Three surprising ways to foster social connections in virtual meetings

Pre-COVID, we used to talk about Death by PowerPoint. One of the biggest workplace
hazards we are now dealing with is Death by Zoom.
Research has shown that the average executive spends 23 hours in meetings per week.

This amount has probably doubled now that we are in the land of doing everything via virtual meeting (or at least, that’s how it feels…) And as if meetings were not painful enough, virtual meetings are worse. If you are the one running it, are you ever really sure people aren’t just in their inbox rather than paying attention to you? And if you are participating, checking your emails is generally more interesting than the meeting itself.
We opt for virtual meetings because it’s meant to be better for feeling connected to work
colleagues. However, most of us are dying to go back to phone instead of being stuck in
front of the screen all day.

Virtual meetings are probably not going away any time soon, so instead of lament them,
here are three ways to help you feel more connected, not less, to your co-workers.

Stop asking “how are you going?”

It feels like every meeting starts with the question, “How are you going?” And this cliched
question begets cliched answers. “Good”, “okay”, “pretty well”. In other words, you are
generally no more connected with the person you asked this question of than you were

Professor Jane Dutton suggests that to foster high quality connections in virtual meetings,
we need to ask better questions. A good question elicits a deeper and more genuine
response and reveals something that you previously did not know about the person. For
example, you might ask the question, “What has been an unexpected upside during COVID
for you?” or “What’s been the best thing about working from home this week?”
By asking better questions, you will feel more connected to your co-workers and them to
you, through sharing something personal about themselves. High quality connections make
us feel energised and lit up – an important ingredient for setting virtual meetings up for

Stop using a “professional” backdrop

Company-branded Zoom backdrops seem to be taking over virtual meetings. While
companies who insist that their employees use these images, they are actually impeding
personal connections.

Research published in the Academy of Management Journal by Professor Ashley Hardin
found that the gaining of personal knowledge about other people you are interacting with
leads to better interpersonal interactions. Personal knowledge humanises us to the people
we are speaking to.

So when it comes to virtual meetings, don’t be afraid to use your real home as the
backdrop. Having your bed or kitchen in the background will lead to better interactions with
those you are meeting with.

Start your meeting with a two word check in

Brene Brown recently shared her strategy for opening virtual meetings – she asks her 30-
person team to write down two words that sum up how they are currently feeling. The
beauty of this strategy is three-fold. First, it allows people to name their feelings without fear of judgement. Second, it acknowledges that it is possible to feel more than just one emotion at the one time. Third, it’s quick to do.

So to avoid your virtual meetings feeling like they are depriving people of true connections,
ask better questions, show off your bedroom, and try a two word check in to experience
real connections blossom.


Dr Amantha Imber is the Founder of behavioural science consultancy Inventium and the host of How I Work, a podcast about the habits and rituals of the world’s most successful
innovators. Sign up to be part of Amantha’s Year of Better, a quest to become more
productive, creative, happier, and an all-round better person through a year’s worth of experiments.