Two months into working from home and there is still plenty of evidence on TV and at work of people not really making the most out of video conferencing, so it's worth re-posting this:
- You’re at home now. Get used to being at work and treat it like a proper meeting:
Find a suitable space where you will not be interrupted. Doesn’t matter where. Even if you’re in the bathroom if that’s the best place no-one will know if you position yourself correctly. Arrive a few minutes early and make sure your room settings are correct, that your device is working and the camera angle is right (see below) and that you have all necessary paperwork to hand. Avoid distractions that you wouldn’t normally have to deal with – other things on your desk, playing with your phone, looking out at people walking past etc. Draw your blind, put your phone in the other room, turn off anything else. Most conferencing facilities give you the option of checking you look right on video before you join the meeting, so no excuses! Tell everyone else in your household you can’t be disturbed – even better, blu tac a sign to the door! The tidying and washing up can wait! Focus!!
- Camera Angle is everything:
You wouldn’t go into a meeting, sit down, and then slide down so people can just see your head like it’s floating on the edge of the table, so why would you do it on a video call? Also, unless you are calling from the Sistine Chapel, your ceiling isn’t interesting, despite what you might think. Especially if the light is on which forms a halo around your head or blots you out completely. Prop your laptop or device on some files or books so that the camera is at your eye level. Try to avoid having a light behind you. Sit close enough so that your upper chest and head is visible, but not so close that you look like you’re about to burst out of the screen and punch your colleague!
- Don’t make your background more interesting that you:
We’re all playing the politician’s bookshelf game and that’s fine – we hear enough from all of them not to know what they are saying. You’re different though, and people will not only look at how you look on screen, but they may also judge you. Worse still, they may spend all their time looking around your kitchen or living room and ignore everything you are saying. So stick to a nice, plain background, with decent lighting (if you have one window, sit facing it so the light isn’t coming in from behind you) that doesn’t detract from the principle point of you being there. Which is you.
- Have a chair:
Not to sit on, but to organise and control the meeting. You’ll achieve very little if everyone is talking over each other all the time. So set the ground rules at the start. Agree a chair (normally the meeting organiser) and agree a way of communicating. Some software providers provide a digital “hand up” but a more effective one is to agree that if you want to speak, stick your hand up and the chair will come to you next. Otherwise, pipe down please.
If it’s just an audio call, it’s much harder of course, but you’ll just have to time your run, wait for a pregnant pause and jump in. Wait until whoever is speaking has finished, and go for it, by introducing yourself if necessary (see point X below). Don’t worry if someone beats you to it – be polite, but ensure they know you want to speak and ask the chair to come back to you.
- Dress properly – and that doesn’t mean just from the waist up:
Plenty of people wear a shirt and tie or smart top and not much else because they know that they are only being seen from the waist up. Bad decision. It not only feels wrong, but under the heading of things that can go wrong, there might be any reason you want or need to stand up and if you do so in a hurry and don’t turn your camera off – bingo. For the sake of a pair of trousers or skirt, do the right thing.
- Charge up and close everything else down:
Save and close all other work. Video conferencing eats battery life so ensure you are either charged up or connected to a power source. Other apps might also affect performance, slowing your laptop down and making you lag or blur, so save and close your apps and work. It also stops the temptation to do other things while you are meant to be concentrating on the call.
- Know your controls:
If you are going to be using a lot of Zoom or Teams, take time to understand how they work, so that when you need to join, leave, mute, turn your camera on and off, share a document, see other people, record content and so on you know how to do it without fumbling around for ages. Just spend some time learning it – they are skills we will all need long into the future.
- Mute yourself:
There’s nothing more annoying than hearing coughs, sneezes, people banging around in a kitchen somewhere in the world, when you’re speaking or trying to listen. So on a call where there’s more than four or five people, please ensure you mute yourself when you’re not speaking. Likewise, don’t be afraid to turn your camera off if you want or need to, especially if you have to get up, move around or stretch out, or do anything else that will distract the others on the call. Oh yes, we all have kids, pets, housemates and other things that might interrupt us. Don’t worry about it or stress. It’s the new normal!
- Keep eye contact:
In a face to face, you’d look people in the eye. On video you can do the same, or at least appear to, by speaking to the CAMERA and not the person you are addressing on screen, which makes it look to everyone else like you’re looking down or to the side. Just as in face to face meetings, maintaining eye contact is an incredibly important communication tool.
- If you can’t see others, introduce yourself before you speak: