COVID has had a dramatic impact on all of our lives and it has significantly impacted the way many of us work each and every day. One thing is for sure, I have done more video calls in the past 6 months than I've done in my entire 44 previous years of life on earth. I have had to become an expert in a wide array of different interfaces from Zoom to Teams to Google Hangouts, Webex and many more.
One thing that stays constant in all of these new platforms is a need for proper video, audio and lighting. It really isn't an option. Yes, I know, some days you may just not be ready for the camera (just got back from a run or have other distractions in the background) but the benefits of having your camera on are just too big to ignore. If you are not using it on almost all video calls, it could be damaging your ability to connect and communicate effectively.
Studies have shown that "62% of executives agree that relative to audio conferencing, video conferencing significantly improves the quality of communication, a figure that rises to 73% among high-growth companies. In addition, 50% of those surveyed believe video conferencing also improves the degree of understanding." In short, if you are not using video on your calls, you are seriously limiting the ability to get your message across.
Now that we have firmly established that video is critical, how do you make sure you are set up to have the best possible video quality? Here are some simple tips:
1. Position your camera at eye level
News flash, nobody likes looking up someone else's nose. Heck, we don't even like looking up our own nose! This is not a flattering perspective on anyone, ever.
Ideally, you want your camera at eye level. There are a few different ways to achieve this. If you have a laptop camera, simply stack it onto a platform and use a separate mouse and keyboard. Personally, I find that a few thick books make a sturdy riser. If you have a separate screen and camera, make sure to position the camera above and centered on that display.
2. Light from the front
Have you ever wondered why professional photographers and videographers bring thousands of dollars of lights with them to a photoshoot? It's because lighting makes or breaks any shot. I can't tell you how many times I've been on calls where someone looks like they are doing their best impression of a solar eclipse. The camera angled up at their face (see point #1 above) and the main light in the room is behind their head making it impossible to see their face.
3. Look like a professional
I love the athleisure look like anybody else. For me, a soft hoodie and some Adidas soccer pants are my jam. But, it's really best reserved for Sunday mornings on the couch or a walk in the park.
When doing a video conference, how you present yourself matters. If you wouldn't wear the clothes into an actual office, you really shouldn't be wearing them for business related video calls. No one expects a suit & tie, but making an effort counts. I love the saying "dress for the job you want, not the job you have."
4. Invest in a proper headset
As someone who used to be a Sales and Public Speaking trainer, one thing I would ask my soft-spoken students is "if I can't hear you, how can I understand you?" Sound quality matters on web conferences. Even if you plan on using your computer rather than a phone for sound, connecting a proper headset to your computer is a smart move. The sound quality of your voice to other people will improve, but it will also make it easier to comprehend what is being said by others.
5. Shut down other apps sucking bandwidth or memory
Having the proper bandwidth to sustain all of the internet connected devices in our homes these days is a real concern. Personally, I have 3 teenage kids, 5 Amazon Alexa devices, numerous web connected TV's and everyone has a personal communication or gaming device on our wi-fi at all times. We even have a wi-fi connected doggie camera to watch our pooches when we are away from home. Add that all up, and you need a lot of data to sustain everything at peak performance. With the move to working from home, many companies will now pay a stipend for home internet service. It may be time to upgrade your data plan if they do.
Aside from data bandwidth challenges, I also find that Zoom or Teams video calls taking up a significant amount of operating memory on my laptop. Especially if you want to use a video filter or background, it makes it hard to pull up files or other content to share quickly during a call. The best advice is to try and shut down any programs you are not using during the call. That will free up as much memory as possible to ensure the highest performance, video and sound quality when it's your time to share.
6. Get a proper desk and ergonomic chair
We've all worked from a couch or kitchen table at some point in time. It's OK for about 30 minutes, but after that, your back or neck may start to hurt. Your arms, shoulders and wrists can't get into a good ergonomic posture. Rather than focusing on doing your best work, you are focusing on how not to hurt yourself.
A proper work desk and chair will allow your body to get into an ergonomically correct position to minimize stress on joints and muscles and allow you to put your focus where it needs to be. Lower back pain or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (wrist pain or numbness) is nothing to joke about. Companies spend billions of dollars each year in the US alone making sure employees have the tools they need to do their work and stay safe.
When working from home, don't forget to create a work set-up to enable you to be your best all day, every day at work and at play. If you can find a height-adjustable desk, that is the best case scenario. My brother is an ergonomics expert. A long time ago he told me something I will never forget on ergonomics, "the next posture, is the best posture". Having a proper ergonomic seated position is good, but changing from proper positions of sitting and standing throughout the day is better.
In summary, working from home can be a wonderful thing. I find that I have more time to focus on important quality of life factors such as my personal health and spending more quality time with my family. I also find that I can do some of my best work as well. Video conferencing may not be as good as an in person meeting, but when we take the steps above into account, it can be a very effective tool for communication and collaboration.