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Thoughts on Video Conferencing

I originally posted this as a Twitter thread a few weeks ago, because the blog was broken. Finally getting them together.

  • My thoughts about video conferencing for work and for play, gathered over several years of working with remote teams. A thread 🧵:

  • First, and most important: Have an agenda. Don’t just book a video conference meeting because that’s when you usually have the meeting in the office.

  • For team meetings, if more than one person is on camera, everyone should be on camera. This puts everyone on equal footing.

  • Exception to the previous tip: if you’re in a massive meeting with a few exec-level speakers, leave your camera and mic off. Nobody’s there to see you. If there’s a Q&A session, turn on your camera when you ask a question.

  • If it’s an audio-only meeting, and the attendees are not regularly working together, identify yourself when you talk the first time. Hi, this is Jimmy with product…” is super helpful.

  • If you’re running a meeting and want to do an intro round-robin, call on people using the meeting invite or attendee list. Don’t just say let’s all introduce ourselves.” That’s awkward chaos waiting to happen.

  • Unless you are actively demoing something or managing some software function on your computer, look at the camera when you speak. It really helps connect.

  • That being said: Don’t feel compelled to look straight into the camera as a viewer, but stay engaged with the speaker. We don’t stare into each other’s eyes for an hour at a time in person, and it’s odd to do it online.

  • If your software allows it, keep your video preview visible next to everyone else’s video. It will remind you that you are on camera and keep you from doing anything embarrassing.

  • If everyone is on camera, feel free to use non-verbal cues. Nod, gesture, raise your hand to speak. In a friendly group, I sometimes hold up a small white board with snarky comments. But, KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.

  • If you can, plug into ethernet. Wifi lag is real, and can affect your call.

  • If you’re not talking: mute, mute, mute. Nobody needs to hear you typing and breathing.

  • Wear headphones if you can. This reduces the chance of echo or feedback.

  • Tasteful virtual backgrounds are fine IF (and it’s a big IF) - you are well lit and separated enough from your physical background that it looks good. Test it. If it looks like crap or your left arm keeps disappearing, don’t turn it on.

  • Wear work-appropriate clothing. You don’t have to dress like you’re going to the office, but also don’t wear a swimsuit and muscle-tee. Also, solid colors work better than patterns on low-bandwidth connections.

  • Be lit. Sit next to a window, or add a lamp to your desk. Makes all the difference with a crappy laptop webcam.

  • If you can, get an external camera. They are worlds better.

  • Mind your background. Nobody minds if your spouse or kids are wandering around, but make sure we don’t see them wandering into the bathroom. If you sit in front of a window, make sure your face isn’t blown out in the light.

  • Announce your silences. If you have to pause to pull up a file or switch to a different screen, let the viewers know this. Otherwise, they may think the stream has failed.

  • Feel free to wear a hat or headband. Trim your facial hair. Everyone knows working from home is hard. We’re not doing our hair or shaving every day, but don’t look like a hobo.

  • Speak slower, pause more, ask for feedback. Don’t just barrel through your thoughts. Give others the chance to jump in, which is difficult with the lag of video conferencing.

  • Share a calendar with your housemates/family. Let them know exactly when you need to be on camera for work, and arrange to get the room or for your other to watch the kids for a while.

  • Drinking during a video chat is fine. Eating is not. But be muted either way. Nobody needs to hear that. And if you’re having a glass of wine, put it in a coffee cup.

  • I know a lot of home offices are in the bedroom. This is great. But please, make your bed. We can see it and we will judge you. Also, don’t have the meeting from bed. That’s just weird.

  • If you are screen-sharing, be mindful. If you only need to share one window, do that. If you need to share your whole screen, turn off notifications and quit all other apps.

  • Find your frame. Don’t be the person showing everyone only the top half of your head. Be in the middle, preferably a head-and-shoulders shot.

  • Make sure your camera and the monitor you’re looking at are aligned. Otherwise, it looks like you’re not paying attention.

  • No more Brady Bunch or no-pants references. I promise you everyone has already heard them.

  • If you’re on your phone or tablet, use it in landscape. Everyone else on the call is in landscape, and you don’t want to be the one messing up the grid.

This would have been a blog post, but my blog is broken right now. When I get it back up and running, I’ll write up this thread there as a real post, because permanent stuff shouldn’t live on Twitter.

You can see the original thread on Twitter:

🗓️ July 22, 2020 🏷️ WFH 🏷️ Video Conference
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