Posted: 09 Oct. 2020 5 min. read

Put your cape back on: Learn to hunch in a virtual setting

Virtual work shackling your Business Chemistry superpowers like kryptonite? Learn how to recognize the four types in a virtual world. And put your cape back on.

Working from home in a virtual environment can be tough. Of course it can. We may have to focus harder on conversations to absorb information, and the siren song of distraction can be strong and sometimes overwhelming when little human, and non-human interruptions hit unexpectedly. To add insult to injury, virtual work can act like empathy kryptonite. People communicate even when they aren’t talking, but in a virtual setting our brains are likely searching for non-verbal cues that are now more difficult to pick up on, like body language and facial expressions.

Some of us are natural superheroes – last week I witnessed my colleague Jodi rescue her four-year-old from a bad fall and console the child, all while leading an important project call, never breaking a sweat. I can’t teach you how to be like Jodi, but I can help you restore some of your own empathy superpowers by sharing hints for how to recognize which of the four Business Chemistry types you’re dealing with in a virtual environment.

Top 10 hints you might be dealing with a PIONEER: If they…

  1. Change their virtual backgrounds often, sometimes more than once in a single meeting.
  2. Go off mute. Pioneers generate energy and thrive on big group conversations.
  3. Advocate for the use of new technology. All the new options in the virtual workplace can make Pioneers feel like kids in a candy store, and they may become frustrated by having to wait for ‘authorization’ to use.
  4. Try new things that ‘just may work’ in the virtual environment. Pioneers tend to be OK with mistakes and will go back to the drawing board if their idea fails. Speaking of drawing boards, they really miss their whiteboards and markers.
  5. Use creativity to keep the engagement level up during a virtual meeting.
  6. Laugh a lot. Even in the face of adversity and crushing new rules.
  7. Host meetings that are not business as usual. Pioneers often like to surprise and delight and may bring whimsical elements to meetings in the form of music, color, backgrounds, slides and jokes.
  8. Rush to fill empty silence on a virtual call.
  9. Go off topic. Pioneers are non-linear thinkers who may go all over the place on a given subject.
  10. Go rogue. There are a lot of new rules, new tools, new constraints and ways to become ‘uncompliant’ in the virtual workplace. Pioneers may try to circumvent or just plain ignore the regulations.

Top 10 hints you might be dealing with a GUARDIAN: If they…

  1. Are on time to the call, or even early.
  2. Are extra productive right now. Working virtually can give Guardians the heads down time they need to concentrate on the tasks at hand.
  3. Disappear into solitude. Because Guardians want time to concentrate, they’ll likely schedule meetings only when absolutely necessary.
  4. Ask for instructions, maybe more than once. Guardians know things can go wrong when working virtually and communications are key – they do not want to be the ones to ‘screw it up’!
  5. Stop listening if the content being presented hasn’t been properly reviewed. Maintaining focus in a virtual workplace can be incredibly hard; especially when there are distracting typos and misspellings.
  6. Rarely contribute to chats during a virtual call. By the time a Guardian has processed and planned what they want to say in the chat, the conversation has often passed. Besides that, chats are messy–so many conversations!
  7. Don’t have their video on. Guardians are often private people and video can make them feel exposed.
  8. Campaign for streamlined communications. Multiple channels of communication can over-stimulate and streamlining will help Guardians dig in and get their work done.
  9. Are suddenly incredibly popular, in demand for projects, and pointed to when there are questions. Virtual work requires more of everything Guardians do well, like creating structure–even agendas are having their day in the sun.
  10. Provide a clear agenda when they plan a meeting. You’re welcome. See point nine.

Top 10 hints you might be dealing with a DRIVER: If they…

  1. Keep to the agenda during a meeting. Drivers want to use their time wisely.
  2. Use communication methods other than video conference. Phones still work.
  3. Are brief. As you should be. Drivers may be secretly loving that co-workers can no longer ‘drop by’ their desk to chat.
  4. Don’t schedule many calls. Drivers usually prefer to keep meetings limited (i.e. they likely won’t schedule a call to just ‘check in’).
  5. Find you when they need you. Drivers are likely to reach out directly, often with a ‘quick ping’ when they need information.
  6. Expect you to be fully engaged in a conversation if they are. Virtual meetings with video help Drivers see who is participating. They want to make sure everyone is keeping up with their quick pace and bias to action.
  7. Leave the meeting on time, whether the meeting is over or not.
  8. Skip the small talk. If you are engaging in it, they might multi-task until you’re done.
  9. Multi-task during meetings. See point eight.
  10. Bow out of ‘just for fun’ meetings. I’m looking at you, virtual happy hour.

Top 10 hints You might be dealing with an INTEGRATOR: If they…

  1. Take time to catch up on a personal level before getting down to business.
  2. Are very active in the chat box. This option for side conversations allows Integrators to get involved without interrupting, and they likely appreciate others doing the same.
  3. Don’t interrupt. That’s rude. See point two.
  4. Listen and take turns. Integrators prefer a civilized manner of interacting during virtual calls, meaning aggression isn’t tolerated, ideas aren’t shut down, and the conversation isn’t dominated by one or a few.
  5. Schedule lots of video calls. Integrators get screen fatigue too, but they love to collaborate and will feel more connected when they have a chance to see your smiling face.
  6. Apologize profusely if they just can’t take another video call. They kept up the good fight.
  7. Initiate more and new opportunities to connect. Integrators miss not having coworkers to spend time with and may initiate virtual happy hours and time to just check in.
  8. Exclaim over your pets. And your kids. And your home. And well, everything about your life on video calls. The move to virtual has opened an alternative way to see the ‘human’ side of coworkers that Integrators love.
  9. Encourage everyone to use wisely any time saved by working from home. Integrators get the importance of wellbeing and likely use their own time to prioritize the other important people and passions in their lives.
  10. Appreciate you turning on your video. (They might even say so.) Integrators especially may be at a loss when they can’t ‘read the room’ to see how you are feeling.

Hopefully these hints have helped you grow stronger in your ability to recognize the four types in a virtual environment. And Like Jor El told Superman in Man of Steel, “the only way to know how strong (you’ve become), is to keep testing your limits.” Look for the hints that are recognizable in the virtual workplace and practice empathy for better working relationships. It’s different. It’s hard. It takes work. And it’s worth it.

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Jessica Tankersley

Jessica Tankersley


Jessica is a consummate Pioneer who loves change, and works in the Deloitte Greenhouse® Experience where she enjoys helping clients with a variety of challenges with no easy answers. She has been with Deloitte for more than 5 years pursuing her passion—a better workplace for all. She has a degree in economics and finance from the University of Texas and an MBA from Southern Methodist University. She lives with her family in Virginia, but Texas will always be home.