Learning & Development

Nonverbal Communication in Virtual Meetings

It’s truly extraordinary how successfully virtual meetings have been able to replace in-person meetings. Virtual meetings are not a perfect substitute, but the ability to use live video and audio along with screen-sharing allows for effective collaboration.

It’s so effective, in fact, that many participants forget the nonverbal messages they’re sending to colleagues, whether they intend to send those messages or not.

Watch Your Nonverbals!

Just as frowning can show displeasure in a physical meeting, it also shows displeasure in a virtual meeting. The same goes for looking down at one’s cellphone, which can be a sign of disengagement.

Nonverbal communication isn’t just about being polite, however.

Tapping into Nonverbal Cues to Improve Communication

Employees can leverage nonverbal communication to encourage greater participation, to come across as more friendly, or to show support for favorable propositions.

This is largely intuitive for most people when it comes to in-person meetings, but even the most well-meaning participants can feel a little lost when translating nonverbal communication to the virtual world.

Tips for Nonverbal Communication Impact in a Virtual World

Consider eye contact, for example. Many virtual meeting participants use multiple monitors, and their visual focus may not line up with the location of their camera, giving the impression they’re looking away.

“Eye contact particularly is positively associated with likeability, social presence and interpersonal attraction. Yet making eye-contact on a video call requires us to go against our natural instincts,” notes Joanna York in an article for BBC Worklife. “So, glossing over the importance of tacit communication in a remote environment can have ramifications—employees giving off signals of disengagement, say, or lacking the appearance of professionalism with a certain video-call background.”

Nonverbal communication can create some unintended negative consequences, but it can be leveraged for positive results, as well.

“Simple non-verbal gestures like leaning in instead of slouching back, or visibly smiling when someone makes a joke during an online meeting, can help show engagement and foster connections,” says York. “Gestures such as turning the camera on can also be a question of politeness.”

Nonverbal communication is often overlooked even in in-person settings. While teleconferencing technology has come a long way in simulating in-person communication, it isn’t a perfect replacement, meaning it’s all the more important to ensure one’s facial expressions, body language, and other nonverbal cues are sending the right messages.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.