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What are the new rules of engagement in a locked down world?

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Working from home, don’t you love it? Especially with kids. Which is why I now have Netflix, Apple TV, Amazon Prime and Disney+ all subscribed to and downloaded - not just to keep the little one entertained (while I’m on work calls, especially), but to keep me sane.

The good news? Mastering every video conferencing app and platform for work has been much easier. The bad? Navigating the new rules of business engagement in this new, virtual world of interaction that has emerged.

The first new rule is the need to be platform-agnostic.

It’s a bit like gaining distance badges in a swimming contest. There are platforms you know well – old friends like Microsoft Teams, or those you have to adapt to like Google Hangouts. There are those you’ve never used before but hope to god are as intuitive as others, and those that remind you of chats with friends. And when things go wrong, there’s no IT department to blame – just you.

And things will go wrong.

Because you can’t just stick to one – as every client has their own favoured video conferencing platform, you must master them all. Which is why, in a virtual chemistry meeting during week one of the lock down, though I persuaded the client to use our tech – to ensure focus on the most important thing: our likely fit – we made sure we were all proficient at their preferred platform for our second meeting.

The second new rule is to get to grips with the new video conferencing protocols – such as camera and/or mic on or off, screen sharing or not, and optimum call group number.

Some clients like video on for meetings, some prefer off. Either way, turn up camera-ready, just in case. I spray on a bit of perfume as I would ahead of a face to face even though no-one else will smell it and, I understand, I’m not alone. It’s all about approaching it as business as usual. Get into the habit of turning off your mic when you are not talking but stay alert to turn it back on, fast, when you do.

Prep your team pre-call to exit Outlook and turn-off all notifications. If sharing screen, also ensure you do a tech test first. If it doesn’t work, you can always share files first via WeTransfer and during the call, say ‘Next slide’.

And if things do go wrong don’t stress, laugh.

The third new rule of business engagement is to harness the power of virtual for identifying and building chemistry.

You’d think the only way to judge the chemistry of a potential client or agency is to see the whites of their eyes – in the flesh, I mean. But you’d be wrong.

Virtual has its merits

Yes, it can be a bad idea to work with animals or kids. But in times of lock down, an impromptu cat on the keyboards, barking dog or child calling from the next room just as you chat to a new business prospect is a great leveller and conversation starter. Quickly, you may discover you both have a cat, a dog, a nine-year-old child and are longing for the start of the new series of Killing Eve.

Never before have so many random and personal conversations taken place enabling you to learn so much so soon in a new business conversation. It’s an opportunity to embrace the real us – complete with noisy pets and whining children, LEGO models and laundry piles. So, go on, turn on your cameras – the 3D you is far more engaging than the disembodied voice and your initials indicating that yes, you are there behind your blanked-out screen.

Being real and authentic, honest and open demonstrates empathy and deeper bonds come through greater engagement with someone else’s personal life.

A few tips for building chemistry

Remember, looking directly into the camera at all times is the only way to make eye contact remotely. Don’t look at the client’s face on screen because your face on their screen will be looking downwards, so missing out on eye contact – unless, that is, you can move the window closer to the camera.

Smile, even if you can’t see each other – non-verbal clues like this are conveyed by your voice. Don’t speak too fast. When hosting a group call, ensure you introduce all participants as you would face to face. And don’t presume the everyone can identify everyone else simply by their voices – some tech platforms automatically identify who is speaking, but not all.

Encourage audience participation to keep all engaged, and even if tempted to do so avoid multi-tasking. Take turns to speak and, if you need to, rehearse this ahead of any call. And don’t over-index on slides – remember, less is more.

The final new rule is for parents to be flexible when it comes to distracting your children while on an important call.

Sharing your iPad works well, as does Fortnite. In my house, there are bigger priorities than limited screen time right now. But if that’s not you, how about a daily mile around the garden or Joe Wicks on YouTube for PE. There are also brilliant how-tos such as #drawwithjimfield and #drawwithrob – for those who don’t know, Jim Field and Rob Biddulph are brilliant and highly acclaimed children’s book illustrators.

Here ends my top tips from the front line. But let’s all of us keep sharing lessons learned and sneaky hacks. In the meantime, stay safe.

Cat Davis, group marketing officer, The Mission Group & krow Group

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