The sudden increase in video conferencing due to employees being forced to work from home has benefited companies to keep them — and their employees — in business.
Video conferencing has allowed employees to meet with their teams and supervisors. It has opened opportunities for brainstorming sessions, allowing goals and plans to move forward. And for those who need human contact, seeing the faces of coworkers gives a boost to be productive and a reminder that we’re not alone in the world.
But this method has also brought with it a few challenges.
Small bandwidths create hassles when downloading and increase wait times. Video conferences can suddenly freeze. Our devices are moving at a slower pace than we’re used to without the benefit of the seemingly unlimited internet service from our companies.
But another challenge has appeared that many may not be aware of if they’re not used to regular video conferences. Those challenges include our professional etiquette.
We may have little control over our internet service, but we have a bit more influence on our appearance and habits. Here are five areas to pay attention to:
You’ve seen the commercials where the person on one end of the meeting is dressed respectfully from the chest up, until he coughs and drops his device and reveals more work is needed from the waist down.
Dress as you would if you were still going to work. At some point, you will be going back, so maintaining that habit will help. Anticipate you might have to stand up, so be fully clothed at the computer.
Makeup and hair should be neat. Avoid overdoing your grooming to keep down the distractions, but keep yourself presentable. You are still representing your company, so your clothes, jewelry and grooming need to indicate respect for your employer.
And if we dress appropriately for the circumstance, such as work, we will help increase our motivation and productivity.
2. Device setup and posture
Video conferences typically allow you to see yourself in the camera before you officially join a meeting. Where is your device pointing? Remember, if your device is in your lap, those joining the conference will have an unwanted view of your nose.
Anytime you move with your device, such as a tablet or phone, the camera moves and gives people a view of you — and your surroundings — that might not be appropriate or would be embarrassing for everyone. Before your meeting, try to have a stationary setup so you don’t need to hold your device.
Aim the camera straight at your face, preferably from the chest up, as if you were conversing with your team in person.
One of the challenges of working from home is the inability to separate professional from casual. Typically, in the privacy of our homes, we can be ourselves, dress casually and relax. But working from home means we have to make our workspace a “working space” as if we were at the office. This means the way we sit, our facial expressions, and even the quirky things we say and do must be kept in check during the video meetings.
Sit in a chair that will allow you to sit up straight and look alert. Avoid sitting on your couch or in your comfy chair as that will cause you to slouch and look too relaxed.
Keep paper and a pen nearby to take notes if necessary. Silence your phone and other devices to avoid distractions.
Remember that as long as the camera and sound are on, so are you. Everything you do and say will be noticed by others.
3. Background and lighting
While there are virtual backgrounds available to download for your video calls, they may not be the best method to avoid your behind-the-scenes environment. Sometimes the downloads are more distracting.
Try to eliminate as many distractions and clutter as possible. If you have a lot of material and items behind you — bookcases, fans, lights, piles of stuff on the floor — this will distract other viewers (and potentially share more about you than you would like). Choose a background that is free of clutter, such as a blank wall.
Some angle their cameras in a way to have a background that is calming, clean and professional. This might mean moving your computer out of the office to another peaceful space for the time being.
Be mindful of artwork, photographs and other items that could either offend your viewers or reveal private information about you. Instead, choose items that are simple and more generic if you decide to have anything behind you.
Watch your lighting. Sitting in front of a lamp or window could cause your viewers to have to avert their eyes from the sudden light when you move your head. And not only that, but sitting with a lighting source behind you puts you in a dark space and no one will be able to see your face. Consider facing the lamp or window or having your light source to the side of you, out of view of the attendees. Make sure the lighting is ideal for your face when video conferencing by checking the angle in your camera.
4. Eye contact and sound
Our tendency during video conferences, particularly with multiple people, is to look at the images displayed on our screen. This is fine when you’re not addressing others.
But when it’s your turn to speak, remember to look at the camera. Attendees notice where your eyes look, and it’s just as distracting on video as it is in person when people avoid eye contact. If you find it challenging to make eye contact under normal circumstances, keep in mind that with video conferencing, you are not looking at the people directly, just the camera. But just as you want their attention when you speak, you need to be attentive to them and show this by looking at them.
And again, even if you can’t see yourself on the screen, others can. If you allow your mind to drift or if you avert your gaze away from your team (such as to look at your phone), others will notice.
Some computers have incredible speakers. You could swallow, and your sensitive speakers might pick up on this minute sound and suddenly your image would pop up on the screen.
Learn how to mute and unmute your video conference sound. If the meeting isn’t a free-for-all, then you should mute your sound. That way every time you cough, sneeze or twitch, you won’t be in full view of your teammates.
Other challenges working from home include our family members and roommates, pets, outside noise, social media, television and other things we’re not used to in the office. The key here is to be aware of your surroundings. You might have learned to tune certain things out of your ear and mind, but others may not have. Your distractions become others’ distractions.
While it’s true we’ve seen the occasional comedic visit from the kids and pets, we want to keep those mishaps from becoming a habit. After a while, they’re not funny.
Have a conversation with those you live with about boundaries. When you plan to be on a video conference, make sure this is communicated so everyone can be supportive. And reciprocate the courtesy for them.
Bribe your children if you have to so they’ll put their screaming fights on hold. Lock the door to your office if necessary to keep out surprise visitors.
Keep barking dogs away from your conference space, and as tempting as it might be to have your cat in your lap during the conference, not only is that distracting to you and others, it might have adverse consequences if Fluffy steps on your computer or flips her back end toward the camera.
As mentioned earlier, silence your other devices during your video conference. Make certain there isn’t activity taking place in the background (another reason not to sit with the window behind you). And if the lawn care crew unexpectedly shows up, you might have to move to another location in the house, so be prepared.
By the same token, our situations have abruptly changed, so all of us need to be patient when mishaps occur. We want to avoid judging our team members if their child suddenly bursts in the room in the middle of a meeting. Compassion is needed more than ever with our higher stress levels. But individually, we want to do all we can to ward off distractions.
Takeaway: Video conferencing should make us keep our professional behavior in check. Our appearance, behavior and environment all need to show our team that our manners are still intact despite our changed circumstances.