When fall comes around, I always look back on what we were all focusing on over the course of the year. In 2020, that includes our focus on best practices for remote working — pre-pandemic. Savvy as we are, we had no idea what was coming.
Last year, I chatted with a C-Suite exec whose company was entirely remote about the video conferencing best practices he and his managers put in place. One of them was making sure employees understood that staying in pajamas all day wouldn’t cut it. Remote working, he noted, should be as tightly structured as working on-site.
The conversation was certainly valuable then, but looking back on it now — it seems almost quaint. We’ve since been through Potato-Head Boss and Underwear Reporter. But more importantly, we couldn’t yet acknowledge the real intensity of remote work cultures, as we hadn’t yet experienced it in full swing. Sure, we talked about video meetings with enthusiasm — but managing via video wasn’t yet a practical challenge affecting 81% of employees. Eight months in, we’re still not post-pandemic. Based on everyone who’s downloaded video conferencing applications and day-to-day experience alone, we’re far more equipped to work remotely. But the downside is, we’re not necessarily getting better at it — and that’s wearing a lot of employees down.
What’s the solution? As with any workplace challenge, find the pain points and address them. Make the fixes hands-on, not workarounds; the latter tend to reduce our effectiveness, dilute the strength of established work processes and, ultimately, fray employee engagement, energy and performance. So here’s a short list of video conferencing best practices to apply in your organization:
1. Stop saying “It’s temporary.”
Back to that 81% statistic: it comes from a Gartner survey conducted in early April 2020. Of 229 HR leaders, nearly half had 81% or more employees working from home for the duration. That was a radical jump from the 30% who worked at least partially remotely before the pandemic hit. Respondents also predicted that post-pandemic, 41% of their employees would continue working remotely in some form. But other research puts the number higher: 57% of employees want to keep working at home, according to one study published in May.
After eight months, the workplace is adapting. Instead of treating less-than-ideal video conditions as just a stopgap, it’s a far better strategy to acknowledge that this is the reality we’re facing — and commit to improving our video communication.
2. Address the shift to video communication as an investment and push that ROI.
This past March, there were a record 62 million downloads of video conferencing applications. By April 23, Zoom reported it had surpassed 300 million daily meeting participants. Given the countless hours we’re spending in video meetings, organizations really need to establish clear policies and procedures regarding how meetings are arranged, scheduled, run and archived.
I’m sure you remember the security breaches and spate of video conference “bombing” that happened in the spring: Zoom did correct the issue with passwords, and the novelty of jumping into any old meeting just for giggles did seem to wear off. The FTC also put out a set of 10 practical guidelines on keeping meetings safe and maintaining privacy. I strongly suggest adding these to your video conferencing best practices and procedures, because some of them may surprise you – and that means we are still being caught off guard.
3. Provide video meeting etiquette training for all employees.
Learning by doing is great for many workplaces, but it’s led to some shoddy practices in terms of video meeting etiquette. If you haven’t yet, establish a set of common-sense ground rules for meetings. We may assume that some of these things don’t have to be said, but they do.
For instance: if you’re in the meeting, be in the meeting, not on Facebook or checking email. Don’t interrupt others, which on video can create tension and frustration, and can ruin a transcript. Make sure you’re presentable. Check that the camera position isn’t awkward so your team isn’t looking up at a beard, down on a scalp, or at your overly backlit image. Come prepared to discuss the topic at hand: five minutes of prep can save what seems like an eon of waiting for people to get oriented. And make it clear that any form of harassment or inconsiderate behavior is just as forbidden on video as it is in the workplace (unfortunately, this is still an issue). Just remember — all of this doesn’t mean you can’t still make meetings fun if everyone agrees.
4. Find out what the problems are and fix them.
If a manager is having trouble getting employees to engage in meetings, run a survey to find out why. Keep it anonymous, combine multiple choice and questions that prompt people to express their thoughts, and share the anonymized findings across the organization. It may trigger a helpful reckoning. One common complaint is scheduling every meeting for an hour, and stacking them back to back.
So try this video conferencing best practice, Pomodoro style, and break a meeting into two 25-minute segments with a five-minute break offline in the middle. Two benefits: you give people a chance to get a snack or take a breath; and it may remind us of what we were all talking about before the pandemic. In 2019, time management was a big topic. It’s nice to get back to that as a touchstone.
5. Consider if you need video communication at all.
The FTC’s guidelines on having safe and secure meetings suggest that if you’re extremely concerned about privacy: don’t use video communication at all. As the FTC says, “No conferencing service can guarantee the security of your information.” Easier said than done sometimes, but the point is well-taken. It’s also a broader reminder that we may not need to be holding all of these meetings anyway.
For instance, give people a chance to chat on the phone, so our brains get a break from that microsecond delay between the visual and audible that plays a role in what’s been dubbed, “Zoom fatigue.” It can seem downright refreshing to just make a quick call and get things sorted out. Invert the norm these days, by holding a video meeting just to say hi, have some informal social time and see each other’s faces. Bring the kids, bring the cat, bring breakfast. Then, get off the screen and switch to the phone.
In the world of work, we are always facing the future and anticipating the changes we’ll be undergoing. While we may not have anticipated a pandemic, we were already seeing an increase in remote work and celebrating the innovations making it possible — including virtual and video communication. Now that we’ve all ascended that steep learning curve, it’s time to fill in some of the gaps and improve the overall work culture.
And as organizations recruit and hire for the road ahead, a key selling point for many may be the ability to keep working from home. You may have trouble convincing your new hires, let alone your existing employees, to give it all up to commute to the office again. One of the strongest arguments for adopting video conferencing best practices now is that as hard as it can be, progress never goes backwards. And in these times, we have enough on our plate.
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.