The New York Times spelled out the unspoken rules of video communication, from a clear schedule to checking gadgets before a video call. I think we've all met people who would benefit from knowing this.

In the past two years, many of us have gone from office workers to remote workers overnight. We now increasingly rely on Zoom, Google Duo, Skype or FaceTime to communicate with the team.

But when home and office merge into one, the lines between personal and professional life blur. And this inevitably leads to awkward situations. During the pandemic, you probably had several calls with colleagues who spoke from the bathroom or toilet to hide from the children. There are those who completely erase the boundaries and allow households and pets to participate in planning meetings. It is, of course, sweet and touching. But it can easily delay or even disrupt the meeting.

“Ordinary employees are not used to talking on camera, they are faced with technical problems – all this brings discomfort,” says Elaine Quinn, an entrepreneur from Chicago and author of The Best Place to Work is at Home. “They don’t even think about looking back and guessing what their colleagues will see in the background.”

Okay, no one was ready for such changes, and our resources are not unlimited. On the other hand, we have a great opportunity to get acquainted with digital etiquette and improve the culture of virtual communication with colleagues. A little preparation can go a long way and make video calls more comfortable for everyone involved.

Take a test drive
How to behave on a Zoom call

The main culprit of unsuccessful calls is the quality of the connection. If you can't see or hear your colleagues, what's the point of a hangout? Therefore, conduct a test run to make sure that you are satisfied with the quality of sound and image, and there is no interference on the video. Here are some things to consider before video chatting with a project development team:

Webcam image preview. If you are using Apple technology, then launch the Photo Booth application, and if you are using Windows, click the "Start" button, then "Camera". Here you can check the image from the camera. Adjust the lighting and camera angle so that the face is in the frame and fully lit. And most importantly, pay attention to the background - everything that is behind you falls into the camera lens. It is unlikely that your colleagues and superiors will be delighted with a collection of alcoholic drinks or dirty laundry. Get everything out of the frame.
Test the microphone. Microphones built into a laptop are rarely of good quality and sound bad. It is better to use a headset or an external microphone, desktop or in the form of a lavalier with a clip. They are equipped with audio filters that help to avoid unnecessary noise. The easiest way to make sure you sound good is to call a friend on a video call and ask about the sound quality and then adjust it.
Check your internet connection speed. Now many are working from home, so throughput and quality of service have declined. Visit speedtest.net to measure your internet speed. If it is below 20 megabits per second, there is a high probability of interference and sound delays. Here are a few ways to fix slow internet when working from home.
 

Turn off the sound
What to do during a video call

It seems obvious, but many people forget to mute their microphone before joining a video call with multiple participants. This can lead to the fact that during a conversation your colleagues will hear everything that happens in your house: a barking dog, a crying child, and a neighbor's drill. Video conferencing services such as Zoom and Google Hangouts have the option to turn off the microphone before joining a call, and everyone except the person leading the meeting must do so. Turn on the sound only when it's your turn to speak.

With limited internet bandwidth, you can even take the extra step of turning off your camera until you want to talk to the group. From a practical point of view, there is no point in watching you silently stare at the camera.

Set clear boundaries
Zoom Conversation Rules

For each of us, our loved ones are important. But that doesn't mean co-workers are interested in watching your relatives in bathrobes, a cat sitting on a keyboard, or children throwing toys.

That's why it's important to call in a place where you can set boundaries. The simplest physical boundary is a room with a door that can be closed during a video call.

Programming teams now have to work remotely, but their apartments have never had a separate office. But there are workarounds. In the absence of a home office, you can work at the dinner table. During video calls, make it a habit to aim your camera lens at an empty wall, away from common areas such as the kitchen and hallway. And the headphones will serve as a visual “Do Not Disturb” signal to your friends. 

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Agenda and Engagement
It is the responsibility of product team managers to keep virtual meetings short and engaging. So it was with face-to-face meetings, but for a virtual meeting, a clear agenda is even more important, says Elaine Quinn. Before launching the Solopreneur Specialist website, she managed remote employees in pharmaceutical companies. “At home, you are on your own and easily distracted,” says Quinn.

Managers may need to try different approaches to make video conferencing more organized. First of all, it is worth asking each employee to write the abstract of their speech in advance. That way everyone will stay involved.

If you have more important things to do, it will be more polite to apologize and refuse to participate than to stay in touch and do other things at the same time. Keep in mind that being distracted by Twitter or Facebook during a call can expose you. This is how Zoom lets the meeting host see if you've switched apps for more than 30 seconds.

Limit the number of calls
Video calls - what to do during a call

In the office, executives can be tempted to drag people into the conference room for any kind of meeting. But don't replicate this practice in a telecommuting environment, says Jason Freed, co-author of Telecommuting: No Need for Offices and founder of Basecamp. His Chicago-based company develops software and creates tools for remote work. “Remote work is not about mimicking office life online,” Fried says. “It’s about respect for human time, attention and personal space.”

This is partly because inviting colleagues to join a video call takes more than you might think. Before joining a call, they need to not only check the Internet and gadgets, but also take other measures. You will have to change clothes, clear the desktop, retire and ask the household to take children and pets for a walk.

Follow the proven rule of life and schedule video meetings to a minimum. Ideally, leave them for discussions where you need to review the presentation or documents.

There is no such rule that requires the use of video chat for remote communication. A regular phone or email will also work.

Last year, Jason Freed's team used video to interview candidates for a marketer position. One of the candidates joined the conversation with the camera turned off. He explained this by the fact that he is able to present himself better at the interview when he is in motion, and not sitting still in front of the camera. “He said that he would like to present himself in the best light, so he better move and communicate with us at the same time,” Fried said. “I appreciated this gesture, because he did not pretend and was just himself. The company ended up hiring him."