(3-minute read)

Why is it that when one person yawns, everyone yawns?

The power of suggestion is strong in person and even more pronounced on video calls. Like most of us, I spend more time than I’d like on Zoom. Many calls that I organize and run involve executive or staff trainings. Yet, it’s the times I’m a participant, with more time to observe individual behavior, that are especially interesting. This is what I saw last week. One person become progressively disengaged. Then, he actually dozed off. The chat box exploded, and the meeting ended shortly thereafter.

On video calls, we have a dual responsibility. One to ourselves to project the level of engagement and attitude that shapes our reputation. The other responsibility is to the team. How we show up on video impacts the overall energy level and productivity of the team. When everyone’s energy is high, the team is more productive.

Of course it’s hard to stay engaged and enthusiastic when we can’t feed off of the energy of in-person interactions. In person, it’s easy to tell where the speaker-or the boss- is looking. On video, everyone looks into a camera, so we never really know who is watching whom.

Separation created by a screen is tiring, and Zoom fatigue is real. We can offset some of the fatigue by actively reading the virtual room, paying close attention to nonverbal signals and using the cues we see to adjust behavior in the moment. This is important for leaders and participants alike.

Zoom +The B-A-P Model

An easy way to create shared accountability for keeping engagement and morale high is to socialize the B-A-P model. B-A-P stands for Baseline, Address, Produce.

The B-A-P model encourages individuals to play an active part in maintaining a team’s level of energy and participation. When engagement is high, the barrier created by the screen shrinks and creates the conditions for dynamic discussion.


BASELINE – Verbal & Visual Check-in

In addition to a verbal check in at the beginning of a meeting, take an extra moment to visually check in with everyone. How is each person showing up? What is their body language and eye contact communicating? Are they engaged or disconnected? This purposeful visual check-in accomplishes two things.

First, it creates a baseline, making it easier to notice the onset of Zoom fatigue (usually after @ 45 minutes and even earlier, later in the day). Second, when we know we are being “watched” we naturally become more tuned in to how we are acting. In short, we up our game.

Responsibility for establishing the visual baseline should rotate amongst all team members. Beginning a meeting with “It looks like we are all ready to go”, or, if the energy is low, “let’s do a quick icebreaker exercise” will help boost the energy of the participants.


ADDRESS – Pause & Reconnect

With a visual baseline established, it’s easier to notice shifts in body language and behavior that indicate people are beginning to check out. In a virtual world, this looks like participants leaning away from their screens, looking down for extended periods or not participating in the discussion (or just turning off the video without explanation). When these cues surface, it’s time to set aside the agenda, at least for a few minutes, and reconnect.

When everyone shares responsibility for engagement, anyone can ask for a pause. This can be done verbally or in a group chat with “It seems like we haven’t heard from a number of people, so let’s pause and invite their points of view.” Setting the expectation that if participation lags there will be a pause, gives those with differing viewpoints a platform to re-engage. A pause also offers a construct for a reset following a difficult conversation.


PRODUCE – Invite Creativity

Making reading the virtual room part of every meeting improves team communication and adaptability. The pandemic has introduced challenges never seen before. In the year ahead there will be many more. Beyond shared ownership, engagement and productivity, the ability to pause and support a parallel or larger conversation is a great way to encourage diversity of thought. When diverse points of view are invited, creative solutions emerge.

Skidmore College’s motto is Creative Thought Matters. It does. Creativity feeds engagement. An engaged team adapts more quickly to changing circumstances.

With these foundational elements in place, it is easier to invite and manage opposing points of view and deal with difficult conversations. That’s the topic for next month.


Be well and stay safe

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You can also check out Forbes.com/CFO blog where I write about communicating with and motivating teams.


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