Even before sheltering in place, I spent more time meeting colleagues and co-workers on screens than I did in person. In many cases, we’re in different countries and time zones so the communication is 100% virtual, yet on the rare occasion when we meet in person I already feel like we’re old friends. But conference calls and video chats are funny places. Little things can add up to big annoyances. Small challenges in communication can dramatically impact work flow. So I’ve put together this handy-dandy guide to help.
GET THE DIGITS
Make sure you know where—and how—you’re calling in, at least 10 minutes before your call. This means the phone number and passcode for a conference call, or the link to a conference.
DOWNLOAD IN ADVANCE
If you’re linking on a new system, take the time to download and test the software well before the start time. Make sure to adjust your settings on each platform: My Zoom is set so that it opens with my mic on mute and my video off; my profile pic is set to a professional looking headshot.
CALL FOR BACKUP
Even if the planned communication is a conference, make sure you also have a phone number to call in. If the wifi cuts out or you’re stuck en route, you should still be able to complete a call in from your phone.
I get it. When I’m working from home in my pjs, the last thing I want to do is smile for the camera. But human beings communicate through gestures and facial expressions as much as they do in words. If the invite is to chat, click your video on. It helps—especially when you’re coming from different places.
Also, you can always put on a professional top and wear it with your pj bottoms.
Not that I’ve ever done that. Ever.
Are you videochatting on Zoom? In “settings” click “touch up my appearance.” This is before:
The photo at the top of the page is after.
SET THE STAGE
Desk. Computer. Phone. The elements of communication are ubiquitous. But when you’re video chatting, additional components can be distracting. It helps to think of your office as a set and your computer as a camera. Make sure that what’s included complements the conversation.
I always make sure the desk to my left is clean and uncluttered and my door is closed (especially now that all three of my children are schooling from home). The canvas to my right is a conversation starter: I rescued it from a friend’s garage because to me it looks like a beautiful, clean, plastic-free ocean—a great story to break the ice.
Adding a virtual background can be fun, but make sure it’s not distracting. And remember to turn it off once your call is over so you don’t show up to a critical meeting from outer space.
If you’re used to working from a laptop, you’re probably also comfortable looking down. But when you’re on video, you want to be at eye level with your companions. If you don’t use a desktop or laptop stand, try a few books or bricks to elevate your camera.
There’s a reason cinematographers can make or break a movie—bad lighting can ruin communication. Make sure there is light on your face. In a pinch, use a cell phone flashlight and bounce it off the wall behind your camera.
Use headphones with a build in microphone so your sound is clear, and make sure to mute when you’re not talking. Typing is a dead giveaway that you’re not paying attention to the call.
CHECK YOUR LOOK IN THE MIRROR
Or in this case, your photo booth or camera app. Before you log on to the call, take a minute to selfie, then adjust your lights and make sure your setup looks good.
See that little lens at the top of your screen? That’s the camera. You can look at the screen to make eye contact with your coworkers, but if you’re filming an interview that will be broadcast, make sure to look at the camera instead.
Sometimes, there are ghosts in the machine and the person on the call doesn’t appear on the screen but may still be listening. Similarly, when a team is sharing a conference link, chats can overlap. Make sure you know who’s in the room before you share sensitive information on a videochat.
Think about it: If we all worked from home one day a week, we could reduce 20% of the pollution we cause by commuting. Maybe that’s a silver lining to explore once we’re out of quarantine.
Happy telecommuting, everyone!