The Dos and Don’ts of Online Video Meetings

In the age of coronavirus, many of us have reworked in a single day from workplace staff into telecommuters. And we’re more and more counting on videoconferencing apps like Zoom and FaceTime to correspond with our friends.

But inevitably, with our properties and workplaces merging into one, the boundaries between our private and skilled lives are starting to erode — and awkward conditions have ensued.

By now, you’ll have had just a few video calls with colleagues who took conferences in odd locations, like their rest room or closet, to keep away from their youngsters. Then there are the colleagues who give up their boundaries fully and let their youngsters and pets be a component of the assembly.

It’s cute and heartwarming. But it may possibly additionally extend a gathering or derail it altogether.

“There’s the technical issues and the discomfort of it all — people aren’t used to being onscreen,” mentioned Elaine Quinn, a Chicago entrepreneur who wrote the e book “There’s No Place Like Working From Home. “They don’t think to look behind them and see what it is people will see.”

We all get it: No one was actually ready for this transition, and there are limitations to what we are able to all do. But now seems like a chance to carry up learn how to be kinder to your co-workers in office video calls, since they’re those the calls are actually for in the long run.

The backside line: A bit of preparation goes an extended approach to making video calls extra tolerable for you and your colleagues.

The No. 1 perpetrator of a painful videoconference is the standard of the decision itself. If you may’t see or hear a colleague, what’s the purpose of a video name?

So earlier than we video-chat with a colleague, the least we are able to do is a check run to make sure the decision appears and sounds good, with minimal tech snafus. A couple of steps:

  • Preview your webcam. Mac customers can launch the Photo Booth app, and Windows customers can click on the Start button, then Camera. Here, you may examine your image. Adjust your indoor lighting and digital camera angle to make your face look correctly lit. And most vital, be aware of what’s within the background: Anything you wouldn’t need your colleagues to usually see, like your liquor assortment or soiled laundry, ought to be out of the body.

  • Test the microphone. Make certain you put on a headset with a built-in microphone or use an exterior microphone — the microphone included on laptops can sound very poor. The best approach to be sure to sound good is to do a video name with a pal and ask the way you sound, then modify accordingly.

  • Check your web speeds. Because so many individuals are staying dwelling and utilizing the web on the identical time, our bandwidth and service are slowing down in lots of neighborhoods. Visit speedtest.web to gauge your web speeds. If your speeds are under 20 megabits per second, there’s a excessive chance your video goes to look pixelated and have audio delays. (My final column on the tech headaches of working from home goes over some solutions for slow internet.)

This may seem obvious, but plenty of people forget to mute their microphones before joining a call with multiple people.

That can lead to sounds like barking dogs and screaming children interfering in the call. On video-chatting services like Zoom and Google Hangouts, you have the option to turn off the microphone before joining a meeting, and everyone but the person leading the meeting should do it. Unmute only when it is your turn to speak.

With constrained internet bandwidth, you could even take the extra step and turn off your camera by default until you want to speak to the group. There’s no practical value in people watching you silently look at your camera.

Our families are more important than anyone, but that doesn’t mean our colleagues want to see our partners in their bathrobes, our cats sitting on keyboards or our children throwing toys.

That’s why it’s important to take a video call in a place where you can draw boundaries, if possible. The simplest physical boundary is a room with a door, which can be shut when you are on a video call.

Many of us who are now being required to work from home never had much physical space to begin with. But there are workarounds.

I lack a home office and work on my dining table. On video calls, I have made it a habit to point my web camera at a blank wall, away from common areas like the kitchen and hallway, and my earbuds are a visual cue for being on a video call.

The onus is on managers to make virtual meetings concise and engaging. That was already true for in-person meetings, but for virtual meetings, setting an agenda is even more crucial, said Ms. Quinn, who managed remote employees at pharmaceutical companies before starting the Solopreneur Specialist, a website for remote workers.

“You’re in private, and it’s easy to drift off,” she said.

Managers can take a number of approaches to make videoconferences more organized. For one, they can ask each employee ahead of the meeting to plan to talk about something specific, so that everyone has something to do and can stay engaged.

Conversely, if you have something better to do than be on a video call, it’s more polite to excuse yourself than it is to remain on the call and obviously stop paying attention.

If you do drift off and switch to a different app, like Twitter or Facebook, be aware that people may know. The Zoom app, for example, has a setting that lets hosts see if you have switched away from the Zoom app for more than 30 seconds — a dead giveaway that you aren’t paying attention.

In offices, businesses may feel tempted to rope people into conference rooms for back-to-back meetings. But with remote work, we don’t need to replicate all those meetings into videoconferences, said Jason Fried, a founder of Basecamp, a software company in Chicago that makes remote-working tools.

“That’s not what remote work is about,” said Mr. Fried, who co-wrote the book “Remote: Office Not Required.” “It’s about respecting people’s time and attention and space and giving people room.”

That’s partly because asking your colleagues to join a video call involves more than you might think. Not only do they have to test their tech setups before joining the call, but they have to make other arrangements, like getting a caretaker to take their children on a walk outside.

A good rule of thumb is to book video meetings sparingly. Ideally, reserve them for discussions that require visual aids, like presentations and documents.

There is no universal rule requiring you to use video chat to work from home. The old-fashioned telephone is just as good.

Last year when Mr. Fried’s team used videoconferencing to vet candidates for a marketing position for Basecamp, which is composed of remote workers, their final interviewee joined the call with his camera off. The candidate explained that he had his best conversations when he was walking around instead of sitting stiffly in front of a camera.

“He was like, ‘I want to be looking my best right now, and I’m better moving around,’” Mr. Fried said. “I really appreciated that, because he was just being himself.”

The company ended up hiring him.

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