If you’re fortunate enough to work from home during the crucial curve-flattening phase of the coronavirus, you’ll undoubtedly notice some rules changes—some subtle, some not so subtle. To get the most out of your new status as a member of a distributed workforce, you may want to keep the following tips in mind.
Toward Better Online Meetings
In the new era of social distancing, here is a guide to making video calls more tolerable for you and your colleagues.
Video setup. Whichever software you are using, it’s worth previewing your webcam. To see how you look on a PC, click Start, then Camera. Mac users, launch the Photo Booth app to check your picture. When framing the shot, choose a background that’s simple, avoiding busy wallpaper patterns, views into other rooms, or clutter.
Lighting.Avoid sitting directly under a light source because it can throw ghoulish shadows under the eyes. Also keep direct light sources—whether from a lamp or a window—out of the shot: position the light source in front of or beside you.
The easiest way to achieve decent lighting is to put your computer on top of a stack of books so the camera is slightly higher than your head, and point it down into your eyes. Next place a lamp next to and slightly behind the computer to one side of your face. Place white paper or a white tablecloth on the table where you’re sitting, keeping it out of frame. This will serve as a makeshift bounce card for the light and will make a surprising difference in the quality of the shot.
Audio. Choose a room with carpeting if possible, and close windows to muffle sound. Avoid laptop microphones if you can; headsets or tabletop external mics sound far better.
Don’t forget to mute your mic before joining a call with multiple people. Unmute only when it’s your turn to speak. A good headset can reduce background noise such as barking dogs and small children, but better still, the free app krisp.ai works as a “family noise” filter, claiming you won’t need to mute yourself at all while listening to others speak.
Latency. Visit speedtest.net to check your internet speed. If it’s below 20 megabits per second, chances are your video is going to look pixelated and have audio delays. Click here to discover ways System Mechanic’s NetBooster feature can improve your internet speed.
Writing Matters More Now
In the new remote-work world, your written communications take on more importance. In particular, the tone of your emails may need some extra loving care, as they are largely supplanting face-to-face conversations in which tone is far easier to discern.
The guiding principle for a distributed workforce should be: Assume positive intent from others’ written communications—i.e., try not to bristle too easily if something strikes you as coarsely stated. But also be conservative with your output—i.e., read what you’ve typed with an eye toward what might be read the wrong way.
In an email exchange, if you and a colleague seem to be talking past one another, occasionally things can go sideways quickly during an accelerated back-and-forth. In this case it’s best to jump mediums and hop on a phone call to reset and defuse any tensions.
While it may seem at times to be a major contributor to cabin fever, there are unique advantages to working from home.
The extra importance of written communications described above is an opportunity to clarify what was decided during multi-person meetings by designating a note-taker. Many times in-person meetings can come and go without a clear understanding of next steps and designated “action items.” Telework can help sharpen and clarify decision-making and ensure all are on board.
Remote work can also alleviate in-person pressure to too quickly agree; it lets the introverts in the office mull over ideas and contribute more at their own pace.
Finally, there is the added benefit of being able to better control your workspace. As a member of a distributed team, you are a member of a pure meritocracy. Take a walk break, light a candle, do pushups at your desk—whatever helps you perform better. Your work output is paramount; no one cares anymore if you reheat fish in the microwave at lunchtime.
This article is part of a series on safeguarding and getting the most out of technology during the coronavirus.
To avoid new cyberthreats to you and your employer in the at-home era, click here. To achieve faster internet for smoother browsing, streaming and gaming, click here. To learn how to safely disinfect phones, PCs and other devices, click here.