We may be experiencing fatigue after more than a year of Zoom sessions but we still need to brush up those online skills, says Angela Calcan.
DrinkCoach has offered online interventions since 2014 so we were well equipped when COVID arrived. Prior to the pandemic there was often scepticism from other professionals – you can’t engage people properly online, digital doesn’t work and it will never take off. Out of necessity, both the sector and service users have embraced the use of technology throughout the pandemic, and while the initial enthusiasm all round was high it’s interesting to hear about the drop-off in online attendance as time has gone on. We know that online working is much more nuanced than it may first appear.
There is much potential for technology to enhance the treatment offer, but when done poorly it can be equally damaging. There is also the real issue of digital exclusion for some service users, which often dominates discussions. Online interventions will not be appropriate for everyone, but digital aspects may enhance services or bridge an existing gap. There are many service users who will still require face-to-face contact.
Despite the increased use of Zoom groups, Teams meetings and video calls, it’s been interesting to observe people’s behaviour online. It’s important when using this technology to put some thought into how to get the best experience from it – there’s so much to pay attention to, and we’re using different skills to make up for the loss of cues that we rely on in face-to-face settings. All this while paying attention to how we are perceived by others. No wonder we’re exhausted.
Whilst most mistakes are unintentional they are usually avoidable and relate to poor set up – lighting, sound, camera angles, proximity to the screen, distracting backgrounds and difficulty using platforms. And let’s not forget the unexpected Zoom bombs from pets and children (I’ve certainly had this happen a few times in my home). Then there’s the poor etiquette observed – which has included people lying in bed during training, vaping mid meeting, or forgetting to mute microphones while holding unrelated conversations off camera.
We also fail to recognise how off-putting it can be for a trainer/presenter to be talking to a screen of small blank boxes rather than seeing people’s faces. Some of these could pass as rookie errors early on but it’s disappointing to see them continue as time passes. I get it – online work is fatiguing and sometimes we can’t face putting our videos on. Sometimes it’s the equipment failing to support the work – poor Wi-Fi connection, microphone issues, camera not working. These aspects are so important to sort out before you can really commit to online working. I regularly encourage people to ask themselves – would I do this if I was in a face-to-face setting? If the answer is no, then the same should apply to our online etiquette too. You would wait for the break to grab a drink or have a smoke, and you make eye contact and introduce yourself to a guest that is attending your team meeting. We do need to make the same effort in the online world.
Switching to online working is not merely substituting the meeting room for a virtual one. There has to be consideration for the nuances of this work and the challenges it ultimately brings. Expect adjustments to the way we work and the workload – organisations should embed a support structure for the workforce to ensure that online work is conducted in the safest and most supportive way possible. It almost seems that we have more meeting demands as geographical boundaries are removed, and there’s now the expectation that you will squeeze every minute of your day into some online interaction.
We know that there are many challenges to remote working including online fatigue, so it’s important to schedule those ‘watercooler’ moments or small breaks into our day just as we would in the office environment. Block out your diary to protect your time – after a morning of running online groups book in ample debrief and note-writing time, and if you know your concentration levels may be lower in the afternoon protect that time in your diary so it’s not hijacked for another meeting.
It’s important that careful consideration is made each and every time we are on camera. It does involve being organised and putting yourself in the shoes of the person on the receiving end. We do need to think about the context. Whilst I am more relaxed with my colleagues I have different standards for any external meetings, training or online interventions I attend or deliver. With the rush to get online it seems that the considerations for set up may have suffered.
It’s essential that we ensure data protection for our service users and that starts with the policies and procedures that support online working. It also means that when remote working we must take confidentiality as seriously as we would in person. We should ensure a confidential space where the conversation will not be overheard or interrupted, and if you can’t guarantee this, then some adjustments need to be made. I have two young children and I appreciate the challenges that this year has brought to privacy and disruption in the home. Although many service users are forgiving of interruptions we do need to protect that virtual therapeutic space. Over time these blips can add up, and if not properly addressed cause the service user to lose confidence in the system.
Finally, although online fatigue is a real issue at the moment I would encourage those interested in working effectively online to continue this work. We know that there are digital exclusion concerns for many service users, but we also know that many hard-to-reach service users may be more inclined to engage via this method. At DrinkCoach we have been able to engage women and a younger cohort as well as working professionals through our online work. I hope the sector can continue to offer online as an option and maximise the benefits of online interventions, not just out of necessity but because it has value to our [potential] service users.