Online video conferencing applications such as Zoom, WebEx, Skype, and GoToMeeting are great tools that enable those who work at home to virtually meet with collaborators and colleagues. It allows for decision-making in real time and building a personal rapport with co-workers at the same time. And all this professional collaboration makes it easier for those of us seeking work-life balance to find it.
Yes, these online tools are great until they are not.
While meetings with these tools can be effective, efficient ways for people to come together, there are a few cautionary tales. Take, for example, the woman who was manicuring her nails during a meeting while unbeknownst to her she was being projected on a wall-size screen at the company’s other locations around the world. And then there was the guy who was working from home and visible in a meeting only from the chest up. He was wearing a nice, Oxford shirt. Hilarity ensured, however, when he got up from his chair to retrieve a book. He was only wearing boxers below the Oxford.
Despite these snafus, virtual meetings are taking off in the corporate world—something those of us who work at home truly appreciate. Technological advancements, coupled with the willingness by more companies to allow employees to work at least part of the time from home, has made online video conferencing a valuable, cost-conscious way for workers to collaborate.
But there is a dark underbelly associated with these types of meeting, too, that can range from downright hysterical to abjectly humiliating to rapid dismissal from the company. If you need to participate in these meetings, here are a few things to keep in mind.
You might think this doesn’t need to be said, but if you are in a roomful of people, and you are engaged in a video conference with other far-flung rooms of people, and you are in the very front of your group, thus in the center of the camera shot, it is not a good time for a manicure. Don’t forget where you are. You are in a work meeting. Have some respect for your colleagues and your company.
Somewhere on all video conferencing applications, there is a way to mute your audio so that you cannot be heard. Become intimately aware of the location of this button and be able to click on it at light speed.
Once in a video conference call meeting, not too long ago, in which the company’s vice president was holding forth on strategic topics, clear as a bell, a woman who was on the call said “This guy doesn’t know what the @@## he’s talking about. He’s such an @**#@%%.” With almost 200 people on the call, the silence was ear-splitting. Not long after that, that woman was separated from the company. The lesson of the day: The mute button is your friend.
Of course, a crying baby heard in a conference call is a problem. That's obvious. But what about the swearing spouse audible in the background or the naked toddler streaking through your office during a video chat. If you’re trying to project professionalism while you work at home, these will undermine you in a big way! Make sure your family knows (and adheres to) your work-at-home ground rules.
Who doesn’t love Rover? The people with whom you’re holding a video conference who have to listen to him barking. Same goes for Kitty who rolls on the keyboard as your typing in chat!
Unless there’s a very small group in the meeting and you feel you have reached a high level of confidence and trust with these people, it’s not a good idea to put your Shih Tzu on you in a work meeting!
A home office should always have a door so that you can shut out pets and other potential distractions during video meetings and good old-fashion phone meetings. This is also helpful if your meeting coincides with the dog’s happiest moment of the day … the arrival of the mail carrier.
Many video conferencing systems allow you to share your screen with others in the meeting. This enables you to open that spreadsheet you’ve been working on all week and share it with your team members so that they can see (a) you really know what you’re talking about when it comes to this project and (b) you are a high achiever because you’ve mastered the ability to share your screen.
But don’t get ahead of yourself. If you have a feeling before a video meeting that you might have to share your screen, remember that your screen will be visible to everyone before you opened up that spreadsheet. It would not be optimal, for instance, if you started sharing your screen and everyone, including your boss, saw that you were just checking out the latest online sale at Bed Bath & Beyond or worse writing a cover letter for a new job!
Online chatting is quick and snappy and kind of fun. What could go wrong? Well, when it comes to video conferencing, chatting can become a rabbit hole, a digital alleyway that sucks attention from the meeting proper. Zoom, a popular virtual meeting solution, has a nice chat function that can be helpful. Chat messages such as “I’ve lost audio,” or “Is there a link to the presentation?” are good questions because they can alert a meeting organizer that there may be a technical problem or that there is a need to share information more widely.
But this type of sidebar chatting during a meeting—especially when there are dozens of people in the meeting—can get distracting real fast. Remember everyone sees those off-topic chats such as “What are you doing for lunch today, I’m starving” or “Your dog is the CUTEST!”
As with most technology, online video conferencing is a marvelous tool that drives business engagement and enables people working outside the traditional office to be important contributors to the workplace team.
But also like with most technology, users need a strong, common sense notion of what is and what is not proper in video conference meetings. Many moons ago, my first boss had this bit of advice regarding email: “If you wouldn’t write your message on a postcard home to your mother, you probably shouldn’t send it in an e-mail.” In the world of video conferencing, this kind of common sense is still a very good piece of advice, too.