Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced so many of us to stay home, Zoom wasn’t something many people had heard about. Now it’s practically a verb, and there’s a growing culture and etiquette around how to use video conferencing tools, both wisely at work, and to have some fun catching up with friends and family.
WCAI's Kathryn Eident connected with Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur in Residence Peter Karlson on Zoom for some tips on how to be a pro at video conferences for both work and play.
Eident OK, Peter, let's pretend I'm new to video conference calls and I haven't been doing them over the last six weeks and I've got a work call coming up. I'm excited. I've just rolled out of bed. I'm not even going to get dressed. But before I log on, what are some of the basics I should know before making this call?
Karlson First of all, get dressed. Put your work clothes on. That's the two things I always tell people that are new of working at home. Get dressed like you're out of the office. You don't have to wear a suit and tie, but, you know, collared shirt, fix your hair, shave--whatever you do in the morning. It does present well, it also makes you feel like you're working. I've heard two horror stories: One was a nonprofit and a woman was in bed with her phone, and all you could see is her eye and a pillow, and it's a nightmare.
Also, if you can get a room with a door, so can close the door. People are more forgiving about the dog barking, and things like that, because everybody is stuck in those situations. Those things happen.
Eident What about when I'm sitting in there and the call has just started, but you kind of can't see my face. It looks like I'm sitting in the dark.
Karlson Yes. Make sure you're lit from the front as if you're looking at a light source. And in some cases, it can literally just be a light that's shining on the wall and creating a diffused light source. And making sure you're not backlit so you're not in front of a window, because then you're going to look like you're in the Witness Protection Program.
Eident Peter, I heard I can add a spiffy background. I even heard of a manager who showed up to a video conference call as a potato. Do you recommend that?
Karlson I wouldn't do that. And it's funny. I was on a weekly work call and they all show up with funny backgrounds with the beach in the background and all this stuff. And, you know, it's funny for the first whatever. But at some point, you know, you are trying to get the work done. You try to communicate with people. So, it's a little distracting, and in most cases, it doesn't look great either. If you don't have a green screen, it doesn't look that great.
Eident I hate to do this, but I have to use the bathroom. It's the middle of the meeting. What do I do?
[Karlson Oh, that's a that's a good one. You know, asking for a bio break is not a bad thing. You know, saying, "hey, guys, you know what? I have two cups of coffee, I just need to go to the loo real quick. So, I'm going to put you on pause." You know, make sure you hit the mute button and you're running in the other room. Don't bring your computer with you. Don't bring your phone with you.
Two weeks ago, I heard a flush. I was on a call [laughs]. It was a work call. And the ironic thing is, he was the only one that was on not with video. And everybody else was on video. And all the sudden you hear the the telltale flush and everybody's eyes go like wide [laughs]. It was totally bad.
Eident You can't unhear some things [laughs].
Karlson Can't unhear [sighs].
Eident Peter, it seems like every call I'm on, everyone's talking all at once. How do we have a productive conversation without those awkward pauses or everyone talking all at once?
Karlson You know, having an agenda for any meeting, it's just good etiquette, right? And, if it is a brainstorming session, having somebody that's a little bit more of a facilitator saying, "this is the topic, I want to get some feedback on it" and structuring the conversation with a bit of facilitation as opposed to having those awkward pauses and talking over. Then the facilitator can actually say, "OK, you know, hey, Brant, can you hang on one second? I want to hear Joy's side of the story here." You know, that kind of stuff.
Eident So, Peter, we're on this call, but, you know, I have a deadline coming up. Can I get some work done while I'm on this work call?
Karlson That is an etiquette thing to. Do people check e-mails? Yes. Are they multitasking? Everybody does that. People can tell pretty quickly, too, if people are silent or they're drifting off or they're you know, if you're lucky to have two screens, you can see that you're looking at the other screen. You can you can tell when people are not engaged. That's also when you're facilitating a meeting. You're trying to get every engaged. Right. So, when you're checking in with people around the table, the virtual table, understanding what they're working on, what they're doing, and hopefully they're participating in the conversation.
Eident It's been long day of video conference calling. It's five o'clock in. The day is done. It's time for a beverage of some sort and maybe a check in with my buddies. So, what can I do that's different, or is there any advice that you have, for getting together on video calls for social purposes?
Karlson I do my social ones out of the office, right? So, I go into the living room, the kitchen and whatever it is. And I actually bring either the computer or the iPad or whatever it is into that setting so that it makes it like you're socializing and you're not working. Also, get your mind out of the work mode.
Eident Well, now it's time to sign off. How do I get out of this conference call gracefully?
Karlson [laughs] Yeah. Making sure you end the meeting is definitely one of those. Don't leave it on, and don't just close your computer. Leaving the actual meeting and saying it is important because it's closing up the communication just like you're saying goodbye, you know, as you walk out of somebody's office. So, you think of it as this is an extension to your office. And you know, greeting people and also saying goodbye when they're leaving is--it's just etiquette.
Eident Well, Peter, thank you for these tips. I think I'll be much better equipped to conduct video conference calls in the future. Appreciate it.
Karlson All right. Good luck with that. And I wish you the best.
This transcript was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.
10 Tips for Video Conferencing
- Pajamas are for nighttime; office casual attire is not only more presentable, it helps you get in the right fram of mind for work.
- Make sure your device's camera is about eye level with your face, and make sure your mic works before the call starts.
- Be sure your face is well-lit. Don't sit in front of a window, or you'll look like someone in the Witness Protection Program!
- Backgrounds are fun, but best saved for social situations, not work.
- If you have to get up during the meeting, MUTE your microphone, and politely excuse yourself! Don't bring your device with you into the bathroom!
- Designate a facilitator to keep participants engaged, and to help the conversation run more smoothly.
- Try to put your work aside when on the call; people can tell if you're typing or looking at something else!
- If you have a comment for a co-worker, use the chat function in the video conferencing software.
- Move your device to a different room, or even outside!, for social meetings to get away from work mode.
- Sign off the way you would in person--by saying goodbye! And be sure to sign out of the meeting; don't just close your laptop.