Many of us will continue to work at home, simultaneously juggling multiple roles, for some time to come during the pandemic. Consider these tips to stay healthy and productive
Zoom tips: 6 ways to make meetings better
Now that meeting online is a necessity, do you know the various ways to control – and improve – Zoom meetings and other online gatherings? Check out these expert tips to avoid embarrassment and boost productivity
4. Control the video
Executives and others who need to look good and make a strong impression in online video meetings should invest in setting up a home studio or modifying a home office or den setup with appropriate lighting, soundproofing, and maybe a green screen for virtual backgrounds. It’s not reasonable to expect everyone to get that fancy, and unlikely that everyone will be able to do so all the time.
Even in the most improvised setting, spend time thinking through what people are going to see through the frame of the webcam. If you have to sign in from the kitchen table, what are people going to see in the background – a plain wall, or dishes piled up in the sink? Is there adequate light, and if not, can you drag an extra lamp into the room to make it better?
The position of lights can also make a huge difference. If the strongest light is coming from a lamp or a window behind you, you’re likely to look like you’re in the witness protection program, with your face in shadow.
Turning off your video is always an option, and may sometimes be the best answer. However, it’s human nature for people to want to see and be seen, and video is a great tool for making people feel more connected when they can’t be together in person - especially right now.
The virtual background feature in Zoom can be a handy way to hide your messy kitchen or home office. Online meeting participants often have fun with backgrounds that make it look like they are signing in from the bridge of The Enterprise, a baseball park, or some other fanciful location. You can use any image for your virtual background, and it doesn't need to be fancy. I’ve gotten compliments on a plain blue gradient that started life as a PowerPoint slide, saved as PNG and uploaded into Zoom.
Virtual backgrounds work best with a green screen backdrop, which can be purchased inexpensively, but Zoom can pull off this trick without one. For the software to do its magic, you’ll need a newer computer with a sufficiently high-powered graphics chip. Positioning yourself in front of a plain wall rather than a cluttered background will prevent the software from having to work too hard. Strong lighting also helps the software distinguish between you and your background. It will usually work even in imperfect circumstances, but you may notice yourself shimmering like Force ghost.
5. Control the screen sharing
Allowing everyone to share their screens is another setting that makes sense in meetings where you know the other participants and expect everyone to behave professionally. However, it can cause problems.
In addition to intentional Zoombombing, I’ve often seen people share their screen unintentionally just because they clicked the wrong button or didn’t understand how screen sharing works in Zoom. Often the first thing these accidental sharers broadcast is an image of whatever they have open in their email or other productivity applications. You can imagine the potential for embarrassment by improperly sharing sensitive information.
To prevent this, toggle Zoom’s screen sharing setting to “Host only.” To allow another participant to share their screen, you can upgrade that person to co-host. For the person presenting, this has the added benefit of allowing them to mute individuals or all other participants. If appropriate, you as the meeting host can withdraw co-host privileges when their presentation is done.
6. Know when to loosen up
Putting top priority on getting work done is right and proper, but don’t neglect the social context of work.
This came up in a recent webinar on Using Digital Channels in a Crisis, hosted by The Community Roundtable, a community of online community managers conducted on Zoom.
“When you are used to being in person and have to be online, build in room for chitchat,” is the advice from Erica Kuhl, a consultant who in her past life as a Salesforce executive worked on establishing and nurturing online and offline communities, including Salesforce’s Trailhead training resources.
“Operating online forces us to be explicit about our need to just connect and laugh with each other,” says roundtable co-founder Rachel Happe. “We know from our research and our practice that if we don’t have a good welcome experience and good, rich introductions, that really makes long-term engagement suffer.”
In other words, you should know the administrative controls that would help you whip a meeting into shape, but it’s a good idea to allow 15 minutes at the beginning of every meeting for people to talk informally amongst themselves and perhaps for children cooped up in the house with your employees to say hello on screen before they are sent to focus on their schoolwork. This can be done at the same time people are checking to make sure their mics and cameras are working.
Build in time for that. Then get down to work.
[ Want DevOps best practices? Watch the on-demand webinar: Lessons from The Phoenix project you can use today. ]