals. But I realised as well, and this came up very often in my interviews, and I have now worked with over 60 teams, and I've got kind of interview and questionnaire data from about 600 people and a really common theme, in fact I’m running a session with a team this afternoon, and it's come up in their pre-session questionnaire feedback, which is, “I don't like the silences, and also I don't know how to speak. I don't know when to speak. It's really difficult to know.” And so, I thought, well, why don't we pass the conversation like we do in a, you know, in a football match or another team game, or a baton. Why don't we see the conversation like a baton that you have to pass. And I just made up some rules. Literally made up some rules and I said, let's just try this. So, we're going to commit now to not just stopping, but passing. So, it's my responsibility, if I'm speaking, to work out who goes next. And I have to pass and actually give people the sentence to use just to kick it off. They can vary it later on, but systems, why don't you just say, “I now pass to Andy.”
00:24:09 Andy Goram
00:24:10 Paul Hills
And I'm not allowed to stop until I've done my pass. So, I've passed to you and OK. So, the next question is, well, how do I know who to pass to? Well, we use another hand signal so this is where the lifeguard wave comes in. And on the podcast here I'm waving my hand above my head, as if I needed help in the sea. And it just means, “I’m just trying to say I'd like to speak next.” So, let's imagine you've given me a wave. That's great. I've got the signal. You haven't had to speak, and I say, “I pass to Andy.” And then there are variations on that.
So, if you were to wave above your head and then punch your fists together, that would mean you want to build on my point. So, I will pass to you 'cause you've told me you want to build on my point, I'm thinking that's great. That means Andy listened to my point. He wants to build and I'm feeling good about that, and I'm going to pass the conversation to you. You might wave and scratch your head, in Laurel and Hardy style, and that means you've got a question. So, I passed to you 'cause you've got a question. Well, you might make a cross with your hands in front of your chest. That means you want to speak next 'cause you've got a different point of view to bring, or a different bit of data, or you disagree with what I've said, because in the spirit of having a constructive debate you want to put a constructive challenge in. And when I've got teams using those, the debate flows really well. And the conversation is passed, people use them. And then you can say why you're passing. “I'm passing to Andy 'cause he wants to bring in a different perspective.” I'm thinking that's great, and you know you've got the conversation passed to you.
00:25:33 Andy Goram
That's great. In the spirit of it though, Paul, I'm going to bash my fists together and try and build on your point, because I...
00:25:37 Paul Hills
Yeah, 'cause you want to build on my point.
00:25:39 Andy Goram
Because I want to build on your point.
00:25:41 Paul Hills
That’s it. This works, this works. Even in a podcast, Andy...
00:25:43 Andy Goram
We're trying it mate!
00:25:45 Paul Hills
Yeah, I have... I've gotta pass to Andy, 'cause he wants to build on my point.
00:25:48 Andy Goram
I just... it's just interesting, I mean, this is a much more friendly way of passing the Conch than perhaps in reading Lord of the Flies, back at school. But I think you can absolutely see in meetings (that) nobody knows where to go next. And I think, it must do, and I'm sure you'll get this from all your examples previously, and what will happen in this workshop, you're doing this afternoon, that must add some sort of flow dynamic to the conversation, right? It must... it must actually rotate the conversation. Allow people to, kind of, bring stuff in (that) perhaps they wouldn't be able to get in there. And maybe back to that thing about one eye to many eyes, it allows you to try and bring in certain individuals without it feeling like being put upon, right?
00:26:30 Paul Hills
Absolutely, it's really good, and has a number of benefits. One of them is that then it's just... people often say, “Well, how do I know how to pass to?” You know, people, some people are keen to spot the problem in the solution. They said, “Well, but what if three or four people are waving? What do I do?” and I'm thinking, “That's great, 'cause that means three or four people are listening. They all want to speak for a start.” But then the next rule is, choose someone who hasn't spoken yet or who doesn't speak very often. Let's use this as a way to make the meeting more inclusive and let's try and notice those people.
Some people have also found it, especially at the beginning, they're a bit self-conscious about using hand signals, so their wave is very small. It's just a quick flash of a hand. Whereas the extraverts will be doing a massive great big wave and they won't stop waving till they're noticed. But so, let's try and spot the people who want to come in and bring them.
And the other thing I've noticed, is that the team leaders love it, because it takes the pressure off the team leader being the kind of focal point of everything, and having to always choose who goes next. Which is a very kind of parent/child dynamic really.
00:27:27 Andy Goram
Very much, yeah.
00:27:27 Paul Hills
You know the team leader has to decide everything and takes responsibility for the meeting running well away from the body of the meeting. And the third thing I get teams to do, as well as passing and the signals, is agree some habits. So, 8 habits for a good meeting. One of those is that the most important one really, is that we see the responsibility of the meeting running well, as a team responsibility. We all have to take our own part in making this meeting work well, and it's like the team analogy works well too. I mean, I've played some team sports, never to a very high standard. But I always knew when I turned up when the team did well, it was because everybody tried. And the team talk before would always be about, “We've all got a role to play. Let's do our job. Let's all commit and we'll enjoy it more and will do better.” And surprise, surprise, that was the case when we all did our bit. When we all stayed present. I didn't run off very often in my football matches, to do my emails at half time, or go and do something else, or watch the match, and if I did, the captain would very quickly shout at me “So wake up, wake up Hills!”
00:28:39 Andy Goram
Get back engagement. Can I just... do you mind Paul if we just pop back to you mentioned, I thought it was quite interesting there, about people’s self-consciousness in using the gestures. So, in your experience, now I mean I'm a self-confessed show-off. I don't mind waving, standing, whatever it is to get attention, right. And that's a needy personality of mine. But how have people in general reacted? Because I would imagine there's been, I guess, quite a range. I mean some people will probably see this as a great, as a really good thing, and they adapt it very quickly. Others will feel quite self-conscious. Some may even be cynical. What's been your experiences that you've seen so far?
00:29:18 Paul Hills
Yeah, that's a really good point and it has been quite varied. It does take a bit of getting used to, because we've got used to not moving on zoom calls, and I'm now asking people to use their arms. And for some people they feel even if they've just moved them slightly away from their body, something dreadful is going to happen. Whereas if you say other people, you know, start going for a fantastic thumbs-up, and they've got their hands above their head, and they're waving and it's definitely a kind of a bit of an extrovert/introvert type of thing. But I have found it's a bit of a team thing as well.
So, if the team make it OK to do it. Particularly if the team leader leads from the front and the team leader does it, it kind of empowers everyone, and says “This is our way.” But they do need to then just practice it. So, when I work with the team and we have a kind of, it only takes about an hour and a quarter to, kind of, to train in these things. But we do lots of practice in that hour and a quarter. The teams get the hang of it, and I then suggest that they stick to the rules. They stick to the habits and the principles for at least five more meetings, to give it a proper go.
If after that they don't like it, then let's drop it. But why don't we give this a go for five meetings and see if we can have shorter, better, mor engaging meetings? And that's worked, basically. Teams have got... a really interesting call I had this week, with some company I've been working with for the last six months, where we've transformed their team meetings, and the team leader said to me, “I do really like it, but I find myself going into meetings with people who don't know the system now and I'm using my arms and my hands and they’re looking at me really strangely.” But this is interesting, she says, “So I stopped doing it.”
00:30:51 Andy Goram
00:30:53 Paul Hills
“I go all stationary,” and she said, “It just feels so weird, because I know there's a better way, but I know that the people in this new meeting don't know that better way, so I have to revert back to... "
00:31:03 Andy Goram
Maybe we've all got to kind of take on a role to sort of pass it on, you know, sort of pay it forward as it were. And often one of the things that I think, works quite well in video meetings that's often overlooked, is that the beginning and end of the meeting is either taking a break to get into the meeting, so bring a little bit of personal small talk or introductory stuff, and then also a sort of sense check at the end. And maybe there's... maybe there's an “in” for the signals and the behaviours here. But yeah, if you're in a meeting with people who aren't familiar with it, take the action, try and pass some of these things on, maybe.?
00:31:37 Paul Hills
I think so. I think that we do need a new way of behaving. Actually, the other thing I didn't mention, but is prompted by what you said, is I've tested this out with UCL. So, a couple of professors of neuroscience really interested in this and experimental psychology, and we ran a randomized controlled trial in March with twelve student groups.
00:31:46 Andy Goram
00:31:55 Paul Hills
The groups that were using hand signals started straight away to have better, more inclusive, more engaging seminars, which is really good. Because I was really worried about some of... my nephew was having a terrible experience in his seminars at university and was saying, “We could really be using this.” So, but the professor also, when we've got an article that's going through peer review at the moment that summarizes results, but he said when the telephone was first introduced, we didn't have a word of greeting. We didn't have a word, so we created a word “hello.” The word “hello” came, apparently it's a relatively new word that was used because we need something to say when we picked up the telephone. And I think the kind of analogy there is, we've got another new medium now, when we need some new ways of communicating. And we need to do some things differently and I think it could be more over body language, which is effectively what the hand signals are.
00:32:46 Andy Goram
Yeah, I think, I don't think that's a bad call at all, Paul. I think anything that brings some more connection and emotion back into it, I think is good? It's like for me this week. The transition from being on a stream of video calls and networking and meetings online, to being back in rooms face-to-face, not for the first time, I've been lucky enough to be doing it for a while now, but there is nothing like it. But it is the connection. It is the emotional connection that makes a difference, and if we can bring that into the online world in this form, or whatever form it takes, I think that would be a great thing. I really do.
00:33:22 Paul Hills
Yeah, and I think let's have I, you know again, I say to teams, we've got an opportunity now. We've fallen into zoom meetings. We've developed some bad habits already. We're not really doing anything very differently, and there's a chance to take stock. So, let's just take stock and adopt some new ways of working and some new techniques, one of which is the hand signals, one of which is passing. Plus, maybe there's something else you know? Maybe there are other... sometimes teams then get into, well, let's actually think about how we do our agenda. Let's spend less time on screen share and so some other really good things. And let's use this as a way to maybe set ourselves a target of having less meetings. Could we have 25% less meetings? Or could we make all of our meetings 50-minute meetings, instead of 1-hour meetings and have an extra 10 minutes so we do have time for that little break. That kind of wellbeing break. That kind of brain break. And I think it's possible, given how much time is spent in meetings, it ought to be possible to make meetings 10% surely, 10% more effective, maybe 20-25%?
00:34:17 Andy Goram
I totally agree, and I think you know. Our productivity stats versus the rest of the G7 are pretty poor over here, so anything that frees up some more time, or develops some more engagement that actually has a really good influence on productivity, I think is a really good thing.
And just on your research, Paul, so what's the next steps for that? What's going to happen next? Can people get involved in that?
00:34:41 Paul Hills
Yeah, definitely. We ran a second randomized control trial in June. The first one was with students who knew each other, the second control trial was people who didn't know each other at all. And we put them straight into just one meeting with them to do some sharing. And we found a much greater level of connection and affinity with each other where they were using hand signals versus using reaction buttons. And then we had a third control group. I'm currently doing experiment three which is field trials with teams and organizations and I'm looking for 30 to 40 teams in different contexts to go through a process now, of learning and applying the techniques. And I've got about 10 teams involved at the moment, but I'm looking for more teams.
00:35:17 Andy Goram
00:35:18 Paul Hills
So, if teams out there, if you're sitting there thinking, I'd really like to try this, then we can put you through some training. If you commit to then using it for five meetings, the team leader needs to be really committed and there’s some questionnaires before and after, and a kind of exit debrief interview with the team, then I would I'd love to get some more teams using this. My goal is that everyone starts to do this. You know, I feel that there is a really good technique here, and I think it... Let's just get it to start to become common currency. A kind of a new way of communicating.
00:35:49 Andy Goram
And can people get hold of you specifically Paul, if they want, if they're interested in getting involved or...?
00:35:55 Paul Hills
They can, absolutely. So, I'm sure the links to my website and my contact details are on the website, so I would love to speak to people and see if we can get this being used much more.
00:36:06 Andy Goram
And I'll make sure to put all those links in the show notes that accompany this episode too.
Paul, we are nearing the end of this rapid and for me, engaging conversation. I really wish people could see what was going on with the hand signals. All very good stuff! The area I have at the show where we try and summarise, is something called Sticky Notes, Paul. And I'm looking for you to leave behind your best bits of advice for people to, sort of be able to make an improvement in their video meetings from tomorrow, that you could fit onto 3 little post-it notes. So, if I was to ask you what your sticky notes would be today, Paul what would they be?
00:36:48 Paul Hills
OK, so my first note would be, “In your meetings, be present and react to other people”. So, give them that. Give them that mental gain by reacting and responding.
Second one is “Pass the conversation.” Stick to those rules, I mentioned around passing it and that will help with inclusivity and take pressure off team leader.
And the third one is, “Discuss your meeting values and behaviours.” So how do you want your meetings to work? Kind of take stock, and what you want to be, some very simple rules of engagement for video and hybrid meetings.
Let's take this as an opportunity to really move things on and make meetings much better.
00:37:21 Andy Goram
That's great advice, Paul. And you know what? It beats just hitting the emote button on the screen, right? Let's have some human reaction, rather than a little emoji.
00:37:31 Paul Hills
Absolutely. A little bit more moving of the arms is another kind of nice wellbeing benefit.
00:37:35 Andy Goram
And there's been plenty of that, and I feel I feel like I've done a run, today! I’ve really been pumping those arms, brilliant!
Paul, it's been wonderful to talk to you, my friend, and a very interesting and different approach to, you know, how video meetings can get a bit more human and make people feel a bit better and actually something to look... something to look forward to maybe?
00:37:58 Paul Hills
That's really nice. I'm giving you the hand signal now, which is a handshake, or a hug goodbye, so other people can hopefully learn that as well, but thank you very much Andy. Really nice to speak to you.
00:38:07 Andy Goram
And you thank you so much, Paul. Brilliant.
OK guys, that was Paul Hills, and if you'd like to find out a bit more about him, Konektis, and all the meeting signals and behaviours that we've talked about in this episode, please check out the show notes.
00:38:26 Andy Goram
That concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting and heard something, maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forwards.
If you have, please like comment and subscribe, it really helps. I'm Andy Goram and you've been listening to the Sticky From The Inside podcast. until next time, thanks for listening.
Andy Goram is the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, and the founder of Bizjuicer, where he helps businesses drive retention and engagement by helping them discover, align communicate and embed purpose and proposition with the people working inside the business.