The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked an unprecedented change in how we use videoconferencing and remote collaboration technology.
Millions of workers suddenly find themselves working all day, every day, from home, using Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom, and others to stay in touch and stay productive. For many, this is their first exposure to these platforms, and some of them may be ill-equipped. Their productivity is suffering because of it.
Against this backdrop, consider the following best practices to maximize your—and your colleagues’—ability to use videoconferencing tools optimally throughout the COVID-19 pandemic period and beyond:
1. Prepare your space
Don’t set up your laptop in any random spot. Your home will be on display for all to see, and you don’t want colleagues, clients, or prospects to be distracted by piles of laundry or dirty dishes. Pick a location with a simple background. Other things to keep in mind include:
- Lighting. Look for natural light, perhaps from windows or skylights, but avoid using a window as a backdrop, as it will turn you into a silhouette. Add a small desk lamp to fill in any shadows.
- Avoid the up-your-nose shot. Use a laptop stand or books to position your webcam near eye-level. Add an external keyboard and mouse to enhance ergonomics.
2. Optimize your home network
Under the strain of all-day video calls and homebound kids using high-bandwidth services like Netflix and online gaming, you may experience jittery, unreliable service. Avoid mid-meeting flameouts by tweaking your home network as follows:
- Check your modem and router. Try a power-on reset, then dig into the settings and ensure you’re following your ISP’s recommendations. If performance is still sub-standard, it may be time to replace them. Some ISPs include these devices in your monthly service contract: Upgrade if you’re eligible.
- Move your wireless router. Small changes in location can have a huge impact on wireless device performance. Avoid large metallic appliances like fridges. Switch from the 2.4 GHz band to 5 GHz to minimize interference from microwave ovens. Move devices away from aquariums, hot tubs, and pools. Also consider relocating them to a central location on the main floor. Install extenders as necessary or replace entirely with mesh-based systems.
- Update your plan. Old internet service plans may stumble under the load imposed by newer, high-bandwidth services. If you’ve had the same home internet plan, unchanged, for years, it’s time for an upgrade—but you don’t get it if you don’t ask. Check your speed using services like speedtest.net to ensure you’re getting what you’re paying for.
3. Give yourself lots of time
Don’t just show up at the appointed meeting time. Give yourself ample time beforehand to:
- Install and configure all required apps, tools, and/or plug-ins. Make sure you’re somewhat familiar with how they work.
- Test your webcam by practice-shooting yourself in the specific app being used for the meeting. Adjust the framing, camera angle, and lighting.
- Test your mic to ensure you can be heard. Use a dedicated headset with a built-in mic because built-in laptop speakers and mics are awful. Wired always beats wireless—nothing to set up and no batteries to die in the middle of a meeting.
- Arrange a test-call with a friend or colleague to ensure everything works as expected.
4. Mind your manners
Once the meeting is underway, keep a close eye on how you engage with the technology and with others to ensure a smooth experience for all.
- Never leave your mic open for the duration of the meeting. Learn in advance how to mute and unmute your mic. Then leave it in mute mode by default so your colleagues won’t have to listen to you chew those last few Doritos.
- Similarly, learn how to turn the camera off and on before your toddler decides to dive into your keyboard in front of your colleagues.
- Find the other tools, too. Many collaboration platforms include screen sharing, markup, and other sophisticated collaborative tools. Take the time to familiarize yourself with them.
- Check app settings. Downgrading from 4K to 1080 or 720 may reduce ultimate video quality, but it also reduces the amount of data moving over the network—which can significantly improve the experience.
- If you’re the meeting host, use video sparingly. Not every meeting needs video at all. Audio-only meetings can make better use of available bandwidth and give everyone a break from having to look bright and cheery first thing in the morning!
- Pay attention. Make eye contact with the camera when you speak. Use facial expressions, body language, and hand gestures to drive your point home.
- Beware of audio limitations. Most videoconferencing platforms do not support full-duplex audio, meaning only one person can reliably speak at a time. So, pretend you’re using a walkie talkie, and if you’re hosting, actively call out, by name, who speaks next.
5. Continue to follow standard meeting best practices
Technology or no technology, the basic rules of professionalism continue to apply.
- Set and respect start and end times. Don’t show up right at the appointed hour. Connect a few minutes early and be ready to start working when the clock strikes the original start time.
- Address people by name because pandemic response often means we’re in meetings with people we’ve never met before.
- Share an agenda in advance, ideally by including it in the meeting invitation, or ask the host to do so.
- Follow up with notes/summaries and action items to keep people engaged and work moving forward.
- Don’t lose your sense of humor. A little kindness can go a long way toward keeping people focused in these challenging times. Don’t miss the opportunity to practice it, within reason.
Long after the current pandemic has faded into history, the technological lessons learned will continue to benefit increasingly videoconference-savvy remote workers. Take the time, now, to learn the ins and outs of VC and improve your and your teams’ productivity during this chaotic period in history.