By now you’re probably aware of “Poor Jennifer” who was in a Zoom meeting and took her laptop with her to the toilet so she wouldn’t miss anything. She forgot the webcam was on, so her colleagues didn’t miss anything either! Poor Jennifer.
Slightly less embarrassing than “poor Jennifer” was the professor whose children gate crashed his live on-air BBC interview.
In the age of Covid, such incidents are becoming frequent and there are whole YouTube channels specialising in awkward on-line team meetings.
These are extremes and while video meetings have become a necessity for the time being as more workers work from home, there are lots of issues to be aware of.
Many workers are working from home for the first time. They have set up a foldout table in the spare bedroom and sit on a spare kitchen chair with their back to the wall. Then you call in for a meeting and when the video camera turns on the rest of the team is staring at the contents of that bedroom, perhaps a velvet picture of Elvis, or a cabinet full of hideous brown glassware from the seventies or the fireman’s calendar. The home office is new for most people, so remind them to check the background before they turn the camera on.
Zoom now has the option to have a ‘virtual background’ but the technology is more of a distraction than a bonus.
Don’t forget: 1. Raise your screen to minimise your double chin. 2. Mute your Phone as you would in a regular meeting. 3. Oh, and ALWAYS wear pants … at some point you WILL stand up!!
Technology will be technology
For many of us, the video conferencing platforms are relatively new and under normal circumstances we would have IT to help us with our audio or video issues – but we are working from home, so we have to work it out ourselves. It might be an idea to have a practice run and a set of instructions on how to use the platform for people to refer to.
As with any meeting, getting everyone to participate is difficult. The added difficulty with video meetings is the limitation of the audio. When two people talk it is either very muffled or one person is cut off as another speaks. One remedy for that is to mute all but the meeting leader and have people type in their comments and questions. But let me just say – this NEVER works very well! The meeting leader can’t lead and read at the same time and while people are typing, they are not listening.
Perhaps go back to your old school days and ask people to raise their hand if they want to talk. That too has its limitations.
It is hard enough to stay focussed in meetings, but video meetings from home make it so much more difficult. There are other family members to distract us, phones ringing, doorbells chiming, washing machines calling us and so on.
The stunted participation also makes it difficult to focus and so participants often drift off, or decide to multitask, opening other screens and working on other projects.
Often I’ve been in video meetings and various participants (including myself) have gotten up to go get something or adjust the environment. It is very distracting and the other participants are never sure if they are coming back, or able to hear and participate in the meeting.
At the moment the video technology is an essential tool for team communication. It’s not perfect and will never replace face to face meetings, but we need to make the most of the technology and use it in the best way possible given our current circumstances.