11 dos and don'ts of videoconferencing

COVID-19 has brought about a period of intense adjustment in relation to the way we communicate, particularly in terms of videoconferencing. Here are some tips for keeping it professional.
11 dos and don'ts of videoconferencing We don't recommend using the Potato Filter in work meetings, unless it's for virtual Friday night drinks. Image via @PettyClegg.
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Sabine Brix

Tuesday 7 April, 2020

If you work remotely or have clients overseas it’s likely you’ve previously used a videoconferencing service such as Zoom or Google Hangouts before. For many people, this technology hasn’t been a consideration but is now a firm reality thanks to COVID-19, which has forced many of us to work differently.

In recent weeks there has been many a faux pas posted online, from an employee who kept her video on during a bathroom visit, to a boss who mistakenly turned on a potato filter which she wasn’t able to remove for an entire meeting.

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Here are 11 commonsense tips for keeping communication professional while you navigate the world of videoconferencing.

1. Dress pro top to toe

 While by now you’ve probably heard it said that you should dress professionally from the waist up with not too much consideration given to whether you have track pants or pyjamas on down below, there are reasons why this isn’t good advice. If the doorbell suddenly rings or a pet causes havoc in the room, you may need to get up quickly.

There’s also the psychology of knowing when your workday starts and ends. If you’re wearing pyjamas you may never fully exit relaxation mode which mightn’t be good for productivity levels.

2. Log in early

Just as you would for a face-to-face meeting, it’s also a good idea to log in a few minutes early for a video conference chat. There are more variables to deal with and it's likely there will be an unexpected glitch which you’ll then have to account for while a sea of faces wait as you resolve them.

3. Test your sound

‘Hello, we can hear you, can you hear us?’ You want to avoid this scenario. It happened to me recently during a staff meeting when I realised I had an audio soundcard still connected to my speakers, from which I had been playing music. To combat this, get into the habit of doing a microphone test and if wearing headphones helps you hear better, put those on too.

4. Position the camera

If you’re used to working on a laptop plugged into an external screen, with the laptop being the device that has the camera, make sure you unplug the HDMI cable before you start the call. Failure to do this means you’re not looking into the camera and no-one will be able to see you.

5. SELECT A DISTRACTION-FREE SPACE 

You probably remember the infamous 2019 viral video of the BBC interview where Professor Robert Kelly was interrupted by his children. Choosing a space free of distractions, or informing family/partners that you’re about to join a video call is a good idea. And if there is surprise interruption you can always turn the video off.

6. Mute unless you’re talking

Unless you want your colleagues to hear your cat meowing, family members coughing in a nearby room, or the rustle of something in the distance, it's probably a good idea to turn the mic off if you’re not talking. Another suggestion is to have the mic off as soon as you enter a call, as the noise from the incoming person can often disrupt a conversation that is currently taking place.

7. Consider your backdrop

Embarrassed by the washing or beer cans piled high on the dining room table, or that your furnishings aren’t as fancy as the boss’ own? With Zoom, you can change the backdrop to a default setting or upload your own image, whether that’s a beach you recently visited or a serene natural environment. Just make sure it’s high res. There are a range of tips from Zoom on how to get the most out of your backdrop. But make it something simple that’s not too distracting. You can leave something more ridiculous for tip 11.

8. Practice clear communication

Knowing when to talk on a videoconference call can be challenging, especially if there are 30 other people joining you; there’s not the luxury of eye contact. To avoid interruptions, raise your hand or communicate with the host in another way, such as sending a message via your platform’s chat function.

9. Think about lighting

You don’t need to be a film lighting technician to make this work. Indirect lighting is best. If you’re right next to a window and the sun is beaming in, this may wash you out. Reflective surfaces such as glass tables can also cause problems. Placing a lamp in front of you can can help to minimise any dark shadows. If you’re really concerned you can download a light meter app for your phone, which will give you a reading of what works best in the room.

10. Stay off the net

While it might be tempting to browse Facebook or check emails while you’re having a video conference it can also be visible to the other participants. You probably wouldn’t check your phone during a face to face meeting so giving the host and colleagues the same courtesy during a video call is an appropriate mark of respect. 

11. have some fun

And finally, these are shitty, unprecedented times we're going through so make sure you take time out to catch up for some virtual drinks or a laugh with colleagues. Although it's likely your boss will get annoyed if you turn yourself into a donut or virtual potato while they're talking about financial estimates or the future of the company, using some fun filters for an informal catch-up session can be a light way to end the week. Snapchat recently released a variety of filters for their Snap Camera app which are free and should provide a bit of a laugh.

About the author

Sabine Brix is a writer, editor, podcaster and electronic musician with a specific interest in personal storytelling that captures the essence of why people create. She was the former Online Content Producer at Archer Magazine and editor of the LGBTI website Gay News Network.

She has produced sound art for BBC's Radio4  and composed music for the web series Starting From Now, which screened on SBS. This year she released her debut EP on the French electronic music label Parfé Records.

Follow Sabine on Twitter @sabinebrix