It’s officially happening. Horrifying mishaps where participants in video conference calls have done unthinkable things and truly embarrassed themselves on screen. We’ve all seen the videos cropping up since lockdown began and we have all laughed, sure that we could never do anything so ridiculous. But it happens! Now that we are all in the comfort of our own homes rather than in the workplace, people really do forget themselves and end up getting caught, well, you know.
Be on time
While the hope is that you are on time to your meetings regardless of circumstance, it’s particularly important to be on time for virtual calls. We all know that, in the office, there can be any number of reasons that may delay you. However, sneaking into a physical meeting a few minutes late can be a lot easier than trying the same with a virtual one.
Most video conferencing platforms have a function that announces you when you enter a ‘room’ so that the team knows you’re there. This is an excellent feature when you want to be noticed in a crowded chat, less so when trying to fly under the radar ten minutes into a meeting. Also, we are all at home: what happened to make you late in the first place? (Unless you have kids because obviously trying to manage everyone at home at the same time is very hard.)
This is probably where the transition from office working to home working feels the most uncomfortable to people starting out. How do you find the balance between dressing professionally and enjoying one of the great perks of staying at home? While the answer to this changes depending on your company’s specific policies, there is some best practice advice out there.
Banning logos isn’t so much a hard and fast rule with virtual dress codes, but some amount of common sense does need to be applied. Try not to wear anything too wild and distracting because, after all, people can see you and causing distractions is rarely the point of a video call. Definitely be particular about the logos you sport as well. While your friends may love the hoodie you got from your favourite brewery, it may not be the image you want to share with your boss (or, worse, customers)! Also, pay close attention to the designs on your shirts. Sometimes the devil is in the details. It may seem like a perfectly safe shirt in general, but your colleagues and clients may focus in on details you hadn’t previously noticed and definitely didn’t mean to support.
Nothing with holes
This is a pretty standard rule in most professional settings, often in place to discourage strategically ripped jeans and their ilk. However, at home, the danger prevented with this rule is much more dire: the old and raggedy jumper! Everyone has a comfy piece of clothing that they (or their partner) have relegated to loungewear only. A favourite t-shirt, those joggers that you’ve had since uni, maybe a hoodie that’s seen one too many washes. No matter the article in question, the rule remains. Do not wear holey clothing on your Skype/Zoom/Teams/Google Hangouts call. You are working and anything that you consider loungewear should be worn for lounging only.
Speaking of loungewear, we need to address the issue of trousers. Again, the great perk of working from home involves being comfortable and no idea upholds that more than being able to wear anything other than your restrictive work trousers. Joggers? Leggings? Gym shorts? All of these are what we truly want to be wearing! We want comfort and a stretchy waistband! We want to know that being cooped up inside won’t leave us with trouser indents in our stomachs! And that is absolutely fine! Provided no one sees.
Since most of our digital meetings happen from the waist up, it can be tempting to give in to comfort all of the time. However, if there is any chance of your legs being seen (particularly when talking to customers), maybe chuck on a pair of jeans just until the call ends and then you can revert to loungewear bliss.
This is another pretty straightforward tip. Virtual meetings may not always be the most engaging and trying to get your work done in the middle of one can feel very tempting. Many of us feel a more urgent need to both overperform and find work/life balance at this time. This is not the way to do it. Even during calls you don’t personally find fulfilling, you do need to pay attention. Not only is it disrespectful to do otherwise, but you also run the risk of derailing the meeting when someone asks you a direct question that you miss entirely. See? Now your team is mad at you and that meeting you didn’t want to be in is ten minutes longer. Way to go.
Stay on mute
Staying on mute is key for three very simple, very important reasons.
First, trying to get anything done while everyone is missing social cues and talking over one another is a bad idea. It doesn’t work at the best of times, but video conferencing technology often includes bits of software that dampen anyone who isn’t the main speaker and, when there is a tie in loudest voice, both voices are often muted.
Second, when you aren’t lucky enough to have a system that blocks out extraneous noise, feedback can become an issue. Across the country, people are working from ‘offices’ that were not designed with meetings in mind and strange things can set off a feedback loop. Avoiding blowing out the eardrums of your colleagues is definitely a reason to stay on mute.
And finally, if you live with other people or animals, you need to stay on mute even more than others. While feedback and talking over one another can be frustrating, those of us with other living beings in our households introduce an element of chaos into video calls. There is no knowing for certain if your partner will have an emergency at work and start swearing, if your kids will pick this time to scream their heads off, or if your dog will decide it must start barking RIGHT NOW. So protect yourself and your colleagues from your house and press that mute button.
Pick a good view
By ‘pick a good view’ we mean for your colleagues. You may have a nice view of your garden that won’t impact the call very much. However, controlling what your teammates and customers see in your calls is key. This scenario has opened a door into our personal lives that no one expected, but there it is. Time to make the best of it! So try to pick a background that is somewhat neutral and clutter free.
If you have an office, that is the natural choice, but many of us will be working from sofas and dining tables while we rearrange our homes into work spaces. So keep your area clean and simple. Also, it is absolutely ok to bring a little bit of personality into your space with knick knacks and photos, but do use common sense about which items are appropriate.
You don’t have to have the setup of a beauty tutorial YouTuber (because, really, who does?), but thinking about your lighting setup can go a long way to making this a more enjoyable experience for everyone. Try to make sure you are dialling in from a well lit room rather than somewhere closed off with a single, dim lamp. Natural lighting is best for this! Not only does it illuminate your surroundings better, it also casts a much more natural glow on your skin which makes you look more present and more human. The quality of the light can colour your interactions without you even realising!
Be conscious of bandwidth
The last thing you want is to miss half of your meeting due to a slow connection. Managing lag during video conferencing is vital. If, during your call, your kids are watching Netflix doing schoolwork and using the internet, it is going to affect the quality of your call. Of course, you can’t be expected to turn off their laptops or tablets every time you have a virtual meeting, but it is something to keep in mind. Certainly ask that they wait to download any films large files until after you’ve finished.
Are you struggling with your laptop and mobile speakers? It may actually be time to consider investing in a good pair of headphones. These days Bluetooth headphones (and their corded counterparts) massively outstrip the average laptop speaker in terms of both quality and reliability. It may look a little silly, but finally being able to hear what your teammates are saying will be worth your while. Plus, headphones have the added advantage of making it easier to separate your work call from the rest of your house.
Keep it short
Marketers especially keep getting told that attention spans are getting longer again. But that is a lie. Sure, we are embracing long form content and episodic (binge) watching, but don’t let that fool you. Human beings and goldfish still have a lot in common. Because attention spans are short and tensions are high during this teething period, it is important to keep video calls as short as possible.
People across the country are talking about video call fatigue and railing against having more of their day taken up by meetings. So do your team a favour, keep it short and sweet. Try not to keep a call going for over half an hour. Anything beyond that can be left for another discussion.
The expectation currently is that remote working will be the norm for the next few months, so finding a way through this without becoming a viral video is necessary. If you follow these tips and use some common sense, you should come out of it just fine.
And don’t, under any circumstances, take your clothes off!