In today’s world, conference rooms are being traded for living rooms and bedrooms. Workforces all over the world are using video chat tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to continue daily meetings and face-to-face interaction. While this satisfies the need for social interaction, it can also feel a little invasive to allow colleagues and co-workers to see our homes. Use these steps to make the most of every video conference.
- 1. Have the Right Equipment
- 2. Find the Right Lighting
- 3. Consider a Virtual Background
- 4. Set Up Your Equipment Before the Call
- 5. Testing Audio and Video on Zoom
- 6. Check Your Internet Connection (And Have a Backup)
- 7. Know Your Apps
- 8. Maintain Proper Etiquette During the Call
- 9. Set Do Not Disturb
- 10. After the Call
1. Have the Right Equipment
For the everyday user, the built-in cameras, microphones and speakers on a computer are more than good enough. However, if you want to improve overall quality, third-party options are plentiful. Having the right equipment is critical to ensuring others on a video call can both hear and see you clearly. To that end, we’ve included some equipment recommendations below to up your video conferencing game.
If you find yourself in a position where your computer camera isn’t HD, purchasing one is a very smart move. Looking professional is important, and having an external HD camera is going to help with that. Both of the options below will not only help with looking more professional, but in the case of the Razer, it will also help increase lighting with a built-in ring light.
- Razer Kiyo – This is generally regarded as one of the best WFH cameras, thanks to its 720p quality and built-in ring light. Lighting is your friend, so pair that with an easy-to-swallow price point, and it’s a perfect match.
- Logitech C920 – Certified right out of the box for Teams and Zoom, this 720p camera easily mounts on any computer and even comes with a tripod if you want to set up next to a computer.
If you’re in video conference meetings all day every day, then it’s a good idea to invest in a solid condenser microphone so that you’ll always sound crystal clear. Unless you’re always on the move, a condenser microphone will help reduce meeting fatigue for your participants, as you’ll sound like you’re with them in person.
- HyperX SoloCast – Plug-and-play quality ensures this microphone is good for beginners and advanced Zoom users. An LED indicator lets you know when you are “live,” while the adjustable stand helps you find a comfortable position.
- Blue Yeti – Another widely regarded “best of” option for microphones, this USB option is ready for both Mac and Windows. It will last for years and adds quality that is night and day compared to a computer option.
Headsets are a good alternative to condenser microphones if you have limited desk space. Moreover, it’s simply good video conferencing etiquette to route the meeting audio to a headphone or headset.
- Jabra Evolve 40 – While most people will think of USB desktop microphones, a headset can work just as well to improve audio quality. The Jabra Evolve 40 is proof you don’t need to spend a lot to get better than your computer’s built-in microphone.
- Jabra Evolve 65 UC – Bluetooth enabled, the Jabra allows you to walk up to 100 feet away from your computer. Fourteen hours of talk time ensures you can get through an entire day’s worth of video calls without having to worry about recharging.
2. Find the Right Lighting
When it comes to video conferencing, pick a location that has ample natural light, whether it’s near a window or outside. The more natural light you have, the less likely you are to get tired. Separately, your background matters as well. Try and find a location that has the least amount of distractions in the background. One common suggestion is a kitchen table, as it is often near plenty of windows. The downside of relying on natural light is the instances in which sunset, clouds and rain dominate the sky.
Fortunately, when weather scenarios interfere or if moving rooms is not an option, there are plenty of lighting solutions. Ring lights, for example, can be an ideal hardware solution to increase lighting. Inexpensive, these provide a soft and even lighting that can even be mounted directly onto computer hardware. Even something as basic as a lamp on a desk pointed upward can help increase natural light.
3. Consider a Virtual Background
When video conferencing really ramped up in mid-2020, virtual backgrounds were all the rage, but now they should mostly be utilized as a way to hide your physical background. If you are in a small room or have decorative shelving directly behind you that could distract, a virtual background works great.
Additionally, employers have created their own virtual backgrounds for employees to use, so by all means, incorporate those into your video calls. A physical background works great, as long as there is nothing that can take someone’s attention away. Every video conferencing software also adds a “blur” function so that you don’t have to make changes. It will blur things slightly so that it’s out of focus and not overtaking your meeting.
4. Set Up Your Equipment Before the Call
For many employees, this is their first time videoconferencing at home. Given that, it’s important to understand how to set everything up. In the most basic case, setting up your built-in equipment should be your first action. Before running out and buying anything, make sure that everything already on your computer works.
Testing Camera and Microphone
To test the microphone in Windows 10, go to “Start -> Settings -> System -> Sound.” Make sure you have the right input selected whether you’re using the built-in mic or an external one. Talk into the mic, and the blue bar under “Test your microphone” should rise and fall as you speak. If the bar is moving, your microphone is working. For the camera, hit your Start button and select “Camera” in your app list.
Testing the camera on a Mac is as easy as opening any app that can use the camera. For example, open the FaceTime app and confirm a green light turns on beside the camera at the top of the screen. Test the microphone by going to “System Preferences -> Sound -> Input” and start talking. If the bars light up as you type, talk, or sing, the microphone is ready to go. Remember to pick the right input if you have an external mic plugged in.
5. Testing Audio and Video on Zoom
Understanding how to use Zoom is a critical component of a strong work-from-home setup. That includes knowing how to test your audio and video and perform a test call. Note that all of the steps below apply to both PC and Mac.
Testing Zoom Audio
- Go to “Settings” by clicking on the gear icon. On the left side of the pop-up window, click on “Audio,” which should be the third option from the top.
- Select the right input and output options depending on whether you’re using an external microphone or headset. Click “Test Speaker” and “Test Mic” to test them respectively. You should see the Input Level bar move as you speak into the mic.
Testing Zoom Video
- Go to “Settings” by clicking on the gear icon. On the left side of the pop-up window, click on “Video,” which should be the second option from the top.
- Once the Video window opens, your camera should be live. There is no additional test to perform. If your camera works as expected, you should see yourself in the frame. If not, make sure the camera is not blocked and restart your computer if necessary and check whether the issue is resolved.
- One important step is to make sure you’ve selected “Enable HD” in the video options.
Perform a Test Zoom Call
With audio and video all set up, the last step with Zoom is to try a test call. Visit http://zoom.us/test and click on the “Join” button inside the browser. As soon as you are in the test meeting, Zoom will allow you to test both your audio and speakers again. If you have a third-party microphone or camera installed, you will also have the option to choose which input/out device to use. To properly test it, make sure to click “Join with Computer Audio” and “Start Video,” then triple-check that everything works.
6. Check Your Internet Connection (And Have a Backup)
Once your computer is set up, the next thing to do is testing your Internet connection, which can easily be done on SpeedTest, Google or SpeedOf. If your upload speed is slow, it could impact the video quality. In this case, you may want to consider switching the position of your Internet router so that it’s closer to a home office or working from another room.
When your Internet fails, it’s important to have a backup in mind. Whether that is a dedicated hotspot, the hotspot on your phone or the coffee shop down the street, have a plan in mind. If the choice is thinking of a backup or missing an important video conference, it’s not a hard decision.
7. Know Your Apps
Another piece of work-from-home advice is to know the technology you are using. Google Hangouts, Zoom and Microsoft Teams all have their own unique software layout. Try and familiarize yourself with this software ahead of time. For example, know where the screen-sharing function, chat and mute buttons are located.
- Microsoft Teams – Teams is a combination chat and videoconferencing app, available in both a personal and professional capacity, that can host up to 1,000 members per video call. That’s on top of 1-1 chat, voice and video calls. Teams users can change backgrounds, record meetings, and use breakout rooms with availability across desktop and mobile device platforms.
- Zoom – Zoom is something of the default videoconferencing app for businesses. It’s free for personal use and small businesses, while larger businesses require a license. Zoom is definitely more videoconferencing-focused and great for larger teams. You can communicate through chat with or without video conferencing, but it’s not as chat friendly as Teams.
- Google Meet – Google’s Meet software has been popular with schools and personal video use cases but lags behind Zoom and Teams in the professional world. Breakout rooms are perfect for work environments, and the “raise hand” feature makes it easy to ask a question without interrupting. Currently free, Google Meet will begin to charge businesses per user in January 2022.
- Skype – Microsoft’s “legacy” video conferencing software, Skype has an inexpensive paid subscription which makes it an attractive yet less featured option over Teams. A voice mail service makes it easy to know who has called you when you step away from the computer. If you have to make a choice, Teams has more promise, thanks to its inclusion as part of Microsoft 365.
8. Maintain Proper Etiquette During the Call
When you are in a video meeting, it helps when only one person at a time is talking. The best rule is to only unmute yourself when it is your turn to talk, or ask or answer a question. The last thing everyone on a call needs is to shout over one another, and being muted ensures that calls can start (and end) on time.
Be on Time
Punctuality counts in the physical office and in the virtual world. It is the basic respect for everyone in the meeting.
Some employers might want their staff to dress the way they were while in office, while some others allow simple jean and t-shirt. Make sure you dress appropriately for the meeting and change out of your pajamas.
Look at the Camera
Working remotely increases the opportunity to multitask. While you are on a video call, making eye contact is important so that others know you are paying attention. Not only will they appreciate the attention, but you will also avoid missing anything.
9. Set Do Not Disturb
We have all been there at one point or another. It’s an important video conference call and someone’s phone rings. It’s become more acceptable but is still something that should be avoided if possible. When you are on a video conference, utilize the Do Not Disturb or silent functions of your smartphone. Beyond phone calls, this also includes email notification and text/iMessage notifications, FaceTime pinging, etc. As easy as it is to set up DND these days on both Android and iOS, it’s equally easy to turn off as soon as a video call ends.
10. After the Call
Once a call wraps up, someone should be responsible for taking notes and sending those out to the team. What are the next steps or what was actionable from the call? Who is responsible for what? It’s a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page. If you are the facilitator, you can send a thank you to a broader team you don’t regularly meet with and thank them for their time, insight, assistance, etc.
While video conferencing has been around for years, if not decades, the last few weeks has brought it into the limelight like never before. Knowing how to properly engage and interact with these platforms is critical right now. If you are considering Skype over Zoom, you may want to compare them and see which is better for your needs. If you need to attend two meetings at the same time, check out Otter Assistant Chrome Extension, which can take notes for you in the second meeting.