5 Recommendations for Productive Video Conferences

As we collectively respond to COVID-19, many of our desks, classrooms, and conference tables are making way for virtual meeting spaces (Google Hangouts, Facetime calls, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.) that are convenient, relatively easy-to-use and a great avenue for connecting with colleagues. That being said, not all video conferences are equally effective and efficient.

As a virtual-organization, we spend countless hours internally and with clients on video calls. Here are 5 suggestions from our team to ensure your experience is positive. 

  1. Mute your phone! No really, MUTE. YOUR. PHONE. Even if your space is “quiet”, phone and computer microphones pick up tons of ambient noise–let alone the dog barking in the room over and the fire truck sirens whizzing by outside. Muting your phone can also help reduce audio feedback, which our eardrums appreciate! The same is true for typing! If you’re typing on your laptop during a meeting, banging really hard on the keys can end up being really loud. If you’re a key-banger (no shame!), consider hand-writing notes.
  2. Prep & Set the Stage. Folks understand that for most of us, working from home doesn’t allow working from a physical office. You may be in a bedroom, living room, closet, garage or if lucky enough, outside on a patio! No matter where, be sure to test your wifi signal, check that your computer is charged and test the visual background and lighting. Be sure to look at yourself on camera and clean up what’s behind you that could be distracting and/or not part of a professional work space. Have you spent countless hours tasting whiskeys from around the world to build the perfect home bar? Cool! But don’t have that behind you when video chatting with your 10th grade English class. Also be sure to test that folks can see you on the screen in full lighting, without any weird halos, shadows or distracting reflections. It can help to have a lamp in front of you, vs. behind or above you.
  3. Plan Ahead. As for IRL meetings (“In Real Life” as the kids say), all online meetings should have a clear agenda and objectives. When meeting virtually, it’s incredibly valuable for those items to be shared ahead of time, along with any handouts or materials that participants may need to reference or would like to print. Certain virtual meeting software programs are less friendly to viewing multiple items on the same screen at the same time, so be prepared for slower review of documents and potential logistics troubleshooting. We recommend having a named facilitator  to guide the meeting and a different person as note-taker who can send a detailed wrap-up email afterwards with notes and next steps. 
  4. Intentionally Welcome. Ever the first person to call into a meeting and worry if you’re in the right place at the right time? Meeting leaders can avoid this worry for participants by posting a “landing page” slide–something up on the screen when folks dial-in that says what the meeting is, when the meeting will start and a reminder of any materials that are needed.  Since virtual meetings feel different than in-person interactions, try starting with a short “Do Now” activity or ice-breaker to get participants engaging with one another prior to starting formal meeting content. 
  5. Practice. If you haven’t done many virtual meetings, it pays to spend some time practicing by yourself or better yet with a friend or close colleague. Through practicing,  you can fine-tune key messages, test logistics and reflect upon your own style and online demeanor. One of our colleagues for example received feedback that they look “stressed” when taking notes on the computer, so they’ve switched to handwritten notes. We’re big fans of using Google docs for live collaboration, but that too requires practice to ensure folks have clear directions and high engagement.

6 Tips for Working from Home

We are in uncertain and stressful times. As the world focuses on slowing the spread of COVID-19, life at home doesn’t stop; and in many cases, is even more challenging than ever as we prioritize the health of our families, care for children home from school, co-work with spouses, remotely engage with colleagues and care for communities on the edge. 

While we can’t speak to the overwhelming unrest and anxiety this pandemic is bringing into our lives, we can hopefully help in a small way, by sharing tips on how to work home. Collectively, our team has worked remotely for 20+ years and found the following concepts to be helpful.  We encourage you to read below, rest up, stay healthy and care for one another. 

Sarah, Grant, Jessica & Jeremy

  1. Make a schedule and stick to it. In normal circumstances, we’re big fans of using our calendars to block meetings, calls, work-time, and personal appointments. When at home, especially when it’s not the norm, it’s even more important to build a routine and follow-it. Plan out when you’ll review the quarterly report, check-in with a colleague and take a break for lunch. Distractions are everywhere (suggestion: turn off social media notifications), so be purposeful in spending your time “at work”.
  2. Start strong. Spending the day working remotely is not the same as that one magical snow day you had in 3rd grade. It can be difficult to differentiate “work-days” from other days when all are spent at home. The solution, set an alarm for the same time each day, take a shower, get dressed and “go to work”. No, you don’t need to throw on that power suit, but avoid wearing your fluffy bunny PJs on a conference call with your boss. How you dress and structure your morning can put you in the right mindset to have a productive day. Similarly, be intentional to log off at the end of the day. While we can check email on our phones, it’s healthy and important to disconnect–allow yourself to fully be present with family, call a friend, dive into a good book or binge watch a trashy tv show. 
  3. Create space. If possible, designate a space for work that you can consistently return to, and then equally important, avoid during non-work time. This is hard for those of us in cramped spaces (hello NYC friends!), but even designating a slice of your dining room table to “work” can help create physical and emotional space between work and the rest of your life. Treat your space like you would your desk at work; keep your favorite snacks or hand lotion in the drawer, put a plant on the surface. 
  4. Stay out of the kitchen. You’re not hungry, you’re bored. Trying having a glass of water. 
  5. Take breaks. If you’re used to working in an office, you may not realize how often you get up, move, and walk during the day. Trips to the water cooler, meetings in conference rooms, and lunches at the corner deli all give you a mental and physical break. Without those natural touchpoints, working from home can lead to long hours in one spot. Not only is this rough on the body, your brain needs chances to reset. Add to your calendar or set a timer reminding you to stand up frequently and take breaks from screens. Try a free Pomodoro system app to remind you to take short breaks. Go for a walk, water the plants, complete a 5 minute workout routine, have a dance party, play with the dog, mediate–whatever you need to recharge. 
  6. Communicate your schedule. Even if this is not your first foray into working from home, it may be the first time there are others in the house while you do so. If others are around (partner, kids, etc.) make sure that they know when you’re available to them, and when you’re not. Something as simple as door open, I’m available, door closed, I’m not. This can help minimize distractions

Interested in learning more, check out these articles from Gallup: Remote Teams & Managing Isolation.