Now that we’ve emerged from the longest March in recent memory (who knew one month could last five years?), many of us are settling into new routines. We’re finding new ways to power our workdays, find work-life balance, and maintain a sense of professionalism. Of course, as with anything new, there are always a few mishaps. That’s why we’re here with a how-to on keeping video conferencing professional during the age of social distancing.
Just in case you’ve been rafting the Grand Canyon and don’t know what we’re talking about: we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. And it’s been disrupting our lives since the beginning of March. While many businesses have had to close their doors temporarily, we’ve witnessed incredible creativity and resilience in the face of unspeakable hardship. Small manufacturers across the nation have pivoted to provide essential protective gear for healthcare workers. Local stores have hustled to get their product catalogs online. Local restaurants are even mixing up creative to-go cocktails for home delivery.
While travel, food, and hospitality have taken the hardest hit due to the virus’s nature, it’s swept across every sector and industry. State-issued stay-at-home and shelter-in-place have offices across the country scrambling to equip their employees with the equipment they need to work from home.
Best platforms for staying connected
Luckily, we’re living in the digital age, and remote working was trending before COVID-19 ever reared its ugly head. According to a recent article by FlexJobs, “in 2015, 3.9 million U.S. workers were working remotely. Today that number is at 4.7 million, or 3.4% of the population.” They also note that “A whopping 74% of respondents in an annual survey believe that flexible working has become the “new normal.”
With the rise of remote and flex workforces comes technology to help keep them connected to their organizations. We’ve handpicked a few of our favorites for virtual meetings, along with some pros and cons so you can make the best decision for your company and remote workers’ needs.
Zoom seems to be all people are talking about these days. Whether you’re hosting a virtual happy hour with friends or scheduling a meeting with key stockholders, it provides high-quality audio and video conferencing. With Zoom’s user-friendly platform, you can easily share your screen and record meetings. Zoom also offers a free Basic plan, which lets you host anywhere from one to one hundred participants. However, if your group meetings go longer than 40 minutes, you’ll need to upgrade to a Pro plan. Another drawback is having to download an application to join meetings—something some clients may be unwilling to do.
Skype for Business
Skype for Business is part of Microsoft’s Office 365 portal. It gives your team the ability to instant message, video conference, call, and collaborate through a single, integrated app. It’s been heralded as an inexpensive solution that doesn’t skimp on features. However, setup can be cumbersome, especially for your less tech-savvy employees and clients.
This platform, powered by LogMeIn, is one of the most scalable options on the market. It offers access through web, desktop, and mobile devices. It also allows you to coordinate meetings and webinars with up to 3,000 attendees. Plus, they pride themselves on providing the tools and support you need to empower your remote teams. One drawback? Your clients and employees will all need a stable internet connection to get the most out of it. Even momentary gaps in coverage could crash out the platform.
The ins and outs of virtual meetings
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it gives you a good jumping off point for your research! Once you’ve chosen the appropriate video conferencing platform, how can you and your employees keep at the top of your game during the social distancing era? We’ve got some tips and tricks to maintain professionalism while working from home.
Test your camera
Not all of us are lucky enough to have a dedicated workspace in our homes. Plus, considering the scope of the pandemic, many of us are working from home with roommates, partners, or children to contend with. Factor in pets and multiply by the number of people in your video conference, and you could be facing a three-ring circus in no time. To avoid going from professional to fiasco, we recommend testing your camera in your meeting space five minutes before the actual meeting.
Things to consider when working from home:
- What’s behind you? Nobody needs to see your pile of dirty laundry or unmade bed. The most professional option, of course, would be a neutral wall or minimally decorated space. But minimal decorations—think potted plants, bookshelves—work in a pinch.
- Are you in a space that other house occupants might walk into your camera line? It’s just good manners to warn your housemates that you’re hopping onto a meeting so that they can avoid this poor man’s embarrassment.
- How’s the lighting? Is it obvious that you’re hiding from your kids in a dark closet? Or are you blending in with the white wall behind your desk because the room is flooded with sunlight? Taking some time to play with different lights and shades will help you look more put together when the meeting starts.
- Check the line of sight. As Zoom’s video communication best practice guide drolly notes, only your barber wants to see your hairline. Your camera will ideally be at eye level.
- Don’t forget, other people can see you. When we feel like we’re alone, we tend to do all sorts of behavior we wouldn’t do in a professional, public space. This includes things like armpit scratching, nose picking, and even going to the bathroom. The problem is, with video conferencing, you and your entire office are alone together. Keep in mind that people can see you (and stop touching your face!).
Learn how and when to use mute
One thing we’ve learned in the last month: barking dogs, screaming kids, and slamming doors are as distracting remotely as they are in person. But background noise isn’t always avoidable. Especially now, with whole families sheltering in place. Luckily, you’ve got a secret weapon: the mute button. You can toggle this on when distracting background sound becomes unavoidable.
Don’t forget you’re screen sharing
These days, we spend a lot of time multitasking. It’s common practice to flip between multiple tabs, apps, and even devices for an hour. But if you’re screen sharing, it’s best to stay on track. Quickly checking that incoming text message or hopping into your email could have unintended consequences—from the embarrassing to the security-compromising, depending on your industry.
Another thing to keep in mind, especially if your phone syncs with the device you’re conferencing on, is whether or not messages will pop up on your screen during your meeting. Because if and when they do, your whole company might be privy to that embarrassing text from your mom. If you’d rather not take your chances, disable this function, at least for the duration of the meeting.
Embrace the human during virtual meetings
The thing is, these are unprecedented times. We’re all working under incredible stresses. This is especially true of parents who are sheltering in place with their children, or employees who are caretakers for other family members. The most important piece of advice we can offer is to “embrace the human.” That means being gentle with one another and using on-camera faux pas as an opportunity to connect with rather than judge or disparage your employees and co-workers. After all, we’re all in this together.
As always, Savy’s is here to support our clients and their brands as we all navigate the new normal. We’ve got a long track record with virtual meetings, and we’re happy to share the tips and tricks we’ve picked up over the years. How are you and your teams staying connected while working from home?