What if I tell you that based on certain expressions on Skype or Zoom as well as email punctuation you can actually read behaviour and nonverbal cues of your co-workers and bosses. The little signs like a sideways glance on video chat, that email which drifts off into ellipses, why have you been added to some invite on calendar (or for that matter why haven’t you been added). What all of that means?

A while back, when we all worked at the office, we were all pretty fluent in the nonverbal cues. We would understand what slumped shoulders or downcast look meant, it read as disappointment of your boss or showed you how stress your colleague was. An email with no clear message, cryptic, if you will made you spin on your chair in 180 degrees to get clarification from its sender.

Besides all that, we had full working day to figure it out, there were gleaning little hints which would help in the process, like that walk to the staff room or kitchen, or coffee break few minutes before the meeting. You felt what was in the air and you were more prepared for what was coming. Right now, when we all work from home, our interactions are boiled down only to 15 minute or so, peak into each others’ lives on that FaceTime, Skype or Zoom calls, alternatively there is a chunk of emails with no additional context or some instant messages with strange emoji’s. Learning and understanding body language used in these all communication tools are becoming another exhausting part of our new work day.

Nevertheless, there are still plenty of ways to read these nonverbal cues, of course, if know where to look. You can start with people’s movements during all the video calls, a colleague of yours crossing arms could signal that she does not like the idea or potentially have some information which you are not considering. That quickening or slowing blink rate can signify there is a stress or show how tired or exhausted the other party is. Out of all, watch the eyebrows, when they are pointing down towards the middle of your nose, they indicate anger, their neutral position but curled up in the middle point to sadness for instance.

There are no obvious clues and sometimes while decoding you might be wrong, as that colleague with crossed arms may just feel cold, hence why you should always probe a bit deeper to find out what is really going on with somebody. It must be said that much our own analysis of others used to happen absolutely subconsciously as a result of evolution over the years. Right now we have a choice to either ignore our previously useful assumptions or we can be left confused and mistaken.

The meaning of gestures we new our whole lives, continuing but they may command different meaning nowadays. For instance look at staring, if you look down deep into someone’s eyes for more than couple of seconds, it could be interpreted as intimacy or a precursor to conflict, it could trigger either aggressive or escaping response. Now, take Zoom or for that matter all the other video calling apps, you lock your eyes all days, and images of ourselves are usually bigger than typical person would be in the office environment, they are also closer so attention to details is more visible too.

Behaviours like pushing the shoulders forward and then sliding up in the seat when person is ready to share something could be pretty normal in office environment but when watching it on video call, it will feel more dramatic giving you this feeling that person is coming after you. The another one is freezing image of a person due to poor internet connection, this is probably most annoying one and before you realise that image is freezing you could go through thoughts describing the person negatively.

Written communication can be just as fraught. People are tripped up by everything from brevity of emails to the timing. Often clients or members of your team can ask for more clarity from the message sender, the punctuation marks like ellipses are often seen different depend on generation – older person might mean nothing by them where younger readers can read them as sarcastic. Some might adore emojis, while others will remain baffled by them and embarrassed to use them. Sometimes to let the fresh air in to this, what looks like vexing room, you can make a phone call, it will be with a thousand of emails in that case…

Try to avoid getting tripped up by digital body language, add some space, you can do it by reducing the size of your video call window or just scheduling it on the mobile instead so smaller screen will don’t make the other person going straight into your personal, comfort zone. Try to hide yourself as other will have the same problem, if you are close to the camera and they all have these massive screens, you will make them uncomfortable. Try to pay attention to all the changes, if your usually casual boss pivots to be using more of the formal language, you will know that something might be up! Finally, do not overreact, if someone send you that confusing or even slightly passive-aggressive email, take assumption that it has good intent. If the communication does not impact your own ability to get the work done, it might be fine to just let it go. If it will happen more often, like three times, it is time for a candid chat.

Do you know any tips and tricks which can help mastering that office body language used in working remotely environments? I will be thrilled to hear from you on that matter in the comments section below.

All the best,


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