My Remote Life: Videoconferencing Tips From Someone Whose Living Space Is Always Her Office

From setting up your space, to getting the lighting and sound right, here’s four tips from one full-time remote employee to another on nailing videoconferencing from the confines of your home. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing businesses to close their office doors and employees to work remotely, but meetings don’t stop. Instead, employees are flocking to videoconferencing tools to collaborate with their teammates and keep communication flowing.

But even before coronavirus, video meetings were a part of my life because I’ve always worked from home, at least part-time. I’ve been a full-time remote employee for about 10 months now and more than half of my team is also remote, so I’ve learned that video meetings really are the best way to bring a team together and create the feeling of being in the same room, despite being miles apart. I’ve also learned that looking put-together and being prepared and joining on time goes a long way in ensuring a successful video meeting.

Here’s my top four tips – from one remote worker to another – on videoconferencing from the confines of your home.

 

Tip #1

Setting the Scene

First, pick a room or spot in your home that’s away from potential noisy, well-trafficked areas of the house or apartment and away from any major distractions, if possible. Do your best to set up your at-home videoconferencing space similar to how you might take video calls in your office. You probably wouldn't take calls from your desk or cubicle with others walking by -- you'd probably pick a quiet area, like a conference or huddle room.

Carving out a corner in your home and designating it as your workspace can go a long way in helping you feel your most productive. And bonus points if the area has a nice photo or wall hanging behind you to show off your interests to give the video call a personal touch. If not (or if your current backdrop is fraught with people ambling around in the background) many video providers, like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, provide virtual backgrounds. The island-themed backdrop complete with a billowing palm tree is a personal favorite, but if that’s not your thing, there’s plenty of beautiful, luxury apartment backgrounds that you can download, too.   

 

Tip #2

Sound On

Next, determine whether you will be using the microphone on your computer or calling in using a headset. This may be dependent on who’s also in your home working or remote-learning during your video calls. Headphones are great for blocking out other noises that may be going on around you, but even just for clarity's sake, a pair of earbuds or a small, non-intrusive earpiece is a great option for capturing sound the best.

And by all means, mute yourself when not speaking for several minutes. Many popular videoconferencing platforms default to displaying the speaker on the biggest or most prominent screen, so even making noise – like typing, coughing or chewing – while someone else is speaking will pull up your screen as the speaker if you're not on mute. This can be particularly problematic if the meeting is being recorded.

 

Tip #3

Lighting Is Everything

Aim to be in a well-lit room, either by natural sunlight or overhead lighting or lamps. Face the camera head-on with the camera situated eye-level with you, if possible. Keeping your face visible lets others see your reactions and body language in real-time, which is a benefit that can get lost with a phone call or over email.

Try to face an open window, if possible, with the back of the laptop/camera against the window for the best lighting. Having your back against the window will cause a glare and will also create a shadow-like appearance. Assuming you're not trying to be an anonymous interviewee in a crime documentary, facing a light source is your best bet.

 

Tip #4

The "Business Mullet"

Last, but definitely not least, let's talk about attire. While business attire certainly won't be required for all meetings (depending on the meeting) being "camera-ready" these days is important as many remote workers are opting for video meetings right now.

That said, many meetings will probably be a bit more casual these days. A professional top or light sweater works best. Comfortable pants, such as yoga pants or workout leggings are acceptable since you'll most likely only be on-camera from the waist up. I call it the "business mullet." However, it goes without saying (I hope) that pants are still not optional.

In terms of specific fashion choices, it's best to stay away from complicated patterns on shirts, such as checkered designs or pinstripes, and lose any really flashy shirts, as they sometimes don't translate well over camera. Looking put-together also can go a long way with your mood -- you might be stuck at home, but you can still dress to raise your spirits or put yourself more into a working mindset.

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