Thanks to social distancing, my days are filled with meeting after meeting, all done from my office, kitchen table or out on my sunny deck. I gotta say, I am not hating it. Are you, like me, discovering that it’s nice to be at home?
I miss being face to face and spending time with franchisees and their team members. Still, I’m rethinking what situations need me in-the-flesh, and when it may be more practical (and cost-effective) to work remotely.
Video conferencing is changing the way we go (or don’t go) to work. However, virtual meetings can be frustrating. I’m a fairly easy-going person, but technical issues and sketchy internet service have led me to meltdown like an over-tired toddler.
Deep breathes. I’m getting better at it. In the last few weeks, I’ve learned a few things to make our remote reality a bit more Zen and a lot more productive.
• Set up at a desk or a table. I was on a video conference the other day. I noticed that the person I was talking to was located somewhere between a Dyson vacuum and a one-piece ski suit. Sit at the table. It’s not worth it, for a little better sound quality, to sacrifice your comfort or create the need for a chiropractic adjustment.
• Check your internet speed with a test tool such as Speedtest.net or Fast.com. An IT pro or your internet provider service tech could help you upgrade if necessary.
• Plan to connect 15 minutes before the conference unless you are super comfortable with the video conferencing software. It’s usually more complicated than you thought it would be.
• Is your computer more than 4 years old? That means it’s old. It’s essential to have the right tools, and computers are so much better and less expensive than they have ever been. A new Google Pixelbook is $650. We use them at ZOOM Drain and connect everyone with Google suite apps, including Google Meet.
• Multiple screens are especially helpful with video conferencing. Put the “Brady Bunch” grid of attendees on one screen, and your work or presentation on the other.
• Figure out how to zoom in. If everyone is squinting to see your QuickBooks reports, change the view to 150 percent.
• Use slides and refer to websites. Edit and update documents in real time. You can share your screen, so use that to your advantage and get some work done. Line the tabs up before the meeting.
• Natural indirect sunlight is flattering. Or set up one of those specific-for-videos ring lights. You can order one from Walmart or Amazon for about $15. Avoid backlighting, or you will look like a witness who doesn’t want to be identified on “Dateline.”
• Put your computer at eye level, by lifting it with a few books, or a computer stand.
• Note your background. Simple and neutral is best. Do not share a messy desk or living room. You can add an image — wallpaper — with Zoom or Google Meet. Save the funny filters for video conferencing with family members.
• Shut down any apps or software you don’t need during the meeting; it may help with connectivity and call quality. And, while potentially humorous, it could be embarrassing or career-threatening if you have an inappropriate screen up when it’s your turn to share.
• Turn off notifications. I have regrettably “sidebar-ed” a team member with a text during a conference, only to have it pop up on his screen as he was presenting. Gulp.
• As you log in, often there are prompts to check your audio. Take a moment and do it. Newer computers make it easy to find external audio components.
• A corded headset is best for call quality. My Mac earbuds work great. You can get fancier — if you are into tech toys, the sky is the limit.
• If you use your computer mic or an external mic, don’t get too close to it. You’ll sound like Darth Vader.
• Once you are in the conference, keep yourself muted unless it’s your turn to talk. Google Meet has a cool feature now that allows you to toggle the mic on by holding down the space bar.
• Bad connection? Try the good ol’ plumber’s trick and shut your computer down and turn it back on. Log in to the meeting again.
• It’s never OK to go to the bathroom on a video conference. Just in case you were wondering.
• Determine if the meeting is formal or informal, and apply the above tips appropriately.
A formal meeting would be a sales presentation, job interview or training session. For a formal video conference, be as professional as you would be if the meeting were in person. Be impeccable with your manners, dress and presentation. Wear pants.
An informal meeting may be you and your co-workers working on a project or lining up jobs for the week. It reduces some of the stress if you can relax a bit and just get to work. You can eat on camera. Your sticky, half-naked children are welcome to stop in.
There are some advantages to this video conferencing thing. Let's not be in a hurry to freak out if someone's dog is barking or a package arrives at the door. Also, wear pants.
Meeting host tips
• Have an agenda and start with an icebreaker. Some folks are not that savvy with video conferencing yet, and it’s OK to cut them a little slack at they get connected.
• Insist that everyone gets on camera, which ensures you all stay present and engaged. I know that if I don't have my camera on, it will be only moments before I am making dinner or doing the wash or playing a yoga video on my phone with one eye on my co-workers.
With cameras on, you also can see the nonverbal cues — like if someone’s eyebrows are knit or their mouth is in a tight-lipped frown. Or, if they are receptive, smiling and leaning in.
• Use the camera to show product, role play or demonstrate procedures. Props can be helpful. It doesn’t have to be just you in the video shot.
• Mute everyone. Then ask people to raise their hand (using the hand icon) if they want to talk, or call on them. This is much better than the everyone talking over each other and then apologizing, which happens in most video conferences.
• End on time, or a few minutes early. Let folks get a drink and visit the restroom before the inevitable next meeting.
• Remember to ask for help. Find a 12-year-old relative who has been doing schoolwork at home for the last few weeks and have him or her help you out by doing a test run or two.
Even with all these great tips, your video conference may end up a hot mess. Take a few breaths and try to pull it together. Or bail. It’s not worth stressing over. This clip (https://bit.ly/2UrwAhk) captures video conferencing — until you get the hang of it!
One of the rainbows from the COVID-19 storm is we’ve learned we can work and learn and sell and train and troubleshoot and be together — remotely. I’m committed to improving how we engage our team using video conferencing. You, too? Let’s embrace staying home a little more and getting on a plane a little less.