Locking down video call etiquette

After the first week and a bit under ‘Lockdown’, many of us may be questioning whether we’ll emerge with our sanity in tact. And we’re now contemplating the next full week of proper ‘work from home’ under these extraordinary circumstances.

For the next while, video calling will continue to be our main modus operandi – so if you’re not yet really good at it, now’s the time to shape up!

There’s a lot of material available on how to conduct a really great video call. Go and check these out. Or have a quick scan of my pointers below – I’ve been doing this for years already (because the Jack Hammer team has had work from home options for more than a decade), and here are my front line tips:

1. Turn on the video capability. If you can.
Nobody wants to have a serious conversation with your profile picture. Frankly – if I’m showing you my face, and you’re not showing yours – I’m feeling snubbed. I’d rather see you in your lounger than have an earnest conversation with your profile picture or, heavens forbid, just your name. If bandwidth doesn’t support, well that’s just what it is. But give it a try, at least!

2. Update your profile
If your bandwidth (or device capability) doesn’t let you join on video, then at least think carefully about your profile picture and ‘status’. And before you insist that you have neither, try a WhatsApp video call. I confess I do love seeing pictures of other peoples’ children (it creates common ground from the outset). But I don’t want to see the profile picture you’re also posting on Tinder. Not today, thanks.

3. Consider the backdrop
This need not be ‘corporate’; but it should at least be neat, relatively clear of distraction and outside of traffic. You don’t want my half-naked husband wandering past behind me while we’re chatting. That said, your home doesn’t need to be a microcosm of your office and it’s okay to have your childrens’ art, or yours, on the bright yellow or orange wall. Dogs may bark. Babies will cry. Cats like to sit on warm keyboards. Not all at the same time, hopefully!

4. Test your sound and video
This should go without saying, but I’ve been on enough digital calls to know that many people DON’T do this. Test it with a friend, first. Try different earphone/speaker combinations. Nothing disrupts the flow of a meeting quite like a background chorus of ‘please repeat that last bit’s’.

5. Have an agenda
If you’re the meeting arranger, this is critical. If this doesn’t make immediate and obvious sense, then I’m afraid I can’t help you. If you don’t leave the meeting with action points, and questions answered, then what was the point?

6. Be Present
Minimise your email. Turn off notifications. Mute your phone. Close the door. Pay attention. Eye contact might be challenging (I’m looking at your face, not at my camera), but paying attention shows. It does.

7. Learn how to use the mute button
For the sake of all that is precious. Learn. How. To. Mute.

8. Listen
Few things are more irritating (I’m told) than somebody jumping in midway through every comment. Wait your turn. Listen. If you’re not all getting a chance to contribute (when you have something useful to contribute, that is), then something’s wrong. At Jack Hammer, we’ve found great value in practising the ‘Thinking Environments’. I’d highly recommend you consider something similar.

If virtual interaction is to become as common (and as effective) as in-person meetings, then it’s worth aiming for some mastery. There are plenty of options to choose from* and most are easy. Just because you’re working remotely, doesn’t mean you don’t need to turn up!

*Zoom, Blue Jeans, Microsoft Teams, Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp Video or Group calls…

Tracy Dawson

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