Video conferencing underwent a boom the second we were introduced to social distancing. Suddenly, a huge percentage of the white-collar workforce was working from home, and video meetings went from something we did every so often, to a huge part of daily professional life.
Here, we’ll give you a rundown of popular platforms you might find useful, go through some hardware concerns, and offer a few tips on etiquette.
There’s no shortage of video conferencing apps. The main thing you’ll want to keep in mind is how many people your team needs on a conference call at one time. Beyond that, it can always be handy to look into extra features, like screen sharing, simultaneous messaging, or recording.
Zoom has quickly moved to the forefront of video conferencing. Its free version gives you 40 min, unlimited 1-to-1 meetings and up to 100 participants on group calls. It’s easy to use, and all your participants have to do is click a link. One paid member is enough to host longer meetings, and comes with some decent extra features. Due to its popularity boom, we’ve got a section dedicated to Zoom meetings here.
Skype is the classic video caller, one of the pioneers, and they’ve added an option for conference calling too. No sign up required, you can do it straight from your browser, and it’ll give you a handy link to invite whomsoever you wish. Call limit of 50 participants.
If you have a Google account, you can use Meet. The free version goes up to 25 participants. If your company is already Google and Gmail based, you might already have access to this. It’s a solid platform, but not accessible to users who don’t have a google account, which is a major drawback.
Microsoft Teams comes with Office 365. It’s a full-featured chat and group organising program with inbuilt file sharing, personal profiles, and also video conferencing. Good if you want to do everything in one place, but not if you’re just looking for additional video conferencing service.
Slack is another full-featured group organising program. It can help you organise chat groups amongst your remote team, and has integrated video calling (1-to-1 only) for free. It has a per-user charge to access extra features.
Discord was designed for gaming, but it offers a lot more. It follows Office 365 and Slack in being a group organising platform. Gamers know how to make decent apps, and they also happen to like it when they’re free. So, not only is Discord free to use, it’s also a really good service. Just set up a channel and you have access to text messaging, group video chat up to ten participants, along with screen sharing.
An Informal Option
If you and some colleagues are having a meeting that doesn’t have to be too serious, check out House Party. It could work well for a morale-boosting video lunch, a brainstorming session, or an informal catch up. Up to eight participants.
Video conferencing relies on certain pieces of hardware being up to the task. Your key concerns will be:
- Internet Connection
Most computers come with what you need, but you can also get stand-alone microphones and cameras if you wish. A separate microphone might help to cut out background noise, and a dedicated camera set-up will make you look better, especially if you also splash out for a tripod and lighting. If you’re doing a lot of external calls or dealing with clients, it’s worth asking your employer to organise that for you.
The faster your internet is, the easier your video conferencing life will be. Working from home will only grow in popularity, so you may as well look into an upgrade.
Finally, hardware problems are totally natural, and they will come. Though they can be pretty straightforward, some team members will understandably struggle with troubleshooting and more technical settings.
TeamViewer is a decent fallback. Once it’s set up, it can give IT support people remote access to your computer (with your knowledge, of course) so they can sort out most problems remotely.
Video conferencing will come with a new set of behavioural expectations. Some of these are still being established, but the following points can help your meetings go more smoothly.
Turn Your Camera On
Being on a video call with half the callers as blank squares is not OK. It’s the digital equivalent of not looking at someone when you’re speaking with them. Be mindful of the host – put your video on, try to look at the camera, and try to explicitly show interest, to make up for the lack of physical presence. You’ll have higher quality meetings, and hey, it’s a basic sign of respect.
Manage Your Microphone
When you aren’t speaking, mute your mic. It’s annoying to have to turn it on and off, but there’s always the chance of background noise, especially if you don’t have the greatest microphone. In a large conference call, this can be a big distraction. Another good tip is to do a microphone test, make sure you’re coming through clearly, and to adjust the microphone levels accordingly in your settings.
Set-Up Your Camera and Background
Take a little bit of time to set up the camera and position yourself properly. Try to avoid moving the camera once the call is underway, because it’s surprisingly easy to do something embarrassing, and it’s just distracting for other attendees. Find or arrange for yourself a fitting background. You’ll feel more comfortable – online, it almost becomes part of your dress code – and it’ll help to keep people focused on what you’re saying when you have a point to make.
Don’t Abandon the Dress Code
On that subject, video calling dress codes are still relatively fluid, something of a grey-area. A basic rule of thumb is, dress as you would if you were meeting in person. If you’re video calling people from the office, dress like you would at the office. If you’re video calling someone you want to impress, get formal. In any case, definitely put pants on.
Be Culturally Aware
When you’re with someone in person, it’s easy to pick up on cultural cues. We even do so without consciously thinking about it, but in video calls, it’s a little less obvious. Try to do a little bit of research before calling internationally and err on the side of caution, in any case. Mind your language and things that might be frowned upon. Our challenge here is to read the room without ever being in it, and it’s easy to get the tone wrong.
Put Your Hand Up
One of the challenges with video calling is the small delay in video and audio feeds. Even though it’s often less than a second, it can have a pretty big impact on the flow of discussion. Try to institute a signal for when someone wants to make a contribution – a hand up will do, or Zoom even has a hand emoticon you can use. It’ll help you to get more from your meetings.
Good luck, and happy conferencing.