As lockdown continues across the globe, the digital transformation of companies of all sizes and industries has been put into hyperdrive. Most important of all these tools is the video call.
With offices in Norway, Serbia, and Uganda, we are no strangers to video calling at Laboremus. Some of our colleagues are more seasoned experts than others, and as the less experienced video callers had to include Microsoft Teams, Google Hangout, Skype and Zoom into our work (and social) calendars, we decided to crowdsource tips on how to excel at video calling.
1. Make sure to test your microphone, camera, and speaker BEFORE the call
This might seem like an obvious tip, but, as you should all know by now, sound and video problems are quite normal for a video call. These problems can be caused by you having multiple audio or video outputs/inputs, so make sure to always double-check both your computer setup and the sound/video settings in the video call service you’re using.
2. Dress appropriately
We’ve all seen the photos of people on work calls wearing button-up shirts and a tie for the camera, but no pants. We recommend you wear pants, to save you from any embarrassment in case you need to get up to get something. In any case, dressing up helps you to mentally differentiate between work and leisure at home.
3. Sit comfortably
Whether at the office or home, make sure that you sit comfortably. Video calls can suddenly go on for a lot longer than you think, so make sure that you have the right chair, your screen(s) are at the right height and so on.
4. Watch your back(ground)
Have a designated space for video calls where your background has minimal to no distractions. Turn on video before the call and remove anything that might distract people during the meeting. Many video calling services also has a blurring function. Use this!
5. Lights, camera, action!
Having sufficient light is also important. Make sure the light comes from behind the computer screen, NOT behind your back. If you don’t have daylight to help you with this, consider using a lamp.
Always ensure that the microphone is turned off when you are not speaking. Even if you are not in a noisy environment, the sound you might not be aware of (AC, wind, keyboard typing, or even echo from faulty microphone settings) can disrupt the call for everyone.
7. Screen-sharing is caring
Use screen-sharing to make the most out of your digital collaboration. Screen-sharing is particularly good for showing test results, joint troubleshooting, pair programming and similar collaborative problem-solving.
8. Leading the meeting? Channel your inner conductor!
Video and audio lag, bad sound, and the lack of physical proximity can and will make video calls less organic than a physical meeting. That means that whoever leads the meeting needs to channel his or her conducting skills more than usual. Set a manageable and strict agenda and keep time. Remember to put in the time for some socialization at the beginning of the meeting. Clarify when people should add comments or questions. Make sure to call on the opinion and input from every attendant (preferably by name) to avoid people zoning out. If there are people whose input is not needed, consider, as always, to not include them in the meeting.
9. Hit record
This is especially relevant for knowledge-sharing, reviews, and retrospectives. On a group level, Laboremus always records our weekly DevShare meetings. This is both to make it available for whoever was unable to attend, but also to enable our developers to go back and revisit relevant sessions. Tools like Microsoft Stream (connected to Teams) can generate transcripts of recorded meetings.
10. Schedule your calls to avoid exhaustion
Like meetings, video calls can be exhausting and eat into your effective work time. One general rule that has worked for a lot of us is to limit your calls to either only the hours before or after lunch. That way you are more focused during your video calls and you get half a day of uninterrupted work time. Win-win!
As a final note, while video is preferred, consider data/broadband connection for meetings when necessary. Having a morning brief with all employees in the company? Turn off audio and video for everyone but the person talking during the announcements to make sure that everyone has clear audio and video.