7 Ways to Make Video Calls Better
The world is experiencing a huge shift as a result of COVID-19, especially when it comes to how we think about jobs and offices. All of a sudden, offices have had to rapidly get their teams set up with the right gear, the right technical tools, and beginning the process of emotionally adjusting to a virtual working - all in a matter of days or weeks.
And one of the biggest changes to come about for newly virtual workers? The introduction of video conferencing through software like Zoom. Meetings that used to be face-to-face are now conducted through video. It might not seem like a huge shift, but it really is very different from face-to-face meeting. There are new questions about how to schedule meetings, what professionalism looks like, and more.
Fractured Atlas has had virtual employees for years, and we transitioned to being a fully distributed team at the end of 2019. We’ve been using tools for virtual connection for years, so we’ve had a long time to learn which tools we need and how to use them to best support ourselves as a team.
We've been using video conferencing since 2015, so we understand the stresses of adjusting to video conferencing. It is a huge adjustment to your work life under any circumstance, much less the extreme one we find ourselves in now. Most of us are artists and creatives, and Fractured Atlas is our day job. We’ve never wanted our work tools to turn us into corporate drones or tech bros that we can’t recognize. We’ve found ways to use tools like Zoom while staying true to ourselves, and we hope that you can too.
If you're struggling with transitioning to video conferencing as part of your overall shift to virtual work, you're not alone! We've been through it all, and we've come up with some helpful strategies to improve your experience with video conferencing.
Scheduling Video Meetings Strategically
While video meetings help conserve the social aspect that workers are used to in an office (and probably missing in their home office), it is important to use them in moderation. Video calls are more tiring than physical meetings. You have to be much more conscious of how you look as you’re listening, figure out the right etiquette for how to make sure your voice is heard, demonstrate to others on the call that you’re actively listening with fewer visual cues, plus the eye strain of staring at a screen. Keep that in mind when building out a meeting schedule.
1. Ask the Question: “Does It Need To Be a Video Meeting?”
When planning meetings, ask yourself why you're scheduling a video conference. Could this easily be an email or a group Slack exchange? Should it be?
If a video call isn’t necessary, consider skipping it. Try sharing the info on another channel and offering to do follow-ups if anything needs to be clarified. Or, schedule a quick video check-in to make sure everyone is on the same page, and then break to continue work in a shared doc, via email, or through Slack rather than doing the whole project together on video.
But if you’re working on something that requires looking at the same screen together, do schedule a video conference to take advantage of screen-sharing. Schedule meetings as you need them, but not just for their own sake.
We hope that teams use this time to really think about which meetings are important, and which they have just been keeping out of habit.
2. Consider the Rest of Your Colleague’s Life
Balance your need to stay in touch with your colleagues and to keep up with your work by not overloading everyone's schedules with video meetings. People do need time to put their heads down and focus for their job. They also need time to live the rest of their lives, especially now
Work is a part of life, but not all of it. We all have other responsibilities to consider such as child care, pet care, elder care, self care, food prep, and more. And while so much of the rest of our lives is in flux, we are worrying about ourselves and our community, nobody should be scheduled to the gills with unnecessary work meetings.
3. Set a Time Limit for Your Video Meetings
Zoom cuts meetings with the free account to 40 minutes (although they have been waiving that limit lately). Regardless of whether that limit is being enforced, we suggest that you use it as a guide to really understand remote working patterns and how much time is actually needed to work through tasks.
If Zoom only gives you 40 minutes, maybe you only need 40 minutes. Does that call really require an hour, or are you filling time out of habit? Using time limits from video conferencing tools will help you and your team stay on track and collaborate together more successfully.
Because video conferencing can be extra exhausting, keep your meetings as concise as possible. And if you schedule a meeting to be 30 minutes, keep it to 30 minutes.
4. Don’t Use Video Meetings to Micromanage
For managers who are just getting used to managing a virtual team, there’s a temptation to use video meetings as proof that everyone's “at work” and making progress on their tasks. Don't do this. Trust your team!
If you are using video conferencing as a tool of surveillance, it indicates that there’s a larger issue of trust on your team that no collaborative software service is going to fix for you.
Productivity will see shifts in this initial period. People are adjusting to a whole new kind of work. And more importantly, they are figuring out how to survive in a crisis that extends well beyond their work life.
Using video meetings to enforce productivity checks isn't the right way to go. You'll end up distracting team members and delaying work by scheduling repetitive meetings, as well as lowering overall morale and group cohesion.
New Professional Norms for Video Conferencing
Everyone is figuring out exactly what the new professional norms are when video conferencing. It’s important to keep in mind the balance between your own comfort and needs and those of the people you’re communicating with.
5. Remember That Context is Key for Figuring Out New Professional Norms
There's a new normal emerging, and no one necessarily has all the right answers so it's up to you and your team to decide what 'comfortable' truly means for you now. Figuring out what new norms around professionalism and meetings when everyone is suddenly taking calls from their home is going to be very heavily context-dependent. Answers to these questions are still in flux and will depend a lot on your industry, office environment, and who you are connecting with via video. For example, you might want to change out of the sweatshirt you wore during your daily team meeting before having a serious visioning conversation with a potential partner.
6. Balance Your Comfort and the Comfort of Others for Video Calls
Something we're all navigating through now is what the new norms of professional presentation look like when we're all suddenly video conferencing from home. Do you need to be dressed as formally as you would for the office? Nobody really knows yet.
What is comfortable for you to wear might not be comfortable for the people you are talking to in a video meeting. For example, you might not mind having your weekly check-in with your assistant in your bathrobe, but it might make them feel uneasy or unsure about how they should be presenting themselves.
What background do you want your coworkers or clients to see when you turn your camera on. Do you need to clear off the fridge which is visible in the background of your call so that it’s not full of takeout menus and holiday cards? Should you cover up the more politically radical posters in your bedroom/home office?
Maybe you're comfortable hosting a meeting for clients from your bed, which is now doubling as your office, but it would make your clients feel too intimate.
Just remember that by now, everyone has seen someone else’s pet wander into a meeting.
Even just being open with your colleagues or whoever you’re chatting with will help. We’re all in this together, and everyone understands that professional norms are necessarily going to be different now that so much of the workforce is now working from home.
Bonus tip: If you're joining a call from a phone, set the phone down! It's frustrating and literally dizzying to watch one little square shake around while you're trying to concentrate on what's being said.
Video Calls and Your Home “Co-Workers”
No matter what, the current situation is that members of your household are staying home together a lot more, unless you exclusively live with nurses and grocery store workers (in which case, we thank them all for their hard and essential work!).
Even for those of us that already worked from home, a new big change we're experiencing is that all of a sudden there are other people at home - roommates, partners, children. So even if you are already a virtual worker, things are probably still changing for you these days.
As everyone is adjusting to working from home or being with others who are working from home, it is incredibly important to communicate with everyone you live with.
7. Talk Through Your Video Conferencing Schedules
Let the people you live with know what your meeting schedule is like so that you can all plan accordingly. Maybe they don’t want to be cooking lunch while you’re checking in with your boss at your kitchen counter desk. Or they’ll want to know when to put headphones in so that they don’t hear your meeting if they don’t want to. You definitely don’t want to accidentally wander naked onscreen of someone else’s call (or have someone you live with wander onto one of your calls in some state of undress).
You’ll also need to communicate with your roommates, family, or anyone else you’re sharing a space with when your meetings are so that they can avoid scheduling calls at the same time. It’s frustrating for all sides to have several different calls happening in a confined space all at once. They should also know when they shouldn't expect you to answer if they shout from the other room. It sounds a little overly formal, but I’ve been getting into the habit of sending a daily email to my partner so that we’re both on the same page about who has what meeting and when. Whatever works for you and the people you’re sharing space with.
That there will be frustrations and challenges, just like you may have with people in the office - but this time, a little more personal. Try to be patient with one another and take time to understand schedules - whether it's your roommate, partner or family. It will get easier over time, but prepare yourself for conflicts and try to work through them as calmly as possible.
Adjusting to Video Conferencing Takes Time
All kinds of changes to your work life require an adjustment period. So many of us are making changes we didn’t anticipate, didn’t necessarily want, and don’t know when we’ll see the end of.
Unfortunately, no one is really certain how long we'll be socially isolating or how long offices will be closed. For some, remote working could go on for much longer, and others may be able to go back to the office earlier than anticipated.
You're not alone in trying to navigate this new normal. Changing to an entirely different working situation is challenging, and adjusting to a new way of communicating is a part of that challenge.
Fractured Atlas has been through some of these challenges before when we moved from being partially virtual to fully virtual at the end of 2019. We have found ways to incorporate tools like Zoom into our workflow to help us be more ourselves at work - more connected, more creative, and more present.
It takes time to figure out what tools you need, and more importantly how to implement them to support yourself and your team. This transition can be tough, so please be patient (and kind) to yourself. Recognize that it will take some trial and error. Experiment with different ways of doing things, and don't be afraid to drop something if it's not working.
We hope that this video conferencing guide can help make this adjustment period a little smoother and provide support during an inarguably weird time where no one is quite sure what is expected of them.
Settling into a surprise work-from-home situation can be challenging. Here are some of the common challenges you might be facing as a new virtual worker, plus some suggestions we have for making them a bit easier.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.