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Working Virtually - A Survivor’s Guide – Part I

The world has changed; and at the time of writing it seems unlikely that it will be changing back any time soon. We now find ourselves working from our homes, our studies, our kitchens or spare rooms; previously private spaces that have now become our windows to the working world…… never before has our society had to make use of technology that allows us to meet and collaborate on such a scale. It’s not quite the matrix but it does at times feel like one constant zoom window and for the Business Analyst who by very nature of the role has to be both facilitative and collaborative it can prove challenging.

This article looks at some of the issues the BA faces in this world of ‘new normal’.

First, a qualification; whilst I have in some circles been described as a ‘thought leader’* I don’t claim to have all the answers regarding the post-Covid world; but what I have had is time to think about it…. Ahhhh… the joys of running one’s own company! 

So, let’s start by examining the old world against the new….. 

The ‘Old Normal’ The ‘New Normal’
In an office, in a room

Presence, words, visuals

Controlled environment

In a Zoom (etc), in a room, at home

Visuals, words, personality 

Active environment

On the left we have the old environment. You would probably interact with your audience in a room, even if it was just a room to make a call in. By being physically present you could use your presence and words to a greater extent than your visuals, although these were important. You were also likely to be in a secured environment; in other words the people in the room were very likely to be people employed by or at least admitted into the company you worked for,  so you didn’t need to be overly concerned with confidentiality of information. 

The ‘new normal’ is shown on the right. Now you are interacting through a window on a device, somewhere within your home. Your co-members of the meeting are doing the same, whether it be via a laptop, PC, tablet or smartphone. This means that your ‘presenting presence’ is much more biased towards visuals than words and your personality may not come across as strongly. Not only that, it’s likely that none of you are in a completely secure environment and the call could be interrupted by a network failure, a pet or child, or an Amazon delivery! You also do not necessarily know who else is in the room within earshot of the call so you must exercise caution and discretion.

So it seems that in the new normal world you can no longer rely on YOU….. you need to rely on YOP

Your Online Personality

In my opinion we now all can (if we want) create our own Online Personality, the characteristics of which are: 

Voice - your voice is your most potent tool in the virtual world. You can use it as an asset by considering your tone, rhythm, speed, volume and use of pauses.

Appearance - how you dress on a call will go a long way towards portraying your online personality

Rapport – just because you are online doesn’t preclude building rapport with your colleagues… you can still demonstrate rapport building emotions such as understanding, empathy and curiosity  

Setting – where you take your calls can help you build an online personality. You may even choose a location to fit the occasion if you have the luxury of reasonable access to several rooms!  

Props- you may want to consider the use of props to enhance your impact. A mock-up or model of your subject, a short video or other media offering can make sessions more interactive or human    

How you develop your on-line personality is up to you, it can be as different as you want it to be, within the confines of the environment you are working in. In my previous organisation one of my colleagues developed an online persona called ‘The Heretic’ who was always disguised but would crop up and challenge some of the perceived norms in a robust but professional way. By developing the personality, it allowed questions to be asked in an open and non-threatening manner within our community of practice but whether this would suit every culture and situation is open to question. You need to use your own judgement as to what is appropriate and remember I am not advocating ‘acting’ as a Business Analyst is more effective when operating in a genuine way. On a personal level I find virtual working allows me to initiate social interactions more as although I have trained myself to be an extrovert in terms of facilitating and presentation I am by nature a social introvert. So that is a benefit for me. 

Other benefits that may offset the innate reduction in social bandwidth that participants experience in online meetings could be listed as follows:

  • Meetings can now have a continental or global range, i.e. if the bandwidth and the time-zones are kind you can have participants from all over the planet**               
  • Reduced admin – you no longer have to book a room, or travel tickets or accommodation which must please corporate finance teams no end…..
  • You can start using technology to augment your meetings. This might not be limited to media you deploy in the meeting but also some of the features such as white boards, break-out rooms, the ability to record aspects/parts of meetings*** etc  

So it’s not all bad but in general I think the response to reduced interpersonal interaction plus increase in available tech is twofold 

  • To counter the interpersonal reduction you must work harder
  • To exploit the increase in tech you must work differently       

By working harder I mean that when you are acting as a facilitator you must do all the things that you normally would do non-verbally in a verbal style. 

  • If you are unsure of a fact, you must ask
  • If you are unsure whether someone’s understanding of a point is insufficient you must ask
  • If you can’t see, you must ask
  • If you can’t hear, you must ask
  • If you can’t tell, you must ask  

Not only that but you must interact with other attendees in an equally transparent way in order to assist them in their understanding. This means you may have to ask more questions such as:

“I’d normally be expecting to see people nodding at this point…. Are we all in agreement with this?”

“I’m not feeling a sense of clarity at the moment… is it just me?”

“Who else would like to understand this a bit more?”

“Why are we all so quiet about this?”

Note that these questions are all inclusive and three of them are open. This encourages conversation and debate. The first question is closed and therefore can be used to close down a particular subject. There are obviously many varieties of these questions and I strongly advise you to devise some that suit you.  

So there’s a few examples of working harder. In the second part of this article we will look at how you need to do things differently in the virtual world.       

*I prefer ‘idea-conduit’

** Lordy-lord that sounds so ‘Star Trek’! I could have written “all over your organisation” or “all around the world” but I’m glad I didn’t. Words make a huge difference when it comes to impact     

***although you may want to make this clear first and be conscious that you might well be recording images of people who may not want to be recorded        


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