Body Language: Does It Matter To A Remote Manager?

virtual body language

Body language plays a significant role in how we communicate with one another. In fact, according to a study done by UCLA, body language and facial expressions make up 93% of our communication tactics. It’s easy to see why it’s important for professionals, especially those in a management position, to be aware of what message they’re sending physically, but does the same principle apply to your remote employees? Absolutely! Virtual body language is gaining more relevancy as more and more teams are shifting towards a remote model. 

As a remote manager, most of your communication will probably be done through online chatting resources, such as Trello, Slack, and email. However, on occasion, you will have face-to-face video chats, and that’s where your body language will come into play. Although your remote worker will only see you from the torso up, what your upper body is saying will greatly impact that person. Your facial expressions only give off major cues, so much so that Psychologists refer to the movements around your eyes and mouth as “micro-expressions.”

So how do you know if you’re sending the right message? Here are a few tips that will help you improve your virtual body language. 

What is Body Language and Why Is It Important in Virtual Meetings? 

Body language refers to the nonverbal communication in which physical behaviors are used to express information. This behavior includes facial expressions, body posture, gestures, eye movement, and use of the space. Virtual body language, on the other hand, translates into how you behave during video calls. Your posture, the tone of your voice, how you use your hands.

When you were in an on-site meeting, you could tell when somebody disagreed, by the way they breathe, if they roll their eyes, or how their posture in general is. But how to read body language on Zoom? It’s not the same but believe it or not small details make a big difference in the remote environment. When you don’t take care of these small but significant aspects, you might send the wrong message and even unmotivate your team. Communication is the heart and soul of a remote team, so as a manager, one of your responsibilities is ensuring you do it right.

Additionally, it’s important to highlight that virtual body language goes beyond a Zoom meeting. Have you ever got a cold email response from a colleague? You pour your heart explaining how a process worked or explained your idea to them, and you got a “K” message that makes you rethink your entire existence. Body language in the virtual workplace includes all different types of communication.

Impact of Body Language in a Remote Environment  

Award-winning Journalist Minna Rhee noted that “A person’s nonverbal communication, made up of posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements, are almost entirely subconscious and can speak a lot louder than what comes out of one’s mouth.” So even if you’re speaking positive words but giving off negative cues, your actions, in this case, physical, will always speak louder than words.

If you’re wondering how to read body language on Zoom, for example, the key is to be aware. You can tell when everyone is paying attention to you or if they are reading an email or doing something else at the meeting. Being aware of others and their behavior will also make you conscious of yourself. When others talk during meetings, do you listen to them? or are you figuring out ways to reschedule a doctor’s appointment? Employees imitate what their leader does, so they will feel motivated to pay attention and participate in meetings if you set the right example. 

People tend to think that working remotely equals disconnection. However, thanks to technology, remote teams can feel more connected than ever. This is why having the camera on is important, to see each other’s faces and make them feel as if you were all in the same place. However, cameras are the first step; the next is implementing the right virtual body strategie that will help you to communicate better. 

Body Language Tips for Remote Managers

Looking for ways to improve your virtual body language? These are our top tips: 

1. Eye Movement 

Although you will not necessarily be speaking to each other in the same room, it’s important for managers to maintain good eye contact with your employees. A consistent stare down will result in discomfort and possibly creep out your employee so make sure it feels natural. A healthy level of eye contact will not only assure your remote worker of your attention, but it also gives off an air of security and trustworthiness.

2. Lips 

One of the biggest giveaways on how you’re feeling is your mouth. Whether pursed in anger, pressed together in resentment, or reaching up to the side of your face with a smile, it’s fairly easy to tell what you think. Remember to keep your mouth neutral and allow positive emotions to show. 

3. Shoulders 

Probably the biggest physical cue on your state of mind lies in the position of your shoulders. Some of you may recall back in the day when you were an angsty teenager and nobody understood you, so you walked around the house (or possibly brooded at the nearby Hot Topic) with your shoulders slouched. Whether or not you were aware of it, you were given a negative vibe. One that says you lack confidence or self-esteem. In fact, Forbes labels slouching as a sign of “laziness or arrogance.” When you’re speaking to a remote worker, as a remote manager, you want to give off confidence and energy. It’s a good idea to sit up straight with your torso faced towards the video call.    

4. Posture 

Similarly, to your shoulders, your posture is also a good indicator of your mood. To let your remote employee know that you’re interested in your body language, lean forward during the conversation to signal to them you’re engaged. Leaning back with your arms crossed can signal displeasure or annoyance. However, leaning back with your arms behind your head can mean you’re enjoying yourself. 

5. Hand Gesture 

Hand gestures can be a great way to communicate. In fact, with the absence of actually being in the room with your remote worker, using hand gestures can demonstrate your feelings even better during a video call. It’s also a great way to keep your remote worker’s attention. Positive gestures could include a thumbs up (a sign of encouragement) or the finger steeple (conveys thoughtfulness or confidence). Negative gestures would include palms forward in the stop gesture or pinching the bridge of your nose (frustration or annoyance).

6.  Work on Your Written Communication

The previous tips mainly were about improving your virtual body language in meetings, but it’s also relevant, as we mentioned at the beginning, that you keep in mind the way you text, email, or ‘slack’ your employees. 

Sometimes you think that you’ll be crystal clear by writing a short message when the effect is the contrary. Being clear in a remote environment is over communicating. When answering an employee or asking them to do something, make sure you are clear about what you need and what you expect. 

7. Emojis and Punctuation are Powerful Weapons

Who would’ve thought that exclamation points, emojis, question marks, periods would become so relevant in emails and texts? Just think about a simple text like this:

A: I need to talk to you.

B: I need to talk to you 😊

The difference is huge. In A text, your head might automatically imagine the worst: Am I getting fired? Did I do something wrong? While in B text, you might even think that they are good news, so you don’t tense up while reading it.

Maybe you just don’t care about how you write emails because words are words, but in reality, they can positively or negatively impact how your employees perceive your messages. 

Yes, Body Language Matters in a Remote Setting

Believe it or not, body language for remote managers really does matter. While we don’t expect you to be on cloud 9 each time you video chat with your digital worker, (if you are in need of conflict resolution tips we have the perfect article for you here), it is important to be aware of the message you’re sending. Both verbal and nonverbal.

So if you’re ready to go digital and take advantage of the enormous remote talent we have readily available at our steepled fingertips, get in touch with DistantJob today!

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Casey Shull

Casey Shull

Casey Shull is a freelance writer who works with DistantJob to research and synthesise the best remote work related content into practical, accurate and actionable guides and articles on how to improve remote leadership and better manage your teams.