October 20, 2020

Lockdown and virtual classrooms

Intercultural Communication

The first prize of the game organized by Akteos on the unexpected of remote work was awarded to Sylvie who tells us with humor about her first virtual class during the lockdown and the lessons she learned from it.

Lockdown and virtual classrooms

From face-to-face to virtual classes

When I had to convert my face-to-face trainings into virtual classes because of the lockdown decided abruptly on March 13, I first focused on adapting my pedagogical approaches to the tools at our disposal. Then, I had to choose a dedicated space, taking into account, among other things, the background and the lighting...

My first virtual class during the lockdown!

An unusual situation!

Finally ready, I start an intercultural training with a team of 12 people. Their manager is with us. The participants turn on their cameras and turn off their microphones at my request. I am delighted because I manage to see everyone on the screen, which is not always possible.

I introduce myself as usual, then start to be distracted and confused by the manager's head movements: he keeps wiggling from right to left, then up and down, and sometimes even almost disappears from the screen.

Disturbed, I am worried that he is not feeling well, so I ask him if everything is okay, and if he is comfortable. Visibly embarrassed, he confesses that he is on his exercise bike and that he is taking advantage of this training to do his sport session and to overcome the problems of sedentary life caused by the lockdown!

Amused and surprised, I don't really know how to react, aware that he is the manager. Then, as if to prove to us that he is telling the truth or perhaps to reassure us, he decides to direct the camera downwards to show us the bike, except that the close-up is not directed on the bike but on the superb tight mini-shorts he is wearing. He quickly realizes his mistake and immediately puts the camera back in the right place.

Everyone bursts out laughing, him first. The atmosphere is given. The rest of the training session was very friendly and good humored. I was looking for an icebreaker!

What lessons can we draw from this anecdote?

1. Choose the right space

Rethink the notion of privacy when working from home and carefully choose the space dedicated to telecommuting.

It has happened in other meetings that some participants do not want to turn on their camera for reasons of privacy and therefore of their home.

As a Franco-American, I was a little confused by this, because in the United States, in general, the house is an extension of the public sphere, whereas in France, the house is part of the private sphere: American houses have no shutters, no curtains, and even no fences. We find these customs in countries with a Protestant influence where one must show that one has nothing to hide.

Fortunately, the tool I was using offered beautiful backgrounds to solve this problem. Of course this notion is not only cultural, but can also vary from person to person. Some may worry about being judged by their interior. The manager in my group did not seem to have this fear: perhaps it is a reflection of the culture of his company, his industry (IT), his job or his management and leadership style?

2. Take into account the whole group

Don't forget, especially when you can't see everyone on the screen, that we are with a group and that there are real people on the other side of the camera. The latter is ruthless and shows everything as we saw in this anecdote or on social networks during the lockdown.

Some participants may forget that the whole group is not only watching them but also listening to them. For example, they may feel like they are in a small group of people they know because they see them on the screen and forget that there is actually a second page of small thumbnails of photos of people they may not know as well.

They then feel comfortable saying things they would never say in front of the whole group, let alone in person. This can give some participants confidence and therefore be positive, but sometimes it can have negative consequences that are later regretted.

3. Redefining your digital identity

Finally, working remotely forces you to redefine your own "digital identity" or the image you give off virtually.

Did the manager in my anecdote choose to climb on a bike to keep the energy he usually gives off and transmits in face-to-face meetings with his teams?

In any case, at a distance, you have to be aware of your communication, which requires more attention and must be deliberate. Indeed, it has never been so important to take care of your articulation, to think about the volume of your voice, to measure the rhythm with which you speak, and to be aware of your gestures. Can I use the same gestures as I would in person? Am I moving too much? Am I talking too fast? Does my charisma in the face-to-face setting disappear in the remote setting? Am I doing too much or not enough? How do I adapt to the situation?

There are of course other lessons to be learned from working remotely, but for the purposes of this anecdote, these three points seemed essential to me.

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