Just one month ago, very few people could have anticipated toddlers becoming such a fixture of office life. But here we are. In his New York Times article "The Dos and Don'ts of Online Video Meetings," consumer technology writer Brian X. Chen shares tips from experts on preventing your partners, pets, and precious little ones from derailing your new life at the home office.
Optimize your space and webcam image
If anyone can be called "lucky" during this crisis, it might just be people who've been able to keep their jobs and work remotely. But this is still an uncomfortable adjustment for many. Elaine Quinn, author of There's No Place Like Working From Home, told Chen, "People aren't used to being onscreen," especially when it comes to being aware of what is behind their screens when videoconferencing.
To combat awkward moments with colleagues, Chen recommends a few preparatory steps: Take a test run on your webcam, use an external microphone, and ensure your internet is running at least 20 megabits per second, which you can check on Speedtest.net. Remove anything embarrassing from the background--especially if you're cycling through multiple working spots.
If you're hosting a Zoom meeting, it might be a good idea to mute other people on the call, because they often forget to do so themselves. Chen echoes this advice, and, though it seems obvious, Twitter is chock-full of frustrated co-workers and students begging people to use the mute function. Chen points out that leaving your video running while you're not speaking is taking up bandwidth, which is becoming scarce as our internet infrastructure handles the needs of at-home workers.
Keep calls focused and efficient
Video meetings aren't quite the same as in-person meetings; your colleagues might notice if you've spaced out, which is why Zoom has a feature where hosts can be notified if you've switched away from the app for more than 30 seconds.
Try not to have too many meetings. Jason Fried, Inc.com columnist and co-author of Remote: Office Not Required, told Chen that too many meetings goes against the ethos of remote work: "It's about respecting people's time and attention and space and giving people room," he says. Chen also advises keeping to a tight agenda for videoconferences, since it's easier to drift off in your own space than at the office.
Close the door if you can
Chen takes his calls at the dining room table and signals to others he's on a call with headphones. That's one example of a boundary you can set. If possible, the best option is to try and put a closed door between you and anyone in your living space who might be out of place on a work video call.
It doesn't have to be video
Steve Jobs loved walking meetings, and research shows they definitely help you connect with others. In the age of social distancing, that probably isn't going to happen, but you might need a walk around your apartment, backyard, or neighborhood to let out excess energy and perform your best on an important work call. If you can, download the Zoom app to your phone and go audio-only. Or, as Chen notes, you can always use the good old-fashioned telephone.