Lynn Elliott: Virtual meetings maintain productivity in uncertain times
In light of the rapid spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 virus, many companies, nonprofits and other organizations are wondering how to respond to keep their employees safe and yet not shut down operations at the same time.
Video conferencing technology can help many organizations that are service- or information-based and don’t require a hands-on physical presence, allowing employees or volunteers to work from home but stay connected with co-workers and managers.
Several years ago, I joined a small startup technology company whose employees were based all over the world, working remotely. Although I had spent my share of time on conference calls and the occasional video call, I’d never had to depend so fully on technology for all my interactions until I had this job. Through video conferencing or video meetings, our team was successfully able to communicate (and more importantly, develop relationships and a company culture) even though we were never all in the same room.
Through that experience, I became knowledgeable and comfortable using video conferencing software. Given the recent emphasis on working from home (#WFH), and self-quarantining, here is some information I hope you find helpful on how to use and choose video conferencing or video meeting software, to ensure you can continue to connect meaningfully with your fellow human beings and colleagues.
First, you’ll need to choose your video conferencing software. After describing some choices, I’ll give you some tips on how to use it successfully.
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There are many video conference options out there. Do a google search and you’ll be flooded with choices. Most of these include easy set-up with video, audio, ability to share your computer screen, and even some other collaboration tools (like an online whiteboard).
Here are a few that I like, but feel free to test others to see what fits your style and budget:
Skype (Skype.com) — Free and easy to use for up to 50 people. Requires app download. There’s also a business version.
Zoom (Zoom.us) — Another market leader, with excellent video features. I like the way it allows you to see everyone in the room in a grid (Brady Bunch-style). Free version allows for unlimited one-on-one meetings, and a 40-minute time limit for meetings with more than one guest. Paid plans start at $14.99/month/host
BlueJeans (Bluejeans.com) — Great for people who just need to meet, whiteboard, and screen share. Dolby-powered audio is unique and helps you feel you’re “in the room.” 14-day free trial. Plans start at $9.99/month/host
Join.me (Join.me) — Easy-to-use, with a modern user interface. Free trial. Plans start at $10/month/user
GoToMeeting (Gotomeeting.com) — One of the easier conferencing services, but it has less emphasis on video conferencing. 14-day free trial. Plans start at $12/month/host
HOW TO USE IT
Once you’ve set up your software and shown your employees, members or volunteers how to install it on their own home computers, here are some tips on how to use it most effectively.
Tip 1: Position your camera at eye level. — If it’s too low, too high or hooked onto a different monitor it can be very distracting — and unflattering — during video conference calls.
Tip 2: Mute your microphone when you’re not speaking. — Background noise can be very distracting and destroy a meeting’s flow.
Tip 3: Make sure your room is well lit. — Use natural light from windows or simply turn on the overhead light in the room to brighten up the video.
Tip 4: When you’re talking, look into your camera. — Resist the urge to simply stare at yourself talking on the computer screen. Looking at the camera will help others feel like you’re engaged and present.
Tip 5: Get used to seeing yourself on video. — It can seem awkward or distracting to see yourself, but if everyone uses their video, the ability to see your and others’ expressions and non-verbal cues is invaluable to effective communication. Some solutions allow you to hide your camera from your own view, if you desire.
Remember that video conference calls are essentially in-person interactions that allow people to communicate more effectively. So, take advantage of the tools that are out there, and keep your organization productive even when the office is empty!
Lynn Elliott is a senior product manager at Telestream and a board member of Nevada County Media. As a public access TV station and multi-media production facility, Nevada County Media provides a platform for creativity, personal expression and free speech. Government meetings and public events are live-streamed; all recordings are available on the internet “on demand” for viewing on your smartphone, computer or smart TV at http://www.nevadacountytv.org.
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