Written by Maikel Batelaan

In your next video meeting, try the following experiment. Ask each participant to make brief eye contact with every other participant. Give them a minute.

At a conference table, this exercise would be quite simple. But you will notice that with Zoom, Teams or any other widely used video conferencing app, eye contact is simply impossible. This is because if you’re looking at the picture of the other person on your screen, you are not looking into the camera. And, likewise, if you’re looking into the camera, you cannot see the picture of the other person. That apart from the fact that at best you would see a delayed, 2-dimensional, rather blurry picture of what is often called ‘the window to the soul’: the eyes. 

Eye contact is an essential means of communication. We feel if we can trust a person, if he or she is honest, if there is genuine emotion, when we look him or her in the eye. If we know somebody already intimately, a phone call or videoconference can be sufficient to maintain the relationship, but the meeting in real life can do much more. 

This means that in the Covid-19 crisis, trust and safety in teams that only meet through video interaction will erode. This will transpire when stress increases, conflicts arise and the tone turns sour. What can we do about this?

Ideally you meet in real life, with social distancing if so required, for example a walk through the park. But even in digital interactions, we can build trust and safety, if we are a little more creative than just doing dreary Zoom meetings. 

Do a virtual walk together in nature, each at you own location, while keeping video (or audio) contact discussing key issues, or giving each other feedback. 

Invite team members to be more vulnerable by giving them personal assignments, for example through sharing parts of their life story, their state of mind or need for help from their team mates. Ask them to record the story on video, looking into the camera, perhaps at some place in nearby nature where they love to go. Or go old school and ask them to record only audio, from their living room, which will be less distracting than video and as intimate as podcasts can be. 

Spend some time on these kind of team interactions once every few weeks. Let’s hope the Covid-19 crisis is over soon: looking into each others eyes is the best way top connect, but in the meantime, with a little creativity we can do better than the routine team Zoom.