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The Impact of Remote Work on Reading Body Language

Analysis  |  By HR Daily Advisor  
   July 19, 2021

Since millions of Americans have shifted to a remote work setting, it's more important than ever to be conscious of how communication is received. 

This article was first published July 19, 2021, by HR Daily Advisor, a sibling publication to HealthLeaders.

Many people are fully aware of how their body language can communicate their feelings and emotions to the outside world, whether intentionally or not. For instance, crossed arms might signal defensiveness or hostility, consistent eye contact can relay a sense of confidence, leaning forward can suggest engagement and interest.

But with the widespread shift to remote work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans have shifted to remote work, and for many that remote work is likely to remain a feature of employment for the foreseeable future, even as the pandemic subsides. This means, among other things, that common visual cues around body language are more difficult to pick up in the new remote world. Sure, there is widespread use of video conferencing tools, but these don’t fully mimic the nuances of in-person body language.

Understanding Digital Body Language

“So, what exactly IS digital body language? Is it how you hold yourself on video calls? The emojis you use in group chats? How do you announce yourself on conference calls?” asks Shama Hyder in an article for Inc. Hyder suggests that a number of relevant cues can be picked up through various aspects of digital communications in a manner similar to how body language is read.

“These components, along with all the other numerous little details of how we communicate--whether on the phone, via a messaging app like Slack, on video chat, or through email--are what create our digital body language,” he says. The ability to read that language is critical, he says, for creating a positive work environment in remote and hybrid settings.

Something as simple as including a smiling emoji on an email or text can help set a friendly, disarming tone with colleagues and subordinates and change an email requesting a status update of a project from something that could be taken as demanding and impatient to a casual, friendly check-in.

Honing Your Digital Language Interpretation

The fact that millions of Americans have shifted to a remote work setting means that it’s more important than ever to be conscious of how communication is received. While working in-person in an office allowed coworkers to rely on body language to communicate more effectively, that becomes more challenging in a remote setting.

Nevertheless, digital body language can help bridge the gap as long as employees understand how to leverage it. It’s another form of communication that companies should be alert to as they help train their employees for success in the new world of work.

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