By now, an enormous portion of the U.S. workforce has been on a video conference call; you may have even just signed off of one, in fact. Studies show that 87% more people were using video conferencing in 2020 than in 2018, and usage reached as many as 300 million daily meeting participants in just a few short months.
Simply put, video calls have become part of the way we work — whether you’re dialing in for daily team syncs or using the technology to streamline your candidate interviews. No matter how you use video calls, you want them to be engaging, effective and collaborative and have that energy of a live meeting. But we don’t always use the platform with optimal results — even now, more than a year into working remotely.
While opting for a video call is often seen as a better alternative than a simple voice call, the cavalcade of screens, visuals, faces and voices can be mentally taxing. To help you both minimize the fatigue and optimize your video calling experience, here are seven practical (and surprisingly simple) questions to ask yourself:
1. Do you really need to be on video?
The first question any meeting host needs to ask is whether being on video is really necessary to cover the topic at hand. I see this happen frequently, where we all start using the Next Big Thing all the time.
But as with any form of communication, it’s not always the optimal platform for every situation. We know, for instance, that emails aren't always the answer, and squeezing in a video call on the schedule for 5:30 on a Friday may not be a great way to converse. Be mindful of people’s time and mental energy, and remember that fatigue and stress can be easily misinterpreted on a video call as impatience. If you’re meeting with one or two other people, perhaps suggest a phone call instead. Give your colleagues a break.
2. Does the equipment work?
If you do need to do a video call, here’s something to keep in mind: technical issues are a major pet peeve. According to a recent survey, 28% of professionals say tech glitches are the most frustrating video calling problem.
A poor WiFi connection may be out of your hands, but there are plenty of other variables you can control by simply testing your equipment to ensure everything works. Is the webcam working? Are your earbuds charged? Are there any loose wires or connections? A few simple checks beforehand can spare everyone the annoyance.
3. Are you ready to screen share?
One of the most awkward moments in a video meeting can be when the host goes to share their screen, and up pops a personal email or shopping cart. Rehearse screen sharing and make sure the documents and resources needed are clean, cued up and ready to go.
Turn off your alerts, and while you’re at it, clean up your browser so you’re not sharing endless tabs and popups. Once you’re done, don’t forget to disable screen sharing.
4. What does your “office” look like?
Think about your surroundings and the setup that serves as your remote workplace, and take a selfie to see what other callers see when interacting with you A crowded bookcase can be a distracting cacophony of books and objects, for example, and you may want to try another angle.
Aim for a neutral background that’s not too busy. Video tends to flatten the perspective, bringing everything up to the same plane as your face. That’s a big reason to get rid of the clutter. If you want to see some masterful virtual offices — and some real bloopers — check out Roomrater. Then, curate accordingly.
5. What’s your virtual background, if any?
It didn’t take long for virtual backgrounds to catch on — and add some fun to meetings. But they are not always appropriate. Choose a screen background that isn’t distracting or offensive and fits the occasion.
If you’re bringing everyone in for a powwow to request that teams work double time, that isn’t the time to be sitting in front of a virtual island paradise. And don’t set yourself up against a busy, colorful background if you don’t have a green screen — your head and the background will start blurring together.
6. What are you wearing?
Remember the pantsless reporter who thought a shirt and tie on top was enough and accidentally showed the world his underwear? Dressing for video calls means observing some simple rules. Yes, working from home means we may well be wearing pajama bottoms, but make sure no one can see them. (Of course, you can always give employees a break by calling for a pajama meeting, just for fun.)
Don’t wear brightly colored stripes, which will swim on a video screen. If you’re sitting against a bright white wall, avoid wearing a bright white shirt — you’ll look like a talking head. Avoid rumpled T-shirts. Make sure your hair’s neat. Think business casual, not remote work slovenly. Visual cues in a video call have a strong impact, so take them seriously.
7. What’s your light source?
Last but absolutely not least is lighting: if you’re sitting with your back to the window, you’re going to be backlit and your face will be too dark to see, which can be very disconcerting for anyone in the meeting. On the flip side, if you’re sitting right in front of a window, you may look too washed out.
Angle yourself to take advantage of the natural light, but use an additional light source to brighten things up. That could be a table lamp nearby — but not behind you. Or it could be an overhead lamp — but if it’s too bright or right above your head, you’ll have some heavy shadows, particularly under your eyes. Stay away from fluorescent lights, which can make you look way too cold and pale. The best approach is to test your lighting out ahead of time to see what works.
What doing all these video calls has taught us is that we need to do a bit of art direction when it comes to our own appearance. Blaming the equipment for an issue is really blaming ourselves — we’re the ones using it, after all.
Even a year or so in, it’s never too late to learn to better control our video environments for better results. Video isn’t going away — even when we’re back to the office, chances are we’ll be using video conferences to convene with teams and colleagues in other locations. The genie, in essence, is out of the bottle. Best make it look as good as you can.
Meghan M. Biro is a globally recognized analyst, author, speaker and brand strategist. The founder of TalentCulture, she hosts #WorkTrends, a popular weekly Twitter Chat and podcast. Her career spans across recruiting, talent management, digital media and brand strategy for hundreds of companies, from startups to global brands like Microsoft, IBM and Google. She also serves on advisory boards for leading HR technology brands. Meghan can be regularly found on Forbes, SHRM, and a variety of other outlets. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.