Rebel Human Resources Podcast

Episode 76: Making Virtual Work WORK with Dr. Betty Johnson

December 14, 2021 Kyle Roed, The HR Guy Season 2 Episode 76
Rebel Human Resources Podcast
Episode 76: Making Virtual Work WORK with Dr. Betty Johnson
Show Notes Transcript

Betty Johnson is a woman on a mission—a mission to get leaders to wake up and take notice of what the real problems are with working remotely. Despite the endless conversations about “Zoom fatigue” and “camera anxiety,” and a smattering of books on the topic, no one has written a definitive analysis of the problem, or evidence-based solutions. 

In Making Virtual Work: How to Build Performance and Relationships, Dr. Johnson takes an unflinching look at the oft self-centered and egotistical practices of leaders that suck the life out of remote workers. Her meticulous research and survey of 405 real-life virtual workers lay bare the myriad clueless behaviors that drive virtual workers to fury and despair, and maybe even to quitting their jobs. Her unflinching look at remote work and simple, direct language explaining the problems, along with practical, actionable solutions will be an eye-opener, and maybe even an “ouch,” for any manager wishing to improve their workers’ lot.

This slim volume is an invaluable resource for any leader who genuinely wishes to tackle remote-meeting fatigue. In refreshingly succinct and down-to-earth language,  Making Virtual Work provides a surprisingly practical and straightforward process any leader can adopt and leverage to stop the soul-stifling drain of remote work, while wringing value out of every minute spent in a virtual or hybrid meeting.

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Betty Johnson:

The number one the most prevalent theme and all of that what is wearing people out what's calling causing zoom fatigue is uselessness. If you're pulling people together in a meeting that is not useful to them, if they feel like the time that they're spending in your video meeting is not useful to them, it will cause them to be wiped out. And the more you do that, the more exhausted they're going to be.

Kyle Roed:

This is the rebel HR Podcast, the podcast where we talk to HR innovators about all things people leadership. If you're looking for places to find about new ways to think about the world of work, this is the podcast for you. Please subscribe, favorite podcast listening platform today. And leave us a review revelon HR rebels. Alright, revelator, our listeners really excited for the show today, this is going to be a relevant topic for all of us. In human resources, we have with us a great guest, Betty Johnson. She is a woman on a mission, a mission to get leaders to wake up and take notice of what the real problems are with working remotely. Despite the endless conversations about zoom fatigue, and camera anxiety, and a smattering of books on the topic. No one has written a definitive analysis of the problem or keyword evidence based solutions. Until now. So Dr. Johnson has written a book called Making virtual work, how to build performance and relationships. And we're going to be digging into that this week. Thanks for joining us, Betty.

Betty Johnson:

It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Kyle Roed:

And joining us today as well is Molly, Molly, thanks

Molly Burdess:

for joining. Always excited to be here.

Kyle Roed:

Super pumped. It's it's great to have great to have a wonderful co host here and an exceptional guest. So I can tell this is going to be a good one just from the conversation before before we hit record here. But I think the first question that I have is what got you interested in virtual work and meetings.

Betty Johnson:

I've had an interest in meetings for, I think a couple of decades, just because as a business as an individual contributor than a business leader and a business executive. I really just tested meetings, I felt like they were so often not useful. And frankly, as a woman, it was often hard to get my voice in the room if I was, you know, one of the few women if not the only woman in the room. And yet they you know, there's so much potential for what you can accomplish when you pull a group of people together. And so there was there was this, you know, love hate thing with meetings. I was doing my PhD in the middle of the pandemic, doing my dissertation and this beautiful project designed, gorgeous organizational change project. And it did have to do with meetings because I like Harriet Schwarzman said back all the way back in 1989. You know, meetings are the really like the fulcrum they can change the direction of an organization, what happens in them can literally change your risk tolerance and a bunch of bunch of other factors. So I had this fantastic research project, I had a client all lined up, we've done our initial kickoff, I was getting ready to jump into this action research project to do my dissertation. And that month COVID hit. So my client went on radio silent, he was hearing back from them at all. And I was noticing for myself pretty quickly that after a day in March of 2020 after a day of video meetings, I would literally have to go lay down on my sofa for a couple of hours and I'm I'm a I'm a big extrovert so I wasn't this person that the profile of somebody who'd really be wiped out by these things. So I decided in order to get my dissertation done expeditiously because I'm I'm an overachiever, this video meeting phenomenon and what is it about them that actually wipes people out? I was really curious about it and I knew that it was relevant and people were looking for an answer. And there was a lot of misinformation and conflicting information in the mainstream media. So I jumped into it and I got some really interesting findings things that surprised me things I didn't expect

Kyle Roed:

fascinating you know, it's really interesting the your description of how that time was for you because I I struggled with the similar thing where you know, I went from a lot of my interactions being in person maybe on the phone, not hardly any video. meetings prior to the pandemic were a manufacturing organization. And so, you know, video meetings were, you know, we had meetings, but the video wasn't on. Unless you somebody forced it to happen right then. But then when, when the pandemic happened, yeah, it was all video all the time. And I suffered from that same thing where I would get to, like, I don't know, I get to like lunchtime. And I just feel like I just I was just like, completely, like, the the fuel tank was on he and me I get energy from from interactions with others. Right. And so it was really kind of confusing. So that's fascinating. So what, you know, as you started to dig into the data? Yeah. You know, one of the things that we talked about is, there's a lot of, there's a lot of suggestions out there. Yeah, they're not necessarily all evidence based. So as you started to really uncover maybe some of the root cause or some of the best practices, what were some things that surprised you as you started to dig through that?

Betty Johnson:

What are the biggest surprises is I thought I knew what the real problem was? Because I've done enough research before I'm on meetings in general, there's a thing called surface acting, are you familiar with this term surface acting? It's a term that appears in academic literature. And it's used to describe where I'll show up with you and pretend to feel really positive in a meeting, because I know that's what you expect of me, if you're my boss, right? You want me to have this positive aspect, you want me to smile, even when you deliver, like, here's the new organizational change, I'm supposed to look really positive about it. And so we all do this, we all do this surface acting where we fake it, fake it till you make it, you know, that phrase. But when somebody does, it does this pretending putting on a false front wearing a mask for an extended period of time is highly correlated with emotional exhaustion. So emotional exhaustion is this thing where you have no more resources you are burned out. Want to just see if you're at the end of your rope, you don't want to show up the next day, you don't want to be around those people you work with anymore. That's what emotional exhaustion is, in surface acting is highly correlated with it, the more you surface Act, the more inclined you are going to be emotionally exhausted. So I thought that's what it is. We're all showing up, we were in a happy face. And we're in the middle of a pandemic. That's what's making everybody so tired. So there had been no studies to date. And still, aren't that study only surface acting only in a video meeting context, and how much is it happening? And how much does that correlate with emotional exhaustion? So I thought, well, that'd be an interesting finding. And we know that women tend to surface act more than do men. So maybe women are more wiped out. From video meetings, you'll have some suppositions wrong about this. I have, you know, the Paul Harvey of this story is yes, there is surface acting going on. We're pretending just you know, we're smiling when we're just, we there's, there's no wrinkles at the corner of our eyes, when we're smiling. You're just wearing that mask. And yes, women in my study are doing that more than our men self reported. And therefore, they're high more highly correlated related to emotional exhaustion, but there's just not that much of it. Like, it's just even though statistically significant, it's not the big story. So I've measured for some other things. And then I asked some open ended questions about a lot of qualitative data that you then code and theme and try to make meaning like, where are they saying, and all of this at six open ended questions in my survey. And what it came down to was not the surface acting, which is pretending that you feel something that you don't, it was impression management striving, which is, I know, I'm this awesome person, highly capable, very valuable to this organization. I can tribute, a lot of work here. And when I show up in a video meeting, it's really hard for me to do that. So I have this dilemma, that all of that value that I used to bring in the office, maybe I'd walk in, I'd have the you know, be able to change the environment in the room. I was known for that because I was such a, you know, really a positive leader be able to affect people. I'm also able to share my wisdom really easily but in a video meeting, because we're all supposed to be on mute unless we're actively talking and you have to be the first person to hit the unmute, or you lose your chance to speak almost like a game show. Right? So I can't show up and be that very, very effective, professional that I am in a video meeting environment. If there are too many obstacles for me to be at hunt, like cooking on all four burners, as we say, down south, you know, bring it on, bring it completely to the meeting. So I'm exhausted from striving to do that. There's one of the examples you asked about Kyle, you know, the, like, how my findings different than what was in the mainstream media at the time. And there's still some guidance out there that says, look at your camera, which, if you look at your camera, people are going to know you're talking directly to them. And it's so much better than if you're looking down like at mid screen, because you're looking down mid screen, it looks like you're not actually looking at them, and they lose that connection. Well, so what happens if I'm looking at my camera, and I'm not looking at you, I have no idea what your body language cues are. I can't see whether you're nodding your head. So I'm performing this impression management striving so you I can you know, I am impressing upon you how capable I am. And meanwhile, I can't actually be that person. Because just because we look in the camera instead of us. I'm not getting the visual feedback. It's just one small example of how trying to show up and be that really effective leader or employee is really tough when you have three or more people in a zoom environment. What are you thinking?

Molly Burdess:

That's not what I expected you to say?

Kyle Roed:

Well, it was funny, though, I so for our listeners that you can't see this right now, because you're just listening to the audio. But when Betty legit looked in the camera, I was like, Whoa, she's really looking at that camera really hard right now. Like she's got something to say. But it was almost it was a little bit of like, like, stressful for me. She's really, she's really staring me down right now. You know, which is funny because I've I don't look in the camera, I have to see what people are like their nonverbal. So that's I mean, that's just how I that's how I listen. And yeah, so that's, that's fascinating. Yeah, Molly, what's, what's your reaction to that?

Molly Burdess:

Well, yeah, like, because that wasn't what I expected you to say the biggest issue was, but I had the same take. I'm like, I have never looked at the camera before. And so then I did, and I felt like I was talking to a robot didn't love it. Anybody that again,

Betty Johnson:

there's so many people, so many people all in the publication space and well known publications that are saying, they're telling us one of the things we've really got to do is look at the camera. And you saw how awful it feels on the receiving end, I go back to my days as a salesperson. And I learned really, you know, because I'm an extrovert, I make eye contact really easily. I learned very early on. Not everybody wants to be making direct eye contact. So when you think about when you're in an in person meeting, there's some direct eye contact, but it's not this constant stare at you. Right? So your your eyes are moving from person to person. And a lot of times you're not really making the eye contact, you're sort of like generally looking at their face, because you're thinking and so you don't have this disturbing. I stare going on. I saw that people in my in my study said I asked what makes video meetings exhaust if they're exhausting for you, what makes them so and they said fantastic. Things are very directly staring at that little blue.at the top of my screen while the leader goes blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, right? So that people are staring at the camera to listen so that their leaders think they're engaged. That's the impression management striving. And it is exhausting. It's so inauthentic. And because you're staring at that dot, you can't actually read what's in the chat, you certainly can't go down and take a note like I am right now it could start to look like oh Betty's checked out. And so this that, you know, the issue really is is that we have offended what is meant by workplace. This is now our workplace. This video meeting space is a work place. And it requires new norms because it's different than the old workplace. So there's, you know, one of the things that human beings need is certainty. When we feel a certain level of certainty, it calms the limbic system, we're able to show up and be more present because we're not feeling threatened. And yet, we're still not certain how to show up in this venue. We don't know what our leaders are expecting of us or why they even called us here. Are they? Are they having these regular video meetings where they're requiring the Camera on because they're trying to surveil us. Okay, so that's some workers feeling you'll in being surveilled? Can you not just trust me to be doing my work? Why do I happen? It's one person said, Why do you need to see my face? rhetorical question.

Kyle Roed:

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Molly Burdess:

You know it's funny, I go back to the first few zoom meetings or video meetings we had when the pandemic started. And I will never forget it. I didn't even think that I needed to set expectations on what a videos meeting should look like and what you as a human should be doing on a video. Oh gosh, I had people in bed I had people without shirts on I have roaming around their house. So setting clear expectations. I think it's important but for me, I think you know, because I was we are so one that does require your video to be on. And it's not for me anyway, as an employer. It's not that I don't trust my employees, it's I feel like they will be more engaged if their video is on. Like I'm forcing you to be present, which I know isn't happening all the time, because I am on tons of video meetings where I'm not present all the time, which is exhausting. But for my perspective, I That's why I've done it in the past. But I never thought about what what my employees would would think or what their perception would be of that requirement.

Kyle Roed:

Can I Can I just ask a question, I got to step back. Someone did not have a shirt on during a video call.

Molly Burdess:

Oh, yeah, it was it was a male sounds like an HR

Kyle Roed:

nightmare.

Molly Burdess:

I think just woke up from bed. And yeah, just just roll with it. Laid back culture, but I didn't

Kyle Roed:

think of that laid back place to be, I guess, I don't know about those happy hours on Friday you guys do but that's a whole nother level? Or is better, you were gonna say something?

Betty Johnson:

Well, I was gonna say, you know, in the past, if somebody needed to spend the day without a shirt, what they do is they take a sick day. Right? They take a mental health day, and those don't exist anymore. Because we are even when you're sick. You're working at your computer, because now your whole office is in your home. And they the need that we have the organizational leaders have for people to be engaged is not a realistic expectation in terms of cognitive load. So what is engagement? Let's just do the contrast. What is engagement and work look like? Well, engagement and work, according to the social sciences is you lose track of time. You're so engrossed in your work, right? You go into flow, that's what engagement is, you go into flow. We are using this term engagement to describe something that's actually a performance. It's not an authentic state of being. And it is impossible for workers to show up and put on that performance for hours on end. And if they are putting on that performance of I'm engaged, you know, I'm I'm not taking notes, which by the way, the kinesthetic studies show notetaking is one of the ways you remember what the heck happened. Also, people don't remember what happened in your meeting, because perhaps they feel like they can't take notes because they're supposed to be looking at you all the time. Also, there was a lot of data in my study about people who, you know, claim to be engineers and other sort of linear thinkers, let's just say are people who are used to a lot of data reading data, interpreting data and then using that data to then innovate. They can't, they can't do that thing where you, we want them to look engaged. So when you turn off the camera, though you can't see their faces. They are they are. And if you have a meeting that's purposeful, and it's not a waste of time, they're processing, they're thinking, they're integrating the things that they're reading, and that are being said, but if they have to perform on camera to show you, they're doing that stuff, they can't do it. So I really challenge leaders to think about this term of engagement. Are you looking for a performance? Are you looking for something that's really in to the work? I feel like I am contributing? I am contributing, even if I'm thinking I suppose I'm thinking because I'm getting ready to do something that is good, you know, for my organization and part of my job responsibilities. Yeah, so just a little challenge, that whole idea of I want to see people, because I want to see if they're engaged, many times we want to see people because we we want to see like, are they tracking with me? Do they understand what I'm saying? I have no idea I get as crickets, because they're not on camera, I have no idea what their reaction is to what I'm saying. So we as leaders, we crave to see their faces, because we want to know if our performance is up to snuff. But what happens is because they're sitting there listening us to do our blah, blah, blah, and having to look like, oh, Betty, one more fascinating point coming from Betty, you know, you're having to form this thing that is just not sustainable. That's a big message, there's a bigger message, we'll get to, you know, when the time is, right.

Kyle Roed:

So, so much so much great, great content there. And, you know, it was kind of like a couple light bulbs went off. And, you know, maybe my reaction to what you just said, you know, the difference between, you know, flow, and true engagement versus performance. I mean, I can't tell you how many times I get off a meeting, and I and I realized like My face hurts, because I've just been like smiling the entire time, even though you know, eye to eye, when somebody's sitting in my office, I'm not just smiling. Like that. And it's like, oh, yeah, I guess I probably don't need to do that all the all the time, but it is a little bit draining. And I'm also one that, you know, I just kind of naturally mirror other people's actions. That's just kind of how I've always just, I've always done that. That's just how I interact with human beings. And, you know, doing that in a virtual environment? I think it is, it is kind of like a performance. Right? Yes. So interesting.

Betty Johnson:

The fact that they're that they are performance was very, it was a very strong theme in the qualitative data. We I didn't measure it statistically, because I, well, first of all, I didn't know that I should, like, I'm thinking surface acting, were the pandemic, people are afraid. So I was thinking that and, and, and I don't think if I'd searched for it, I don't think there's a scale so that like future researchers out there, I think this you know, the pression management striving, it would be really interesting to have a scale to measure. Are you having, How hard are you having to work to convey your value?

Molly Burdess:

So clearly, I'm getting some of these virtual meetings wrong. What I mean, what advice you have for me, how do I prove them?

Betty Johnson:

That here's my biggest advice, and it is the biggest theme in the qualitative and quantitative data of my study. What is wearing people out the most significant variable, I have 42 variables that measured statistically and then all this 2700 qualitative responses, a lot of stuff a lot, a lot of data. The number one the most prevalent theme and all of that what is wearing people out what's calling causing zoom fatigue, is uselessness. It's uselessness. The meta message here is if you're pulling people together in a meeting that is not useful to them. If they feel like the time that they're spending in your video meeting is not useful to them. It will cause them to be wiped out. And the more you do that, the more exhausted they're going to be. My my survey shows the emotional exhaustion begins to set in at seven hours of video meetings in given week, seven, and it 12 hours in a given week, it firmly sets in. So if I'm attending seven to 12 hours of video meetings in a given week, I'm already going to be exhausted for lots of other reasons, right. But then you load on top of that the fact that they're a waste of my time. I mean, maybe you're getting done, you might lead or maybe you're getting done what you need to get done, you're making announcements, you're explaining to me a new process. Or maybe this is the real killer. Let's say we're on a project team together. And there are 10 of us in this meeting. And the leader, let's just say, as you call just for fun, just for kicks, you're the leader. So you say so Molly, what's your update? So Betty, what's your update? Steve, you got an update for me, Joe, what do you got for us? And so in that hour long meeting, well, let's just even say it's 30 minutes. In that 30 minute meeting, I'm speaking for me minutes. And what Molly and everybody else has to say is really not relevant to me, it's not useful to me to complete my other job responsibilities. You're killing me. You're killing me with that. And if you're doing it, so you think about the collective waste of time, right? If you got 10 people on your team, you just wasted a whole day of productivity. And that 30 minutes that you just sucked out of my day, I'm going to have to work later tonight or on the weekend, which is why in the US workers are on average, now working two and a half hours more per day than they were before the pandemic. It's not just because we're using our commute time to work. We are having to use our commute time to work because we've got all these useless video meetings going on. So that's the note to Human Resources practitioners, in my view is organizations need to be more judicious about how we use this tool. Like you don't use a hammer, you use a hammer for a nail, you don't use a hammer for every task you have, right. And so when is a video meeting the right tool, and when is another form of communication, a better tool, meetings in general should only be used when this collaborative conversation, ideas sharing, helping us come to a shared understanding. And so there are many other ways to communicate. But we have not been doing using those as one research participant said they it just doesn't seem to be fair game anymore to pick up the phone.

Molly Burdess:

I would agree with that. I think the phone calls have definitely decrease. Uh huh. One question I have kind of following up on that is I think one thing, a lot of HR professionals I know I have in the last two years, or however long this pandemic has been going on is, there's a lot of our team that doesn't feel like they're part of the organization anymore a part of the group or doesn't feel like they're in the know of what's going on. And they've lost some of that collaboration. And hey, how's each other doing? So I think that's where some leaders are like, Okay, let's get these people on a meeting, to kind of help improve some of this. But I think what I'm hearing is kind of got to find that balance, right? You don't want to waste time to throw dollars down the drain. But, I mean, if you take away some of those meetings, how else can you maybe clearly have some feedback to on this? If you have people working remotely? How do you bring each other together? How do you how do you bring a sense of purpose and a sense of team a sense of collaboration without some of these long meetings?

Betty Johnson:

Well, one of the things I learned back in the mid 2000s, that you know, the first decade of the 2000s an executive of my organization said this around here we build relationships through the work. And you know, it's not the wasn't just there, that's everywhere. We build it our work relationships through the work through working together through talking about our work. And yes, we'll talk about that in our our daughter's ballet class, or the vacation that we're about to take or our favorite team and what the score was and the you know, the player all that we we use those lighthearted conversations to help create affinity and bond. So yes, we build their trust that you'll that we're good to work with each other that happens through getting the work done, but there's this other thing, which is, do I feel connected to you authentically? Like who I really am, and you feel that way with me. And when we have that that is that? It adds to the meaning in our work, but it also creates those bonds that help mitigate the big quit, you know, which is what we're now calling this mass exodus of people who don't feel connected to their jobs and just don't want to live like that anymore. Great resignation warm. So the way that we do that the way that we create, you're building relationships through the work, but also making that space. Or let me understand a little bit more about you. I mean, is we get on the call a little early, like you, Kyle, you and I did, we had this back and forth conversation, you know a little bit about me, I know a little bit about you. And if we did that regularly, we know a lot more about each other. And then we have a report that helps fuel that work relationship. So the way organizations are using video meetings, because we've got this idea that they are a tool like an ink pen is like, this is the boundary of the meeting, make sure you know you're using them using the tool to have the meeting. But what people need because they're not robots, they need small talk. What I say in my book, and what I show through my participants remarks is small talk is big, small talk creates that glue, and met my research participants with 345 of them after all, the data was scrubbed. And they were about equally divided. Some people, some people hate it. Too much chitchat, what a waste of time, I'm sick of all this, blah, blah, blah, you know what's going on? Frankly, I've got a taller run running around and a client call in 10 minutes. And I don't care about the game stats, quote, unquote. So there's people that have that, like, just just get the work done. They're wanting to accomplish the work well, in large part because they're having to work seven hours a day to get that work done. If you're wasting their time. You know, they have an intolerance. And then there's this other group that can you just be real? Can you just give us a little space to connect each other as human beings? I mean, we haven't seen each other in person in months. What about just making a little room keep it real, keep it human. So this tension between those who need small talk and those who hate it needs to be addressed. And the recommendation for how to do that. It seems to be like the elephant in the room, like, how do we hit? How do we accomplish both, is, you put 10 minutes at the beginning, if it's a 30 minute meeting, at 10 minutes at the beginning for small talk, put it in the agenda, call it small talk, call it meet and greet, call it whatever you want to call it, and don't structure it don't have like, oh, I have today's conversation with name one good thing that happened yesterday, like don't be the puppet master controlling the small talk, let people come on and just talk. The evidence. Like the scientific evidence shows, this is really counterintuitive. Introverts gain more from small talk, they do extroverts. So it's a need that is out there, people want it. And if we squelch it, it's it wipes them out. And if you schedule it for a discrete period of time, those people they're like, I got a toddler run around, I got a call client call. And Tim, I hate this, can we just get on with it, they don't have to show for it. Right, they can be a little late. And that way they get their energy needs met to they can use that 10 minutes accomplishing something else, and then come in when the business agenda begins. So this means that it might be you that the idea is, oh, this is going to make meetings run longer. But if you have a good agenda that shows this is what we're going to talk about when you won't have people derailing the agenda to talk about that stuff because they their appetite would have been satisfied. And also one of the things it's just endemically Stressful is that people show up late in video meetings, and then you know, they don't have their equipment ready and they're trying to get their camera on. And it's just like up, stop, start, stop, start, stop, start. If you allow that 10 minute window of let's just relax, you know, and be with each other for 10 minutes. Those people who are habitually late, it gives them a little window to be the way they are. Maybe they can't help be habitually late. Maybe they're on a team where other people hold them longer. There, they have a little time to get their technology going and turn on their ring light or whatever is needed and get into get this headspace into the meeting. So you're actually helping them become more engaged and the purpose of the meeting by offering that and the other thing that leaders don't do and they it's it's such an easy thing. I don't know why we don't do it. Open up the meeting room early. Even if you can't be there, open it up. Don't don't admit people through a waiting room. Do your meeting without a waiting room. Let people come in. Let them talk to each other without your having to be the facilitator.

Molly Burdess:

Man sorry guys. I'm really bad at this. I'm going jumping in one minute till our meeting. Job, Kyle,

Kyle Roed:

it Betty and I were all friends by the time you showed up, like, five minutes later, no, this is like, I'm just I'm furiously taking notes because it's like, oh, geez, I gotta change up my HR staff meetings, but we do have small talk like to like unintentional small talk. But for us, it's funny. That time, is probably some of the best time that I have all week. Because because me and my team just get to kind of shoot the breeze blow off some steam kind of see, you know, talk about what my staff means, usually on a Friday. So we talk about like, the weekend coming up and what the kids are doing, and what, no, you know, somebody, Oh, somebody's out next week for Thanksgiving, where are you going? You know, those, those kinds of things that it's interesting. And we're all a bunch of, we're all a bunch of HR nerds. So of course, we love that stuff. And that's a big part of the meeting. But I do also make people go around the horn and say, give me the update. Right? So yeah, I am guilty on that one, for sure. There's a better

Betty Johnson:

way to do that update. But we'll, I'll speak to you in just a second if you want me to. But this whole thing about small talk, you know, people of Germanic descent really don't like small talk. I mean, think about you know, the Swiss watch is running right on time. And so when we encapsulate this small talk, rather than just letting it like eMERGE wherever it happens to come up, for those people who are wiped out by that, who really don't like it, we really resent it and see it as a waste of time, we're taking good care of those people too. And if you have this container for it, this discrete time, people who are less likely to speak up, will know that that's their permission. So misplaced space, they can do it. Sometimes what happens in meetings is the leader sees the value of small talk, and so will participate in more airtime of the small talk than anybody else. And that is not good for everyone else's energy. So by creating that space, rather than just letting it emerge organically, it's not the leader or was not the leader controlling when small talk can emerge and not emerge, you're essentially giving that that status to your people to say, you know it, you people need to be engaging with each other. And maybe I'll say something, and maybe I want as a leader, I'll certainly be there to listen, because I care enough about you that I want to know what's going on in your lives. So you know about that, that staff meeting, if it's a project meeting, here's the differentiator, do all those people need to hear what each other is saying? And that's the question to pose to your HR team, Kyle, and anybody else who's listening, when you think about that 30 minute status meeting, or 30 minutes staff meeting, or whatever you call it, that thing you do every Monday? Does everybody on that call need to hear what everybody else is saying? Probably not. So the best way to make use of virtual workers energy is give them a place to put whatever the updates are that you're looking for. So you can do your job, right? Put that someplace where they can do it asynchronously, they don't all have to come together at the same time to do that. And then you use your status meeting to have discussion of any of those items. And maybe everybody needs to be there. And maybe they don't, maybe you make it voluntary. Because everybody will have access to I mean, let's talk old school, right? Maybe it's a spreadsheet on a Google Drive in. Or maybe it's just that simple, that other people have access to if they want the information, but they can get what they need in five minutes, instead of attending your 30 minute meeting. We did this with a client that I work with, I have a process called team to win. And one of the things that was just killing the team was it was too hard for certain people to get their voice in the room. They were finding that when they spoke up, other people in the room would think that was that they were off track. And so they shut him down. They interrupt them. And they were slower to come to the conversation because they're mentally processing what they've been hearing. And so they weren't quick enough on that unmute button to be able to say anything, so they just basically gave up so you're not getting their brain trust. With this group. What happened is this a team, it's a project team and very important team for the organization successes, a mission critical project team. So what they started doing is posting their project updates in a universal place. When asked and it was a good start posting a couple of days before the typical date of the team meeting. If there was anything that was unresolved, they could decide do we need to get together cause Molly and me and leave the project manager out of this meeting so that we can get we can have a conversation about our handoffs, maybe that's the conversation that needs to happen. And we don't even need the project manager here to do it. So they took ownership of what communication sharing Do we really need and problem solving? Do we need, we don't have to wait for the heroic project leader to pull us all together. So we can hold hands and sing Kumbaya, and sit there and stare at our video monitor.

Kyle Roed:

That's funny. Yeah. How else is that project managers supposed to add value to the organization? Okay. That's all now we're getting to ego and all that stuff I have

Betty Johnson:

is about ego, that project manager adds value is she stays aware of risks, and how those risks are going to be mitigated. She's tracking are they are the milestones being met, or the task to enable the milestones getting met the same thing you would do in a meeting without having to have all those people there at the same time, she's still getting the information, doing our job, and creating new processes to help the information flow more smoothly, making sure the relevant parties are talking to each other, informing the other departments about the here's what's changes coming down the pike get ready for it. I mean, that's what a project manager does, right. And according to PMI, 85% of a project manager's job is communication. 85%. So what she's doing is having her one on ones with her project team instead of everybody all together. How's it going?

Kyle Roed:

Absolutely.

Molly Burdess:

My favorite tool for that is Microsoft Planner. I don't know if either of you have ever use it, but I love my Microsoft Planner.

Kyle Roed:

I don't, I'm not new to tools. I'm old school. I'm like Excel Project Tracker. Sorry.

Molly Burdess:

I'll check out the planner. Okay, change your life.

Kyle Roed:

Alright. I didn't know you're sponsored by Microsoft. But well, yeah. I do. I have. We're quickly running out of time here. But I have one question that Molly mentioned, Betty, and I want your perspective. So should we require cameras on? Or should we be flexible and have it optional? Or, you know, how do we manage the expectations of camera utilization of meetings?

Betty Johnson:

So this is a fundamental question. And the answer is whether cameras are required should depend on the meeting purpose. And that requires that anybody who sends out an invitation to a meeting must be very specific. First, be clear with themselves what's the purpose of this meeting, and convey that purpose to other people. And if the purpose of the meeting is going to be facilitated by being able to see each other use cameras, if it's not, don't say, for example, here we are, we're looking at each other on camera, because it's enabling us to have a richer dialogue as we can see each other's body language. But if the purpose of a meeting is to, well, let's just say you keep doing those project meetings, because your team is saying, Actually, I do benefit from hearing what everybody has to say, and most people's feel the same way. So you keep having that because it's a benefit for them. Therefore, the purpose of the meeting, is to debrief the status of your contribution to the project with specific and specific gender around that. Does that sound like cameras are really essential for achieving the purpose of the project of the meeting? It's really not, is it? And not only that, but the more people that you have in these little, I only have, I'm only looking at the two of you, that's super easy for me to track with your body language, you get 10 people in a Hollywood Squares, I can't, it doesn't matter what they're doing. I can't follow it. I can't even see it, because the icons are too little. But I am completely overwhelmed and distracted, because the bit because the internet, they do delivery system, the streaming is like making people jerk. And that's just doing all kinds of things to my cognitive overload. So unless you need the video to accomplish the stated purpose of the meeting, make it optional. If people want to have their video on, they can, if they don't want to have it on, don't do it. Like don't require it. And there's always going to be pressure from the leader. I wish people that would have their cameras on so they'll know if I'm tracking with them. But what I say to leaders is, if you want to know if they're tracking with you, ask them just ask them. I mean, you do that by saying something like I did with you just earlier, which is how's it landing on you? What are your thoughts? about that, is there something that you think I'm missing? And if you get crickets, if you get dead air, which a lot of times you do and you know, audio only say I'm going to give this just, you know, 10 more seconds for someone to pipe up if you need more thinking time, say so. Now you don't have to you don't have to surveil them, you don't have to monitor them. And they don't have to monitor you either. And if all it is, is a big fat tail, that's what I like to call it. One person talking. Record yours and you feel like you got to be on camera for that record yourself and send people that recording and ask them to reply to you with their thoughts. There you go. Not necessary for everybody to be there together at the same time.

Kyle Roed:

Molly, I got a policy ready for you. All right. Okay. Okay, here we go. If video is required, shirts are required videos, optional shirts are optional. There's your new shoes are all love that I'll send you a consulting fee later. All right. Oh, this has been a wonderful conversation, buddy. It's just really fascinating to hear this this, you know, empirical evidence driving us to better meeting protocols and trying to prevent our employees from burning out and just getting sick of these meetings, ultimately making it more effective. So I want to shift gears and go into the rebel HR flash round. So okay, ready? Yeah, I'm ready. All right, here we go. Question number one. What is your favorite people book?

Betty Johnson:

Well, there's a book that I have made a lot of reference to in the last year or so is by Mark Goulston Gru l sto N. I'm a big fan of Marc's work. He's written many books. And he is just a very wise person I admire not just his books, but how he shows up in the world. And the book that I recommend to many of my clients is just listen. So here's a little factoid from just listen. How long can somebody listen to you talk before they start to zone out. They start to zone out at 20 seconds. 15. Long before they're just completely over somewhere else thinking about something. And just not I mean, maybe they're listening, but they're not doing that deep listening where they can remember 40 seconds. So as a leader, or as an employee, you've got 40 seconds to make your point. If you go longer than that, you're going to lose people. If you need to keep them with you, you give them breaks just like I did, but make it a little longer and even better say what do you think about that? How's that? For you?

Kyle Roed:

Yeah, Molly, why are you staring me down right now? Camera? Sounds like pick that book up. Alright. Question number two, who should we be listening to?

Betty Johnson:

You should be listening to your people. You should be listening to your people and not wait for them to come to you and tell you what's not working. So if you're a leader of meetings, if you have this regular weekly status meeting, ask your people use a survey so that say for them, don't track the IP addresses and just ask them? Are our weekly status meetings useful to you? What would make them more useful? Would you prefer that we share information with each other in a different venue? Ask, Don't assume it's just so easy to ask and then make wiser choices. But as leaders, we somehow still have this what I like to call the way of the dinosaur, right, you know, we, we feel like we have to be so big and strong and figure it all out ourselves. And if we keep doing that, we will we will become extinct. The workplace has changed. You mentioned this, you know, we're in a new world now. And it requires that open curiosity in a way where people feel safe to say what it is they really need. And then if we do that for them, it might it might feel like a sacrifice, because we don't get as much of what we need. Like, I don't get to see their eyeballs, you know, we might not get as much as what we need. But when we are providing them with what they need, we become more successful, right? It's just a simple formula. Such an answer.

Kyle Roed:

All right, last question here. How can our listeners connect with you?

Betty Johnson:

Well, I would love for anyone listening to of course, read the book, making virtual work because it's 85 pages. It has my contact information in it, but more important I've given some tips here. But the in the book, there is a recipe, right just like baking a pie as a pie chart, a real pie was steamed coming out of the top. And just like baking a pie, thanks the week of Thanksgiving, if you leave out the nutmeg or you leave out the cinnamon, or you leave out the shortening, or you leave out that fruit, you're going to have a dish nobody wants to put on their plates. So bake the dish that people they want yet even another slice of it, because it's so good and making virtual work, we'll tell you exactly how to do that. You can also follow me on LinkedIn or through my website, bridging the difference. Com LinkedIn is bridging the difference, as well. And I'm Dr. Betty Johnson. And I would really welcome any conversation that you want to reach out and have about how we better make virtual work is here to say I

Kyle Roed:

love it. And now I'm super hungry for pie. So thank you for that. So we will have we will have the link to all that in the show notes. Open up your podcast player, check it out, click the link. You know, just some absolutely wonderful content and I think something that we could all use and really excited for you spending the time today with us, buddy. Thank you.

Betty Johnson:

Thanks. You made a lot of fun.

Kyle Roed:

All right, take care. All right, that does it for the rebel HR podcast. Big thank you to our guests. Follow us on Facebook at rebel HR podcast, Twitter at rebel HR guy or see our website at rebel human resources.com. The views and opinions expressed by rebel HR podcast are those the authors do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any of the organizations that we represent. No animals were harmed during the filming of this podcast. Maybe