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Tips for improved videoconferencing in telework

The world is experiencing an unprecedented crisis, putting our professional and personal lives on hold. Businesses must react. Businesses need to adapt. Now more than ever, technology is helping companies cope with this unique situation. Collaboration services and applications are gaining popularity. Companies that deploy and learn how to use these services quickly are the ones that will do best while minimizing the impact on their business.

The culture of teleworking is new to many companies. New working habits are needed, both for employers who need to provide their teams with collaboration tools such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and for employees who need to learn how to use them properly. Here are a few tips based on practical experience gained in the last few weeks when it has become the norm to telework.

Prepare yourself!

Before you join a virtual meeting or web conference, remember to:

  • Enter your contact information so that other participants can clearly identify you.

  • Set up your avatar with a photo rather than letting the application write your initials. It’s always nicer to see a face!

  • For meetings with more than six participants, appoint a moderator before the meeting. The moderator will keep an eye on those who raise their hands to ask questions to avoid cacophony.

  • The moderator can record the meeting for those who cannot attend. Announce at the beginning of the meeting that it will be recorded for the sake of your participants. For some people, knowing that they are being recorded changes their behaviour for the better.

  • If there are several of you sharing the same session, let others know. This avoids unnecessary waiting for other participants.

  • If you use a camera, be aware that this consumes more bandwidth on your home Internet link. Think about this before you join the meeting as some participants with less technology may suffer with jerky images and sound.

Protect confidentiality

Confidentiality of information is paramount at all times. Here are a few tips and reminders to prevent overly curious eyes from seeing things they shouldn’t.

  • Before entering a web conference, especially if you intend to share your screen, make sure that no confidential documents are open on your computer to avoid exposing yourself to delicate situations.

  • Don’t forget to keep your e-mail and messaging notifications on your workstation silent. You never know who’s going to show up in the middle of your virtual meeting!

  • If other people are sharing the room with you, put on your headphones so they can’t hear you during the meeting.

  • Use a blurry virtual wallpaper, if the application allows it, to hide the background. Microsoft Teams offers this feature.

Show good manners

Good manners are at the centre of a pleasant collaboration experience for everyone!

  • Ask others if they hear you well at the beginning of the meeting. Then turn off your microphone if you don’t speak right away.

  • When you intervene in the meeting, since no one can see you unless you use your camera, call your name before speaking.

  • Now more than ever, the right to speak must be respected. Slow down when you speak. Take frequent breaks. Why is this so important? There is a delay in transmission between participants. This delay is caused by voice and video processing time, the speed of your Internet link, the level of congestion, etc. This is how you minimize the cacophony when everyone is talking at the same time because of these delays.

  • Non-verbal communication is not accessible to everyone because very few people activate their camera during virtual meetings. Think about asking people to activate their camera if you think you are in a meeting where reading non-verbal communication could make a difference in the outcome of the meeting.

Ensure good sound and visual quality

“What, what did you just say? Not sure I understood, the sound cut off!” Have you ever been in this situation before?

  • If you don’t have to talk, turn off your microphone to avoid background noise that disturbs others.

  • If you are attending a conference while you are on the go, if you are walking, stop before you speak, it is easier for you and it is better for others who are listening. You will appear to be less out of breath.

  • Putting your phone in vibrate mode before the meeting is good, but be careful not to leave it on the table! When it will vibrate during an incoming call and if your microphone is open, everyone will hear your incoming call.

  • If there are several of you in the same room attending the same meeting but each one on his own session, keep only one microphone at a time to avoid an echo effect. Remember to mute your microphone if you don’t speak.

  • Pay attention to your appearance. Point the camera in your direction to avoid seeing only half your face.

  • If your video is too jerky, reduce the resolution of your camera if your software allows it. That way, you’ll use less bandwidth and the video will be smoother for everyone. 1080p is not really required unless you are using a whiteboard for presentation.

  • When your camera is activated, avoid moving around unnecessarily or moving too fast, especially if you are using your smartphone. Unstable images are unpleasant for others and can even cause nausea. Place your phone on a stable surface as needed for the duration of your meeting.

  • Cameras built into mobile phones are not always of very good quality. Consider an external USB camera if you often use video in your web conferences. Also, these cameras often come with a better quality microphone.

  • If you use your keyboard to take notes during the meeting, turn your microphone off as the keys of your keyboard will be heard, which is annoying.

Finally, in this time of crisis when young children are everywhere in the house, remind them that you are working and that you need silence, especially during a virtual meeting! Remember that if your children are playing a game or listening to a movie online, this could diminish the quality of your online presence unless you have a high-performance Internet link.

Fast evolving tools

It is clear that many of these tips stem from tools that are not yet fully developed. These will mature, especially in this time of crisis. In the meantime, not all functions are the same from one application to another. For example, Microsoft Teams allows you to have a blurred background to hide what’s behind you, but Cisco Webex does not yet allow this. Be patient, the tools will all converge to a set of functions that will look the same. Until then, have good virtual meetings!

Jean-François Martin
IT Architect, ESI Technologies