Sustaining Human Connection in a Virtual World with Technology | CON121
So hello. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, depending on where you are at today, it is so lovely, to have you here with all of us, to really dig in and think about, what are the experiences. That people are having as many of us are working from home or. Going to school, in a remote environment. And increasingly, how will that change. As we look at hybrid, environments. So, uh as the accessibility. Evangelist. My name is megan lawrence, and i have learned several, things, um, about. Working from home and really building. A culture of inclusion. Uh, as we're doing this real time. And the first one is that, community. Is more important than ever, we all want to belong to something bigger than ourselves. And so our friends, our family, our religious, communities, but certainly our work communities, have become incredibly, important. In the way that we stay, connected. And being connected. Uh includes, technology. In a way that really, is different than maybe what we've seen in the past. While i would have said i spent a lot of times on teams, before. The pandemic. Now i, really, spend, a lot of time on teams. Whether that's, meeting. Chatting. Or even sharing, fun, stories, and pictures. And so we recognize. That our technology. Empowers. The way that we communicate. And we want to make sure that we're providing, multiple, ways for people to express, who they are, build relationships. With colleagues. And certainly, maintain, those relationships. That are so important, for. Um, for collaboration. And productivity. Now i am, really excited. By the panel that we have here today. So i have with me. Um. Leah katz hernandez, who is uh the communications. Director. Working, in the office, of the ceo. We're also, joined. By mike bohan. The senior director, of the microsoft. Human, factors, lab get ready to nerd out is all i have to say, and last but definitely, not least is alexa, laycock, who's the creative, director, at roots and rights which is part of our disability, rights washington. That advocacy, group that represents, all people with disabilities. Here in our state connected, with a larger, organization. Supporting, people, with disabilities. So i want to come back, to that theme. Of connection. Right. How are we creating, and maintaining. Those relationships. With our colleagues, that really are at the core of how we build teams, and honestly, collaborate. With one another. And i want to turn to you first leah and hear a little bit of, okay, we've been working for home for six. Months. What are some of the lessons, that you have learned, about, relationships. How you maintain, them. And how, technology. Might play a role in. That. Well first i want to say thank you so much, it is really a pleasure to be here with all of you wonderful. Fellow panelists. Thank you for that. So, we'll just get right into it, i think it's interesting.
Because Working from home has certainly, its pros, and its cons. Among the pros, are i get to wear stretchy, pants, every day. And among the cons, are. Well, you know we're having to figure out a new way of working. And navigating, the workplace. And in my experience, as a deaf person. It has been a profound, impact, on me. In terms of that transition. When i started off for working remote. I was doing some remote work already. But this was a different experience. Working remotely, and having that experience of being able to go into the office was different, than transitioning, to being 100. From home, that's a very different experience. And so i've learned some things along the way in the process of that. And the number one thing that i've learned, really. Is. As the research, shows. People, who, already, had connections, in the workplace. And transition, to work from home. Those who had relationships. Established, which is interesting, to me. Have a better time with the transition, and that really highlights, the importance, of having those relationships. At work in terms of being productive, and successful, at work, in my personal, experience. I've been influenced by a couple of things here, one of them is of course that i am deaf, and being deaf in some ways. Is. A, class of i don't know a. Seniority, type of disability. I mean i can't hear anything, i mean basically. Um you know i am sort of missing, the scene in that way. And then on another level. Foundational. To a disability. Is communication. Access. Now my mother, who is a social worker. And worked for many many years with deaf and hard of hearing clients. Would always say. That deaf, is one of the most dis, misunderstood. Disabilities. I'd like to add on to that and say that disability. Is very misunderstood. In general. Now disability. In and of itself. Has a lot to do with communication. Which of course includes, a lot of potential, for misunderstanding. And a lot of required, effort in clearing up those misunderstandings. So when working in the workplace, we have to work dually, hard to navigate. What i would call a hearing mainstream, environment. Of figuring out how to communicate, with co-workers. How to build relationships. With other people. And a lot of that pressure and a lot of that challenge, already, existed. Even though. There are good accommodations. Available we've got qualified, interpreters, we've got access to things that's great. But now that we've transitioned to working from home we have an additional challenge here. Because that web, of social, networking, with our professionals, in the workplace, has changed. And in the work from home environment, we're having to navigate, different ways of connecting, and communicating, with people around us. So that's what i've learned really is that it requires, a lot of effort. To connect, and communicate, with my colleagues, and to be honest with all of you my experience. Has been. So. I have learned that it is so valuable, to keep that connection, of video on, with my co-workers, it's important that i can see people so that i can communicate, with people i want to see your eyes i want to see your eyebrows i want to see your mouth i want to see your facial expressions. Even though i don't use, i don't use lip reading as a means of communication, i use sign language, what you say on your face is important to me, how you move your body language how you move your face is important to me. So that is very helpful in terms of building relationships. And in in terms of being successful, at work. You know leah thank you so much for that commentary, um as a person who lives with a mental health condition, i feel really similarly. The camera, is really important, to give me those cues, that people are paying attention. That they, are understanding. The sentiment, of what i'm talking about. And so i think again, understanding. Communication. And styles. And being, open to the question, of is this working. Is camera on camera off don't ever be afraid to ask questions. Um because we're all learning, and really, building, this work from home culture, of inclusion, like, on the spot right now, and so i really want to turn to mike and say you know. We heard from leah that we do see some really interesting, research, emerging, on this topic, what are you guys seeing at the human factors lab. Sure, um thanks leah, um we. Actually. What leah's speaking of is actually so true when we've we, have been studying people's brains actually, as they've been, working remotely. And in different ways and and the relationship, part super important as leah said, it's really interesting what we found is that when people.
Have Established, work relationships. With folks already, and then they go into. The remote. Work experience. While there are now, technological. Layers in between, people. They don't hit people as hard, as if they had not developed those relationships. Before so in other words, for folks that have to, have, only, developed, working relationships. Remotely, and haven't had a chance to to develop those, in person. When we go when they go back to working. With a person what we found is that their brain actually has to work really hard. And at first that surprises, but we, begin to you know to realize, that, what happens, is. When you're only working remotely. It's already more effortful, on your brain because. The the idea of having to communicate. Through a flat, small screen, instead of the real 3d world that we. Live in and our brains have evolved to to live in. That's more work already. And so we tend to be working, around those issues, and we don't, get to develop that level of communication. And trust that you do in, in real life and so. Um, you know. You know one of the potential things is that you know for folks that have, sort of come on board, for example, during, you know covid. 19, period right now where they've only been able to create establish, relationships. Remotely. You know it may be more challenging for folks to to establish, them, in person once they get back and it kind of makes sense, it's like if you only met like if you've met somebody, online and that's the only way you know him and then, you decide to meet in person then all of a sudden it's kind of stressful right it's a stressful, experience. He developed, all these, preconceived. Ideas about this person that may or may not be true, and. And interaction, styles and things like that so, that's one thing and i think it's really interesting we don't know what the long-term, effects are, i think, leah's points really good which is we need to work to, establish those relationships. And it may mean working a little bit harder. Um and so we don't know at this stage you know if if you've been away for a really long time like can you establish. The levels of um relationship, you can in person but. Yeah so interesting. So this is a real phenomenon, that's backed up by neuroscience. That shows, that creating, and maintaining, relationships. Is not only really important for the way that we perform at work, um but it's a little more effortful. Um and so you know it always makes me think that you know taking that extra step. This is an opportunity. Where technology. Has an incredible, role to play so, you know just uh, having an open chat where you have memes like that is what leah and i talked about this earlier. In the mental health community, we often see people say. I'm experiencing. Symptoms. For the first time and i don't know how, to express myself, and so means. And, um. Emojis, and different ways of communicating. Are bringing, us together. And creating, those bonds, even if we haven't had the opportunity, to meet in person. Or if we, uh, you know. Have missed being with our colleagues for quite a while. Um but i have to say. That working remotely. Can be really, powerful, for people. Um, and that this is something that the disability. Community. Has, asked for uh for a very very long time, so alexa, how has, the environment. Changed, since kovitz come, about. Yeah thanks megan, um. So yeah i work for rooted in rights which is the media advocacy, team of disability, rights washington. And when. Offices, started, moving. Um, to remote work, there was a lot of outrage, in the disability, community, because we had been advocating. For work from home as an accommodation. For years, and been told that it just wasn't possible. The technology, was not available, and it just couldn't be done and then in a matter of weeks. Everyone, was working remotely. And, with rootedinrights. We produce videos and we also have a blog. And we, actually were able to connect with a lot of the community, and publish their, their thought pieces and their blog pieces. That really summarized. How they felt in this moment, that it felt really awful. That. Work from home was only now an opportunity, that non-disabled, people, absolutely, needed it and so i think it really highlighted, the fact that the disability, community.
Often Has solutions. To problems. Um and often already. Is, thinking, through, how to provide accommodations. And, how to. Adapt, to situations. And we just want to be included in the conversations, more we want to be included in the conversations, about technology, because we have great ideas and we have a wealth, of people who are used to. Figuring out, solutions. To connection, to community. And have been doing it online for a while, so, this, moment, while obviously. It is very stressful, for all of us, has also been an opportunity. For the disability, community to say hey we actually have some solutions. And we do think technology, can help us continue to connect. Yes. I you know it to me this really goes back to nothing about us without us right i i want to thank you for, elevating, the voice of people with disabilities. Their lived experience, and let's be honest, their creativity. Out of the box thinking. Absolutely. Innovation. Um so to me, having people with disabilities. In the workplace. Is the key to driving. Innovation. Over, time. Um but you do have to be thoughtful about how you bring, that voice into the company. Um, both through inclusive, hiring, and programmatically. So one thing that we do here is we have the accessibility. User, research, collective. The aurc. Which is 900, people with disabilities. That we pay 50, an hour to give us feedback, so everything, from, is this a good idea, to can you use this product, in your daily life. Um because, we recognize. That the disability. Voice is what's really going to set us apart. And make sure that we're, shipping, products, that are accessible. And inclusive. And i think that as we, uh you know have so many it managers, on on the line we recognize. You guys are the lifeblood. Of the company, that really delivers. That accessible. And inclusive, technology. To make it possible, for people with disabilities. To do their job, and to do it well, and to do it whether it's in person, or if it's remote. Because we want to give choice, and if we can empower, choice through technology. That's when things start to get pretty exciting. But i want to dive into some tech tips, because we all have tips for like how we've managed. Our own environments. Our ability, to be connected, and then also, disconnect. Um because we do have to disconnect, to recharge. As well, okay so i'm gonna start with you what are your tips for the audience. Sure, well first, i will say that really. Fundamental. To deaf people and deaf culture, is. Because, there are so many experience, we have of being ignored. Of really being. Left out and being told oh i'll tell you later, or oh what we said wasn't a really big deal it's not worth telling you, which means we're often the last to know we don't have access to a lot of things captions, communication, access. And so we have, really a, well, of. Anxiety. And stress that we've developed, because we just don't know what's going on. Which means that all of that. Collective. Experience, within the deaf community. Turns into value. Into what deaf people value which is clear communication. Clear communication, is so absolutely, vital to deaf people's experience, and that's what i'd like to bring with you today. Is. The better that you understand, the importance of over communication. Versus under communication. Is so important, because as humans, evolve. Over the many many years that we have. We have complex. Social, communication. Systems, in our society, that really depend, on 3d, communication. In meaningful, in-person, communication. And now all of a sudden we're thrust into a 2d environment. And so we need to go beyond that 2d experience, to make sure, that messages, and communication, are coming through clearly, so some tips that i have for you.
Build On social connections. Through. Fun channels, but what i mean by that is. The virtual version of the water cooler, for example. Teams, you in teams you can create a fun channel where you can post memes cute dog pictures, or things that you see along your walk. Uh i also would like to say. Give more feedback. So if a meeting is over, offer an opportunity, to check in with each other. Ask how it went, check in with email, follow up with people. Lean in deeper, to that feedback, loop. And thirdly i will say. Be open, be candid. I know that we're all going through a very stressful situation. Reach out. But. I know that we often have to keep things on the business conversation. And keep it professional, but also keep it personal, as well. Have a fun lunch date with your colleagues. You know, talk about things you know how we're handling, how are you sleeping, these are things that are really going to be helpful in building connections, with each other, that will then go a long way in building a better workplace, and building a more productive work environment. Yeah i love bring, bring fun. Bring fun into the workplace, right. That's such a fundamentally, important, concept, for all of us, to keep, exactly. In in our minds and one of the things i've noticed lately is teams after a meeting will prompt me which says was this meeting inclusive, did this meeting meet your business, goals, and so i like that forward, thinking, as, we begin. At microsoft, to continue, to understand. What does a really good work from home environment, look like, um and that inclusion, is key, it's key. To the way that we communicate. That we stay connected. And we feel good. About, those relationships. Um, so i'm going to turn it over to you alexa and say what are some of your technology. Tips, how are you creating your work from home environment. Yeah thanks megan, um we've, created a couple resources. For accessible, meetings, but we are a team. Of we're all disabled, on our team. At rooted in rights and people have different disabilities. And so they have different needs, and different ways that they like to communicate. And so we've really strategized. By talking with each other, about you know who really likes video. Who needs an audio, only. Option, who prefers to just type in the chat box. Um. For. Our blind co-workers, it's really important that we say our name before we start speaking, so that they know who's talking. Um. Obviously we know each other pretty well so we're used to the sound of each other's voices but in bigger meetings, it can get really overwhelming. If a bunch of people are talking, and you don't know who's saying what when. So that's a policy we've instituted, in our, larger organization. To like say your name when we're in a big all-staff, meeting, before you speak so we know who's talking, and, they can connect.
You Know with who's saying what. Um. And yeah we've really we've really tried to balance. The, the, camera meetings, with the text, meetings. With, our slack channels. Um. With our sort of video meetings so that we're not, on a video call all day. Um but also so that we are interfacing. For part of the day. Yeah it's amazing. Um. Being on video, all day, is, oddly stressful, like i find myself looking at my own little picture, like a little bit too often. Which creates this sort of funny, stressful, moment for, for me. Um. But uh you know turning it back to you mike, what what are you sort of seeing come out of the lab or maybe even personally. What do you do and how do you use technology. Well i'll tell you you know it's interesting because, the one of the things that makes us human is that we're social beings, and, we, our brains have evolved to really detect, subtle. Facial expression, changes. Gestures, from people and and that really helps us in in our communication, and so. We desire, to have that video, on because that gives us more information. In our communication. And, the thing about it is, um. What, we've found from studying people's brain wave patterns is that. The. Staring, at the screen, actually. Adds another layer of effort for your brain and this is what people have been referring to as meeting fatigue, and so on and what we've we've identified. Is that it's specifically, down to having to concentrate, a lot harder. And, sustained. Concentration. Is the key. We're not used to in real me when we talk in real life and we're in meetings in real life we're not used to staring, at everybody. Constantly, right like we sit here focused and we're staring, at the screen. And that's not natural. And. We have to, you know we have all this stuff going on we have grids, we have different backgrounds. And our brain has to even behind the scenes under our conscious awareness, it has to process, all that information, and filter it all out and figure out what are the things i need to concentrate, on what are the things that are most important. And, those things, can make you fatigued, over time. So. How do we get around that challenge, well, as we, create.
Technological. Improvements, we'll we'll break through that and one of them is, the together, mode in teams. That for sure, is one way to, reduce, the, the, effort, put on your brain, during. Meetings and the reason is, it unifies, the background. It takes out all the extra visual noise. It puts everybody in the same space. And it also gives you an indication, where people are looking that's another big one like eye contact, and understanding, where and who people are looking at is really part, important part of communication. And that's kind of lost in the standard grid mode of these remote meeting, applications, and so, teams. Helps with that. And then the other one is making sure you're giving yourself, breaks, because, you know your brain can sustain, that high level of concentration, for only so long typically about 30 minutes or so before it's it starts to lose the ability to maintain that so, giving yourself freaking breaks. And especially. If you're you know if, if you're. In a job where you have to be on back back-to-back. Meetings. Two hours we see a big shift in after two hours of work where your brain starts, patterns, start to look, quite different, and that, pattern of, of brain. Waves, kind of is maintained. Then and builds up throughout the rest of the day if you're staying on there all day, and this leads to the people feeling sort of. Frazzled, at the end of the day exhausted. Super tight so, breaks are really important. Um. And, you know try to use it together mode in teams that really helps. But yeah i bet i mean, it's one of those things like, it's really interesting one of the things that we haven't made, kind of published. Publicly, yet is that we we've also looked at what happens when you don't have your video on. And what we find is that, people, also have high degree of concentration, but it tends to wax and wane, with the conversation. So. If if the discussions, about something that you're maybe not, pertinent to you at that very moment.
You Tend to sort of. Not focus your attention on its heart so your attention, goes up and down a lot more and so that's a little bit less fatiguing. Than to have sustained, staring, at everybody, on screen all the time. So. Oh thank you, thank you so much. Okay get together mode i love it it's actually really very fun as well kind of coming back to bringing fun into the workplace. I'm going to challenge everybody on the line to to check out together, because it it will give you a giggle and make you feel, like you are in the room with people. Um, you know so for me uh as a person, um you know with a mental health condition. I i very similarly, i, block. Times on my calendar, so i will go in and literally, have three, to five 15, minute breaks throughout the day, to simply stand up stretch, get water, pet my dog. Um, and and make sure that i'm getting just that little break. Um but i also want to remind, people that we have to disconnect. To recharge. Um, so i use my analytics, as a way to really understand. Uh my behavior, and so within. My analytics, you get a purple square for when you successfully, do not go back online. Uh. After hours, and you can set your own hours. And so i've used that as a way to keep myself honest. Um it is now a way that my husband helps me keep myself, honest which is like so did you get the purple square today. Um, so that i can actually be present when i am home and not constantly, checking, my device. And in fact now let's become a conversation, with my manager, well there they will also ping me and say, get a purple square which means. You're doing a great job get the downtime, that you need. Um so i do think it is uh, you know upon all of us to think about creating, those boundaries. Right. Be, on. Be connected. Take the breaks you need and then disconnect, at the end of the evening. To get the self-care. That everybody. Is really looking for. As we know that work days have and work weeks have elongated. As we've worked from home. So i want to turn it to the q a and see if there are any questions. Um coming from the. Audience. Sure, i have a few here, um. I have one that asks. Uh in terms of hard of hearing people, who do not sign how has uh teams been able to assist. Yeah leah do you want to take that one. Sure. For people who don't use sign language. But who do use teams to communicate. One of my favorite things in that case would be the chat, channel, it's just the best, i mean, i'm old enough to be from an era when we used instant messenger.
All, The time i mean i am aimed specifically. And. When that fell out of fashion. It was sad. I missed it because. I wanted a way to talk to people without being stressed, out and, wondering if people were understanding, me and having to work hard to engage in a conversation. Instant messenger, chat was a perfect middle ground for that and i would say. It's amazing, because it's accessible, to people even with visual disabilities, as well, so you can chat with a person, who has a visual disability. Being deaf. And being in a completely, different disability. Category, really opposite, ends of a spectrum. Yet you can communicate, whereas when you were in person, you have to work harder to connect with each other whereas now with chat, it's really effortless, in that way. And i realize, now that's one of the reasons that i really like teams. Because, teams. Is really a beast, when it comes to over communication. You know we have chat. We have. Multiple, channels, we've got multiple, ways we got video, calls. We've got so many ways to connect with people, so i would say, teams is really valuable, in terms of accessibility. Yeah, i agree with you and i have to also, uh you know, talk about, uh, live captions. So now, we've got live captions. Uh embedded within two teams, yep you can turn it on, individually. Which is something i also, like, is, you know disclosing, your disability. Is a very personal, choice and so there are some people who may be hard of hearing who have not said anything to colleagues. Um and maybe they're not ready, and so being able to turn, on that kind of accessible, technology. Creates, an environment. And a culture, in which we, are see disability, as a strength we give different ways of communicating. And we allow people the personal, room. Um, to to do that, uh and also, uh the one thing i always say is that we also have live caption and powerpoint. So, make sure, the next time you give a presentation. You've got that turned on, because what we know is that people, just literally, remember. More, of what you say. When they can follow along, with different, modalities. So, maybe hearing your voice seeing your facial expressions, and and following, along.
Um, And so that's the beauty of inclusive, design. Fantastic. Next question. Sure. Um. How can those, with. Hearing disabilities. Be better integrated, into conference calls where videos, aren't used. Well. This is another question for you. You've sparked the imagination. Of our listeners, and. Viewers. Sure. So that one, it's a good question, because. I did forget to mention this in the beginning, um in the earlier comments, is that. Hearing people or people without a disability. Have a large role to play in creating an accessible, environment. So again i will say lean in. Really lean in. By engaging. By checking in with people. If it happens that you have a person with disabilities. On your team. Check in, don't hold back don't withdraw, check in engage. Connect. Make the effort. Work with them talk with them of course over. The chat channel. So, just, you know my comment here really is to lean into teams, into your team. And the important thing here, is you know be a good team member. Yeah, we've got a lot of shaking heads on on this end of the line which is yes. Lean in ask questions. Bring, your empathetic. Uh curiosity. To the table. I think we have time for one more question if we can give it a short answer, no yes, please. Yeah i'd love to actually address i saw some questions about like engaging, with the autism community, and folks who are uh you know. Not neurotypical. In terms of meetings. Um which is not my disability. But we've gotten a lot of really great feedback, from. Some folks. In the autism community, that for them it really as leah said it's really about that checking in, because for some folks eye contact, is not a thing, and for some folks having the camera on does not work for them or they need to be able to get up or move around, and so that check-in, where you can really engage with people. And say hey it's okay to do what you need to do we're going to trust, that you know what works best for you, i think that level of, trust that people are doing. What works best for them, is something, that, can be overlooked, and i would really just encourage folks to as leah said connect, ask, just ask what works best for people. So it's incredibly, hard to believe that we've already come to the end of our session i i truly believe we could do another 30 minutes of great q a. Um, so i want to thank everybody, for taking the time. To think about disability, inclusion. Accessibility. And how technology, plays a role. And do make sure that you are asking questions, being curious, and making sure that you're getting the time you need for your own self-care. So with that, have a great rest of your conference, and we look forward to hearing from you. Soon.