The Dread of Home Office Video Calls

I stumbled upon an old video from 2014, feels like eons ago, but it resonsates even stronger today than ever before.

When you start your day early in the morning, pleasantly sipping the freshly brewed coffee and sorting through the emails in your inbox, a sudden thought storms in: you have to attend another video conference in a few… All the feelings of pleasantness are replaced by the dread of having to re-live the many (and very frustrating) difficulties that a videoconference may pose. Nevertheless, in COVID times we have fewer options to choose from and the social distancing measures are meant to keep us from coming into physical contact with other humans — therefore creating the need for virtual connection.

From the awkwardness of dealing with new versions/updates of the many platforms available (the least fortunate of us spending precious minutes just trying to access the ‘room’, fumbling with passwords and codes to the annoyance of everyone present) to the struggle of adjusting settings in different devices (which is not such a trifle as many may think, and we have the viral ‘cat-lawyer’ as living proof of it). Intermittent connections, confusing software, subpar hardware, audio delay and/or overlapping, the lack of the reassuring signals body-language offers, while the new social-distancing norms are still developing. The list seems endless.

In reality, many of the issues with video conferencing are not about the applications themselves, but about our own devices and connections. Microphone quality varies greatly across smartphones and laptops, leaving some people sounding crystal clear like they are hanging out on the other end of your sofa, and others sounding like they are mumbling in the middle of an empty tunnel miles away. To avoid co-workers asking you to repeat things over and over, try not to rely on built-in computer microphones, and use headphones with a microphone instead.

Camera quality is also all over the place, though phones are often better than laptops. Just making sure we have the right amount of illumination can make up for a low-quality camera. One common mistake people new to video conferencing make is not spending adequate time to find the perfect lighting in their houses, settling for any angle that does not reveal messes or the fact that they are still in pajama pants. That leads to a grid of dark rectangles which make people look like the characters of the well-known Minecraft game, brilliantly back lit shadow co-workers, or sometimes overly personal information about your home.

While conferencing, we all try to hit every agenda item to be covered; but with people ‘coming’ and ‘going’ in and out of the ‘room’ as connections mishaps rife, interrupting the natural flow of presentations and discussion (a constant reminder that even when the infrastructure is there, it is at times, utterly insufficient), it proves to be an almost insurmountable task.

Having to mute our mic for a couple of minutes every now and then (we may not own a dog, but our neighbor’s dog barking makes sure everyone thinks we have one in the room with you trying to tear some unfortunate UPS guy apart).

Working from home poses the sudden inconvenience of having to deal with door knocking/bell ringing (ill-timed neighbors, package delivery, etc.), and/or the family needing immediate assistance with spontaneous emergencies (from a hard to crack open marmalade jar, to their own computers experiencing problems).

Most applications can have quite a steep learning curve, starting with how to create accounts or dialing in to join a room, to knowing when to mute so people cannot hear you whispering to your dog…

What can do to enhance our experience, without giving your online audience a headache?

For starters, closing the door seems a pretty good idea…

  • Having a clear agenda – This gives structure to your meeting. Both you and your attendees should be aware of the points of discussion, time allotments and expected contributions and have no reason to be unprepared. This increases productivity and helps everyone focused on what is transpiring.
  • Being on time – ¨A stitch in time saves nine, ¨ or maybe 10 blushes, when you log on early, you can identify and remedy any technical issues before the meeting begins.
  • Holding the call in a quiet place where we can focus- Background noise is distracting not only for you but for others on the virtual call.
  • Make engagement a top priority – A major goal of any virtual meeting is keeping people from ‘zoning out’; asking questions, soliciting feedback, and involving participants in presentation assures that the time is well spent.
  • Make the meeting interesting with visual aids – It is easier to focus on a conversation when the eyes have something to focus on. Keep your visual aids clean, attractive, and concise. Use them to drive home important points.
  • Do not be longwinded! – Be mindful of how long your meeting lasts. The average employee’s attention span does not stretch for hours at a time. The longer you drag on, the less your participants will pay attention.
  • Keep your apps up to date – While mobile applications send out update notifications whenever new versions are released; one should periodically update desktop applications. It is usually a manual process but a few minutes worth of an update is better than having your software crash midway an important meeting.

Can you think of any tips you would like to share?

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