What does “business as usual” look like during a global pandemic? It looks like a lot of chat bubbles in Slack and Teams, Google Hangouts, and seeing your co-workers’ faces displayed in boxes a la The Brady Bunch during Zoom meetings.
It is probably safe to say that none of us were prepared for how quickly and drastically COVID-19 would impact every aspect of our lives, including our professional lives. Businesses around the world are forced to make significant, instantaneous adjustments to their daily operations in order to comply with emergency “shelter in place” mandates. For companies fortunate enough to be able to operate remotely, this means working exclusively from home for an indefinite period of time.
However, when all intraoffice communication, client meetings, and presentations must occur online, individuals who are not accustomed to working from home find themselves navigating some major learning curves. We here at WCG turned to our in-house media expert, Katie Glasshoff, for tips on how to adjust to your new remote setup, and how to make sure you are putting your best virtual foot forward in all communication.
Test Your Equipment
- Don’t leave anything to chance; make sure the microphone, speakers, and camera on your device are all working properly before you join a call. You can go into the settings of your device to test each item individually, and testing these items as you are joining the call is a good idea as well. Most (if not all) virtual conference services issue prompts to test your device’s camera, speakers, and microphone as you are joining a call.
- If an error is detected as you are joining a call, do not panic. Be sure to have the host’s contact information handy so that you can e-mail or call the person to let them know what is going on and make other arrangements.
Use One Source of Audio
Have you ever experienced that pulsing, screeching tech echo that occurs when a participant uses more than one source of audio during a video conference? It is truly brutal on the ear drums and can be very disruptive to the progress of a meeting. Not to worry, though! “The Echo” can be easily avoided:
- When joining a video call with your laptop, use your laptop’s audio functions (microphone and speaker). There is no need to use your laptop for the video and use your phone for the audio, unless of course your laptop’s audio functions are not working.
- If another participant joins the conference with two sources of audio and sets off “The Echo,” quickly and calmly let them know to mute one of their devices. You will be the hero of the meeting.
Maintaining a Professional Appearance
Working from home has its luxurious points, such as being able to conduct board meetings in your softest sweatpants. That said, you always want to make sure that your appearance – or at least, what participants can see of you – matches your professional demeanor:
- Find a place in your home with a steady, sturdy surface on which you can set your laptop.
- Once your laptop is set up, position the camera straight on and square with your neck and shoulders. You want to make sure that participants can see your entire face, preferably at a flattering angle.
- Natural light is the most flattering light, so if possible, try to face a window for your video call. If this is not an option, no problem. Find a light source that will illuminate your face without casting distorting shadows. **Tip: If access to natural light in your home is scarce, consider purchasing a ring light! Your professional photo studio glow will be the envy of your window-facing colleagues.
- Whatever your light source, make sure that it is not facing your back (for example, do not sit with your back to a window). This will cause backlighting, and you will appear as an ominous, shadowy figure to your colleagues.
- Avoid distracting jewelry, deep necklines, shoulder-bearing tops, and flesh tones. When possible, wear solid, classic colors. When in doubt, you can never go wrong with black!
General Conference Tips
Now that you have the basics down, you are ready for some advanced tips that will take you from novice to work-from-home pro:
- Do not eat or drink during formal business calls, particularly those with supervisors, clients, or potential clients. Think of it as the extended, professional adult version of “don’t talk with your mouth full.”
- When you are not speaking, use the mute button to block out any potential noise on your end and to eliminate the possibility for audio distractions.
- Do your best to make sure that your loved ones – kids, pets, significant others – are out of earshot during important calls. We know, easier said than done…just do what you can do!
- Consider your background during video conferences. Distracting lights, inappropriate pictures, and even personal family photos are best avoided during professional calls. For this purpose, the more boring the wall behind you, the better.
- Do not play with cords, cables, or other pieces of equipment that are plugged into your device; doing so may disrupt the audio or video quality without your knowledge. In fact, it is best just to keep your hands away from your device completely if possible.
- Pay very close attention to the first minute of the call: this will help you to determine whether there are delays or glitches with the audio. If it appears as though participants are responding several seconds after someone has made a comment or posed a question, you will know that there is a delay and that you should time your responses accordingly.
- Continuing the previous point, be sure to wait your turn to speak when timing your responses. Few things are more frustrating than when people interrupt each other during a call. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand to indicate that you have something to say during a video call! Nonverbal cues are a great way to communicate that you have something to contribute, but do not want to interrupt.
- Speak clearly, be engaging, and you will exude confidence. People are less likely to pay attention or believe in what you say if you are monotone, so be reasonably enthusiastic and you will have command of the room. Pro tip: using your hands while speaking puts conviction behind your words and draws in your audience.
Remember, working from home inevitably blurs the lines between your personal and professional life, sometimes in ways that are beyond your control. As long as you remain self-aware, thoughtful of your surroundings, and prepare to the best of your ability, you will always present yourself as a professional, effective communicator when it matters most.