Kristen Carroll, Founder and CEO of The LMC Groups
For decades, micromanagers have tingled with glee as they walked by your desk and caught you checking Facebook on your cell phone or overheard you talking to your spouse or cat at home. They eyed the clock and the door with excitement, delighting in the chance to throw a disapproving or snarky glance your way as you entered the office a few minutes late.
I’m kidding! Managers aren’t THAT bad, are they? 😉 Okay, we know a few, maybe even a few too many, who live to crush the souls of their employees, but we don’t think most managers are like that. Right? However, even managers who want their employees to be happy can sometimes fall into the trap of habit and known parameters and processes.
While technology has enabled remote working for over two decades now, most companies have preferred to pay high rents for office space rather than allow their workers to enjoy the flexibility of working from home. They don’t seem to care that you are less productive in the office. They are paying you for a full day, and they would rather burden your soul with the stultifying pomp and circumstance of the prosaic office routine then get a better and faster work product from you at home. After all, for some managers, work isn’t about productivity, it’s about power.
We often work with companies who would benefit from remote options for their employees, and they are almost always hesitant. As much as I find that way of thinking to be a bit . . . vintage, I actually do get it. First, your employees are your single largest expense, and unoptimized workers constitute a shocking amount of waste. To ensure you are protecting your investment, it’s natural you want to see your investment with your own eyeballs, working and producing. Second, most managers are put into leadership roles without ever having any formal management training. Leading an on-site team can be challenging on its own, while managing a remote team can be flat daunting.
For those of you just tuning in, we are experiencing the first massive global pandemic of our lifetimes, and as a result, office workers everywhere have been working from home--some for the first time ever. It’s been extremely eye opening for all parties. I have countless friends who have said they will never work in an office again; if their company asks them to come back, they are going to look for a remote job. Many have admitted that they are able to complete all of their work in 3 or 4 hours a day, and they have no idea what took so much time when they were in the office . . . but they think this new reality is pretty neat!
At The LMC Groups, we have offered remote working and flexible location working since day one. We have physical offices, but we also have many team members who are in other regions. We have no desire to limit our talent pool by a radius of a random brick building, so we cast a wide net to find the right people, wherever they are. Also, since we work with companies all throughout the US and beyond, it’s actually quite useful for us to have remote staff members who are available in different regions as needed. For our local staff, we offer flexible schedules and hybrid arrangements, so that work can be split between the office and the home, or anywhere in the world with WiFi. We have implemented solutions to ensure we still operate as a team and don’t lose anything in translation as a result of our unconventional approach.
Now that people are working from home for the first time, there are new challenges to overcome and new tools and skills to develop . . . such as the video call! But while I have you, may I just ask why every call now has to be a video call? So many of us are working remotely, with the delicious plus side of home-based attire. Why, oh why, do we have to still get dressed up when we all have a snow-day pass?
I’m someone who was actually Zoom-ready almost every day of the stay-at-home directive. I just prefer to look my best so that I can feel my best, and that’s how I work my best. I realize that’s not necessarily the same motivating factor for others that it is for me, but it definitely made the constant video call requests more tolerable. Honestly, a lot of times I was glad someone got to see my outfit so it wasn’t such a waste! LOL
As I sat through Zoom upon Google Chat upon Webex upon Facebook Messenger Video Call, I was struck by the less-than-ideal home office set-ups of many of my clients and colleagues. Not yours of course, just theirs. 😉 I am probably more judgmental than most about décor and aesthetic, and while I am always trying to be less judgmental about *everything*, I realize that I’m not the only one who is noticing your messy kitchen table and 3-day-old beard growth. Appearance means so much more than we admit. I’m not endorsing that reality, I’m just confirming it because it’s a fact and not an opinion. The way we are treated and perceived in life is weighted disproportionately on appearance over skills, intelligence, and background. It’s not only unfair, it’s an incorrect way to assess people . . . and yet it keeps happening.
Perception is 9/10ths of the law, so how can we harness the power of perception to work in our favor, through the magic of video calling? We’ve put together our top tips to help you Zoom like a pro. If we missed anything, please add it to our list in the comments!
1. Prepare for your call in advance. There are several different platforms companies use to set up video calls, and each one has their own plug-ins and software to download before you can use them. If you haven’t used the particular platform before, set it up well in advance of the call, and login 15 minutes early just to make sure everything is working. If you are using Zoom, they have recently made a string of updates to accommodate the demand for their services, so it’s always a good idea to login to a Zoom call five minutes early if you haven’t used it in a few days. That way your computer can make whatever updates are necessary, and/or you can troubleshoot any issues that may have arisen as a result of the update.
Everything we do affects how we are perceived in the context of our work, so do your best to appear prepared, comfortable with technology (rather than scrambling to figure it out while everyone is waiting for you), and confident.
2. Set up a work space that is clean and professional. I’m fortunate to have a nice workspace in my home, but I also designed it intentionally. Even though my office is only two blocks from my home, I often had to work from home even pre-pandemic, and I always like to have a clean, sane, devoted workspace.
When you are setting up your workspace and preparing for a video call, use the camera function on your computer in advance so you can see the frame of your shot. The camera function typically shows a wider shot than the video software, so if everything in the frame looks good, you will be in good shape for your video call. Look at the walls around you and make sure any art or photos are hung properly and that they are representative of what you want to convey to a work audience. Check for any clutter or messes in view of the camera, but honestly, who wants to live in clutter, right? 😊
3. Dress for success. Not just for video calls--it’s a good way to live. Always look your best and select attire that is professional and stylish. Avoid wearing clothing that has busy stripes or graphics as those can be distracting on video.
4. Lighting. Lights should be behind the camera, not behind you. People want to see your fabulous self clearly. Let them!
5. Audio. If there are external noises in your remote workspace, especially pets or children, but also traffic sounds, construction, and loud fans, use headphones to block out the background noise. Your colleagues will thank you.
6. Video. Make sure your camera is shooting head on. If you are using a laptop, you can prop it up on some books for your video calls, so the camera isn’t shooting up at your face. That’s a tricky angle for anyone.
7. Setting up your digital background. Several video call programs provide the option to set up a digital background, making you appear to be at the beach or Disney World. These are cute and can be fun for social calls, but for work calls, use a background that is consistent with your company’s branding/marketing. Also, if you are using a digital background, use a green screen behind you so you don't lose your full background “coverage” every time you move. You can order one on Amazon for as little as $20, but I recommend springing for one with a built-in stand that you can easily deploy and remove as needed. You can even get one that is installed on the back of your office chair. How easy is that?! A digital background should be a professional upgrade to your work video call, not something gimmicky that distracts from your contributions.
What if you have to take a video call on the go? You’re in luck! Wear a flexible phone mount around your neck if you are out and about, or even rest it around your neck if you are on a longer call that you need to take on your cell phone. You can also configure them to sit on any surface and adjust the height of your cell phone to whatever your preference is. Even better, you can find these anywhere: the one I’m using in the picture above was less than $5 at Walmart.
We’d love to see your progress after reading our top tips! Take a before photo of your current video call setup and then an after picture, and post them in the comments.
Until next time, happy zooming!