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Hand Signals Can Help To Reduce Fatigue In Video Conferencing

by Coffee Table Science
According to a new study, using simple hand signals such as raising a hand or a thumbs up can help overcome mental health issues related to video conferencing and increase social interaction. 

Image Credits: Pixabay

Online meetings became popular in the pandemic as people started working from home. While video call platforms have many advantages, they can also lead to a feeling of social exclusion, exhaustion and psychological problems.

To help overcome these issues, researchers at the University of Exeter, UK and the University College London (UCL), UK, have found a technique called Video Meeting Signals (VMS) that can be used during online meetings. These signals include waving a hand to take a turn to speak, raising a hand to show empathy and thumbs up, which shows agreement. 

“Gestures are a very human way to communicate that predates the spoken word, yet have become far less used by people in video communication. Now, our study indicates how hand signals aid communication in a digital world, and have psychological benefits. This research underlines that there’s something about the use of gestures specifically appears to help online interactions and help people connect and engage with each other. This can improve team performance, make meetings more inclusive and help with psychological wellbeing,” said Paul Hills, a UCL Researcher.

The research team conducted a randomised control trial with more than 100 students and trained one group to use the VMS technique. They found that people who used hand gestures felt more interacted with each other during the visual meetings.

A second larger study, including 137 participants showed similar results. In the research, the participants were made to learn to use emojis and responsive buttons instead of the VMS technique. But the researchers found that using them did not result in the same experience. These responsive buttons and emoji made users’ experience worse in some cases.

Image Credits: UCL

“Because you can’t make eye contact or pick up on subtle nods, gestures and murmurs of agreement or dissent in video conferences, it can be hard to know if people are engaged with what you’re saying,” explained Daniel Richardson, a UCL Professor. “There have been attempts to use more technology to improve video conferencing, such as emojis and response buttons, but we found strong evidence that encouraging people to use more natural hand gestures had a much better effect on their experience.” 

Inspired by the hand signals used by the lifeguards and other communication gestures used in workplaces and sports, Paul Hills designed the hand signs used in the study. Through his company Konektis, he has introduced the hand signal system in various organisations.

“The pandemic led to organisations and their employees redefining how, and more importantly where, they worked. Remote and hybrid work have huge potentials for making the workplace healthier, more inclusive and environmentally sustainable, but we need new ways of working to make this a success stories. Our study shows that using hand signals during video conferencing is one way to do so. We are just at the beginning of exploring how collaborating and working together could look like in the near future,” said Matt Gobel, Lecturer at the University of Exeter. 

The detailed study has been published in the journal PLoS ONE.

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