Guest contributor Dr Simon Mac Rory
Leaders must demonstrate a comfort and capability in not just personal proficiency with the tools and skills of video conferencing, they must also be able to coach and support their teams in using the available technology, but also in the required on-line behaviours and etiquette. To support leaders acquire the necessary skills, a list of on-line tutorials is presented at the end of this article.
Whilst most of us are familiar with various forms of online video communication, few of us are expert
The current crisis has forced much of face-to-face communication onto telephone and into the video conferencing world. In the future, and post the current crisis, video conferencing will be a norm in doing business. The consensus emerging is that our work patterns, behaviours and habits are changed forever. Woking from home will be as much an everyday occurrence as has been working from an office or going to a meeting at a client site.
Whilst most of us are familiar with various forms of online video communication, few of us are expert. It is now an imperative that leaders master and develop the skill levels not only to use the technology available, but also develop good online practices when hosting and/or attending a business meeting online, be that one-to-one or group sessions.
To become expert in using the technology requires personal effort. Developing your skills in this area will enhance your confidence in working with clients, demonstrate your professionalism and make video conferencing an effortless means for you to do business. There are a substantial number of online tutorials available, not alone from each platform/app provider, but also from many individuals on YouTube, LinkedIn and other sources – see the links at the end of this document to help get you started. Everyone should take the personal responsibility to become informed and to develop a comfort level with these platforms to ensure that there are no barriers to completing a video call or indeed helping others to complete a call with you.
Many organisations are utilising the following platforms now and in the future:
- Go-To-Meeting – subscription required – For internal company meetings and for those meetings where teams or leaders may invite others to attend. Can also be used for webinars.
- Microsoft Teams – included in Microsoft 365 – For one-to-one internal meetings and this is a platform favoured by many organisations
- Zoom – subscription required for calls longer than 40 minutes and for larger group sizes. Can be useful for webinars with larger groups of attendees. Can also be used for one-to-one meetings, but the free version is limited in terms of call duration and number of attendees
- Skype for business – subscription required for initiating calls via this service. Again, favoured by some organisations. There is a general belief that skype for business and Microsoft Teams are one and the same. They are linked but do stand alone.
- WhatsApp – Free – Can be used for one-to-one video calls with a contact where they request it.
- Skype for personal use – Free – good for one-to-one and up to three or four people on a conference call – Falling out of favour as the other platforms gain popularity. Skype for personal use remains free for now.
There are others and in time you may find that you need to become expert with these as well. If you have mastered the above, you will find any that follow will be much easier to understand and utilise.
Whilst you may well favour one or two platforms for your own internal meetings you must also accept that external customers/stakeholders may have a different preferred platform and should they invite you to an online meeting you will need to be comfortable in the use of their preferred platform. The above list represents the platforms you should take time to master. Go online find the tutorials and practice. Set up calls with your colleagues to complete this practice. On these calls use the features such as “screen share” “muting your microphone”, changing the meeting organiser/lead etc. They all have common features, but you need to know where the controls lie in each platform and how to quickly utilise them as you may need.
Remember that these platforms operate in conjunction with your PC/Laptop. Make sure you understand the video camera, microphone and volume controls on your PC. Know where they are, know how to manage them.
Video or online communication is a feature of the future, your future. It is your responsibility to ensure that you can fully engage.
Setting the online standards:
When working from home an area needs to be identified where you can make and receive your calls. Choose a surface for your laptop that is at table/desk height that takes into consideration your wellbeing. Calls as you know can last for an hour or more. You should not make or take calls with your laptop on your lap or on a low table (e.g. coffee table). These can have impact on your posture and create back, shoulder and neck problems. Position your laptop and thereby your camera at a suitable level for sitting but also if you have to stand up and leave a meeting for whatever reason. As far as possible ensure your background is clear (the area displayed by your camera behind you), and that the light source (including the sun) is in front of your face and not behind you. If the lighting source is behind you, people will only see your silhouette. Some organisations commissioned popups with Logos and a simple corporate message for use as a backdrop during calls.
The only documents you should have open on your PC during a call are those required for the meeting and nothing else. Ensure all other applications on your PC (including email) are fully closed. It is not unknown for confidential information to be inadvertently displayed when screen sharing if documents and email are open.
Remember external calls are business calls and you should dress accordingly. Don’t wear clothes you would not wear to the office or to attend a client meeting. Casual dress is acceptable, but within reason.
Even though you are working from home you are still at work and need to create the right impression both for ourselves and for our clients and contacts.
Distractions to be aware of:
Please make sure that you are fully present at all meetings. People need to hear what you have to say, and you need to hear what others are saying. Ensure that all mobile phones are either switched off or on silent/vibrate. In team meetings it may well be that someone will have to take a call from a contact. If this happens leave the meeting to take the call, but make sure that your video call is on mute. This is critical as the PC microphones are sensitive and will pick up your conversation from quite a distance. During any online meeting it is essential to disregard email and any social media messaging. It is discourteous to others on the call if you are not engaged and focused on other tasks.
As your team are working from home there can be interruptions from other members of your families and pets. This is understandable but as far as possible needs to be managed.
How to manage the call:
- Arrive early – make sure your technology is working – join five minutes before the session so the meeting chair can make sure everyone is connected.
- Check your camera set-up so you can see others and they can see you and not just your forehead
- Once logged in and the call commences keep your microphone on mute unless you are speaking
- If you are presenting (screen sharing) ensure your content is relevant for your audience – and not too many slides, or too content heavy (as most people only have small screens and they will want to see you not your charts)!
- Consider pre-read if there is important content to be shared.
- Abstain – try not to eat or move about lots (a cup of tea or refreshment is fine but if it involves munching turn the camera off!)
- Concentrate – try to ‘shut out’ your most distracting housemates – pets, family members or anybody else who might like to participate?
- Run a video conference as any other meeting – like a best practice meeting
- Assign the facilitator and who is going to capture the outputs, and circulate post the meeting
- Have courage – don’t feel you have to avoid the ‘tough topics’ – we all need to be comfortable online these days
- You can still have robust conversations virtually, but if you do, make sure you check-in later to find how the other side of that debate is feeling
- And always ask for feedback – what worked well and what could be improved
All members will be learning, and it will take time to get it right. Use your meetings to develop a set of protocols, and expertise in online meetings that sets the standards that others will want to follow and that underscores the professionalism of the team and each and every member.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Simon Mac Rory is an Entrepreneur, OD (Organisational Development) Specialist and Academic. He is currently the CEO of The ODD Company and CEO of The Guardian Service Limited. He is also author of Wake Up and Smell the Coffee published in 2019 by LID Publishing.
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