Together but apart: Video call tips

The outbreak of COVID-19 has turned every element of our world upside down — including, for many of us, how we work.

And while much of the Colorado workforce have to be physically present to do their job, many who were used to working in an office environment are now grappling with the realities of conducting business in their homes as stay-at-home orders dictate that people telecommute for the health and safety of the community.

If that's you, we know it can be a tough the adjustment. What sort of work should I do? When does the workday “end?" What if I don't like my new "colleagues?"

But here at Pinnacol, we already have a great deal of experience with working from home; in fact, most of our employees have telecommuted a couple of days a week for years, and all but a handful of Pinnacol's 650-strong workforce is currently telecommuting.

One of the biggest hurdles, by far, is the video conference. Here are a few tips designed to help newbies navigate this new workday staple seamlessly.

Video Conferencing Logistics

First, let's get you ready for your “close-up."

  • Get dressed. Really. You don't have to get done up like you're going to a party (or even the office) but make an effort to brush your hair and put on something clean. (That's not pajamas).
  • Try to position your laptop camera so it's not too far or too close — you should appear in about 1/3 of the screen. Then frame the screen so your head is near the top.
  • Make sure you have ample lighting — it's easier to connect with someone who's well-lit on the screen.
  • A headset can help regulate your voice level; many people tend to shout because they think they can't be heard.
  • Try a “virtual background screen." (Yes, it would be great to really be sitting on the beach, wouldn't it?) They are more inviting than the messy background that is most people's work from home office, and it saves you time getting your “view" ready.

Video Conferencing Tips for the Meeting Leader

Are you running the meeting? Here are some ways to make the most of your time.

  • First, don't hesitate to start the meeting with some light chit-chat, the type that many people are missing if they are not used to working at home. Call it a “health and safety check" and give people a few minutes to share what's on their mind before you dive into the meeting.
  • Keep people unmuted as much as possible, which helps get rid of the “digital wall of silence."
  • To help keep the meeting a little more orderly, call on people by name to avoid having everyone talk at once — or no one talk at all.
  • But this isn't a “pop quiz," so as a courtesy, give people a few seconds of notice that you will be calling on them to give them a chance to gather their thoughts, unmute their line, etc.
  • In general, the “gallery view" (Brady Bunch windows) is better than “speaker view." Here's a tutorial from Zoom on how to choose the right one.
  • Try not to move around too much as it can distract others who might be wondering what you're doing.
  • Remember your goal is to facilitate a productive meeting so make sure your audience can easily see and hear you to better connect with your message.
  • Finally, remember that virtual meetings can require more energy to connect with participants since you are not getting fed by the in-person interaction and eye contact. Acknowledge it is quite different and give extra grace to everyone.

Video Conferencing Tips for the Meeting Participants

If you're not use to participating in video calls, it can take a while to get the hang of it. Here is some helpful advice to put your best "face" forward.

  • Test your equipment before the call starts to make sure that it is working.
  • Dial in a minute or two early so you are there when the leader opens the room.
  • While the leader might be keeping most people unmuted, do be sure to mute your own line if you have distractions in the background, such as pets or kids. (We love them but they can make it hard to hear if they are being too boisterous.)
  • Look into the camera rather than at yourself on the screen.
  • Sit forward in your seat, rather than leaning back, to appear engaged.
  • Pay attention; while it's easy to zone out, the more attentive everyone is, the faster the meeting can go. (And if you think you are surreptitiously checking your email, really, everyone can see.)

Finally whether you're the leader or a participant, remember this video conference adage: The rhythms of virtual meetings are like a middle school dance. Expect odd lags and silence and people stepping on each other's toes. Just accept it for what it is.

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