Video conferencing from home is now part of daily life for many remote workers. What was once a home is now the office and employees are increasingly relying on video conferencing software such as Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom and many more.
In an article for The New York Times, writer Brian X. Chen describes this transition: “The boundaries between our personal and professional lives are beginning to erode and awkward situations have ensued.”
To make the most of video conferencing and avoid embarrassing moments, here are some dos and don’ts.
Set up your meeting space
“Clean up the area around you. Open up the camera on your laptop or switch on your external camera and see what’s visible in the background before the call, and check that you’re comfortable showing that on a video call, so put away your laundry and make sure whatever’s on your walls is work-appropriate,” writes Aliya Chaudhry in an article for The Verge. If your background is difficult to change, or if you don’t have time to tidy up, you could look at setting up a virtual background, which some conferencing programmes offer.
It’s not just your background that’s important. The person you’re calling should be looking at you, so make sure your camera is framing your face correctly. “Set up your device or camera so that it offers a clear, unobstructed view of you. Don’t sit too far from (or too close to) the camera. If you’re using a separate camera, place it near your screen, it’s best to put the camera at eye level, so that when you’re looking at the screen it appears as if you’re looking at the person you’re talking to,” Chaudhry recommends.
In a blog for video conferencing device company Owl Labs, Meredith Hart emphasises the importance of camera positioning. “When you’re on video, make sure you frame your camera in a way that feels natural and allows you to look at it … placing it too high leaves other participants staring down at you like a bad tv show. Putting a camera too low can lead to unflattering and awkward angles,” she writes.
Not everyone has the privilege of a private space at home out of which to work. If you don’t, and you need to make a call, Chaudhry advises using headphones to minimise background noise, and to let anyone in the house know before you make the call, to avoid interruptions.
Make sure your appearance is appropriate
Working from home may mean that you can relax your dress code from what you usually wear to work. However, when you’re making a video call, it’s important to make sure you’re appropriately dressed. A conference call with your boss while wearing pyjamas probably won’t make the best impression.
Hart writes: “You don't have to wear anything fancy but choose something that would be appropriate if the meeting were face-to-face, rather than virtual.” Chaudhry says that you don’t need to do anything “extra” such as “put on makeup if you don’t wear it normally, but it’s a good idea to present a reasonably good appearance”.
Test the equipment
Before making a video call, especially for the first time, check that the software you’re using is working as you don’t want to delay the call. “Also make sure you have a strong WiFi connection and that your device is either plugged in or fully charged,” says Chaudhry. Hart recommends testing out a call with internal colleagues too.
“Give yourself a few extra minutes before the call to set up and, if possible, log on to the call a little early, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the software that your host is using. Once the call has started, check to see if everyone can hear and see each other. A good way to do this is by having everyone either check in or introduce themselves,” says Chaudhry.
Testing your internet speed is up to the challenge of a video conference call is worth doing, too. Chen writes: “Because so many people are staying home and using the internet at the same time, our bandwidth and service are slowing down in many neighbourhoods.” He recommends using a speed-testing website. “If your speeds are below 20 megabits per second, there’s a high likelihood your video is going to look pixelated and have audio delays.”
Treat it like an in-person meeting
Treat a video conference call like any other meeting. “All of the rules of regular conference calls and meetings stand, and are perhaps even more important here: stick to the agenda,” writes Victoria Turk in a WIRED article. Also, she adds, people should “take turns talking” and shouldn’t “feel the need to speak unless [they] actually have something to say”.
Keep your microphone on
The more people there are on a video call, the more potential for background noise and speaking over each other. To tackle this, mute your microphone when you’re not talking. Chaudry says: “Also, if you need to get up or move around or do something else during the call (or if your toddler suddenly makes an appearance), it’s a good idea to switch off your video to avoid causing any distractions.” If you need to speak, wait for a natural pause in the conversation to unmute and speak up. Alternatively, some video call software has a ‘hands up’ type function, that shows the host you’ve got something to say.
You may be tempted to try and get on with some work or reply to an email while on a video call, especially if you’re not directly being spoken to or you think the topic of conversation doesn’t concern you. However, you wouldn’t do this in a face-to-face meeting, so don’t do it on a video call. “Be attentive and engaged during the call,” writes Chaudhry. “Try to look into the camera when you talk. If you look at yourself or others on your screen, it may look like you’re looking at something else. When you’re not talking, make sure you’re paying attention to whoever’s speaking or sharing their screen and that you’re looking at any materials you may need to reference.”
Avoid distractions by turning off notifications, closing or minimising the applications you have on your desktop and mute your mobile phone.
How have you found the transition from face-to-face meetings to video calls? Leave your comments below.