Connectivity has never been more crucial to the world of work than right now. The outbreak of COVID-19 caused the majority of sectors to pivot completely to home working and has cast a spotlight on home broadband, video conferencing software, and employees’ homes.
According to the Office of National Statistics, nearly half of the UK population (46.6%) worked from home in April 2020, following the introduction of a nationwide lockdown. Across the pond, Stanford University reported that 42% of U.S workers were doing the very same – and all on a full-time basis.
From bedrooms to kitchens to outhouses, a home office can be set-up anywhere with the right tools. And with platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams now the enabler for our revised working habits, the spotlight now shines on workers’ video conferencing etiquette.
For many home workers, alarm clocks are now set for an hour later than before and the morning commute is no more than the distance from a cosy bed to the kettle. So is there any need to remain professional? Of course there is.
Even though meetings are no longer taking place in person, virtual conferencing has become the backbone of our ‘new normal’. Therefore, staff should still dress smartly, spruce up and come to meetings prepared and primed for work.
We’ve outlined some simple do’s and don’ts for video conferencing to keep your etiquette in check. Follow these and there’s no reason why you can’t push for that sought-after promotion, even amid a pandemic.
1. Get Your Lighting Right
There’s no better way to hide the bags under your eyes and the hoodie you’ve slipped into on a Monday morning than to appear as a silhouette to your colleagues for that morning meeting. But that’s not going to win you any favours with your boss, is it?
Choosing a location for your video conference with the right lighting is crucial to making a good impression. Natural light is always best, so if you’re typically lying on your bed with the blinds shut, then consider switching up your home workspace to somewhere with better illumination. That way, you’ll be able to make a bright start in every video conference.
Be wary of choosing a spot with a lot of direct sunlight. Harsh light shining in your eyes is going to stop you from concentrating and you could miss a crucial figure or a question asked in your direction. Plus, you’ll look a bit daft squinting for the duration of the call – or worse – having to wear sunglasses!
Equally don’t feel like you need to spend money on expensive lighting; this just isn’t necessary for the average person. However, if you really want to impress your clients and colleagues, it could be worth the investment. Especially if you are running a business! If you can’t source natural light, then happily settle for a nearby lamp to add a bit of clarity to your video picture.
2. Check Your Audio Settings In Advance
There’s nothing more annoying than jumping onto a video conference just for a barrage of participants to politely remind you that you’re on mute. Stop looking silly and starting off on the wrong foot by checking your audio settings ahead of time to ensure you can be heard loud and clear.
The benefit of virtual meetings is that you can’t be drowned out by a bolshy colleague like you might in person as video conferencing software keeps the volume at an equal level – so long as your settings are sorted!
Don’t expect your audio to be perfect. A lot of laptops are equipped with pretty poor internal microphones, so ensure you’ve checked how your audio sounds ahead of that next important quarterly call. Equally, high ceilings or a big empty room can result in echoes, which are far more frustrating to deal with on a video conference than they are in person, and can halt the flow of conversation. If you’re really struggling with echoes, then consider a space with better sound proofing – rooms with rugs or carpet are a good noise dampening option.
Consider using a wired microphone – or wireless headset to ensure your audio is on point and easily heard. There are plenty of affordable headsets available online, and if you’re not in the position to invest, then even a pair of AirPods can provide a significant upgrade on dodgy laptop microphones.
3. Up Your Video Quality
Always, always, always ensure your camera is working ahead of an important call. This is basic video conferencing etiquette. Hiding behind a profile picture or your initials can leave participants wondering what you’re concealing, and certainly doesn’t build a client’s trust in you. Therefore, make sure your settings are sorted and log-in early to double check.
On Mac, apps like Photo Booth or FaceTime allow you to preview your webcam so you can see what your client will ahead of that all important call. This should help you spot anything inappropriate in the background that you may wish to remove and will help to ensure you remain looking professional throughout your calls.
Don’t rely on your computer’s webcam for good picture quality. A lot of laptops – even those in and around the £1,000 mark – can come equipped with sub par webcams. VGA or 720p doesn’t really cut it these days, and with working from home likely for the foreseeable future, you may wish to invest in a better 1080p or 4k external webcam to add quality to your video calls and come across more professional.
4. Dress Appropriately
This ought to be a given – but do make sure (at least from the waist up!) that you’re in proper work attire. Working from home doesn’t give workers a God given right to suddenly switch up their smart shirts for sweatpants, but there is a little bit of leeway.
That said, ensure you’re well presented, that your hair is well kept, and that you’re wearing something that’ll leave a good impression with the colleague or client that you are video conferencing with.
Equally, don’t stay in your pyjamas all day if there aren’t any meetings in your diary. You never know when you may be asked to jump on a last minute client call – and you’ll be in a pretty mad panic should the boss call and you’re scrambling around for trousers.
Don’t forget to switch things up too. You may only be wearing a shirt for an hour whilst on a video call, but if you wear it again everyday that week with a client, they might be a bit perturbed by your (presumed) lack of hygiene!
5. Avoid Distractions
Do keep your focus on who’s in front of you. You wouldn’t start checking your emails on your phone during in-person meetings – so you shouldn’t do it on Microsoft Teams or Zoom either.
Good video conferencing etiquette requires your complete attention, so pop Do Not Disturb mode on before your meetings get underway and let your team know that their questions or queries will have to wait.
Don’t forget, people can hear you smashing away at your keyboard in the background, so keep those not-so-urgent email replies for after your video call, and stay focused on the meeting that’s currently underway.
Don’t get distracted by your partner coming into the room, or by playing with pets whilst you should be listening to a client’s brief. Cats are cute but they love nothing more than sitting on a keyboard – so keep them shut out while on an important call.
6. Warn Those Around You
We’ve all seen that clip online where a BBC journalist is interrupted by one of his young children running into his office. Therefore, it’s important to warn those around you that you’re going to be part of an important video conference. If you and your family have been forced to work from home due to the pandemic, then it’s important to have an appreciation for each other’s need for space whilst home working. Simply closing the door of the room you’re working in serves as a polite reminder to family members that you aren’t to be disturbed.
Keep toddlers amused in another room and ask teenagers to keep the music down. Equally, if your broadband connection isn’t great and multiple video feeds are going to cause you some bandwidth issues, ask your children to keep off the internet whilst you’re working. There’s nothing worse than being kicked out of a call because your son or daughter has decided to start online gaming at the wrong hour!
Still having issues? Consider moving your router closer to your set-up or investing in a WiFi extender may be your best bet – this is sure to boost your signal.
Don’t be mistaken. Having ‘goings on’ in the background of your virtual meetings can distract participants. Your other half making lunch or running past after a shower in just their towel isn’t going to look very professional – your fault or not!
Ultimately, the responsibility lies with you to leave a good impression with colleagues and clients, so make sure you’ve got your own space sorted when video conferencing.
Hopefully these pointers will help keep you in check when working from home – and if you stick to them, you’re going to be much more likely to be trusted to continue working from home when employees start to return to the office.