Retooling Our Behavior for Effective Zoom Calls

Those of us who have spent years working on remote teams are veterans of Zoom for video conferencing. We elders react with amusement as this new wave of Coronavirus Zoom converts feels a giddy empowerment, believing that the tool will adequately substitute for person to person contact during this pandemic. There’s no question that Zoom provides an outstanding video conferencing experience, provided users have sufficient internet connections, adequate computer hardware, and good speakers and microphones. However, it’s us humans who need some behavior modification to best utilize these remote tools.

In the beginning, new Zoom users tend to have lots of long calls because it is wondrous fun. Although these tools are paltry substitutes for the in-person contact we’re all missing, they fulfill an important need for virtual contact. Meanwhile, naysayers are busy writing exposés about Zoom’s Big Brother features that enable bosses to monitor their employees behavior during video calls. It’s true that Zoom provides features that take attendance and take note when the Zoom window loses primary focus, i.e., when the employee is multitasking by, say, checking their Twitter feed. Rather than focusing on nefarious managers who are using technology to spy on workers, it is more valuable to address the reasons why people may not pay full attention during calls.

Here are 10xPrinciples video conferencing etiquette, tips, and tricks that apply to both business calls and personal calls:

  1. Establish a camera-on policy for participants. If attendees have adequate bandwidth, attending a video call with their camera off often means they aren’t fully engaged in the call and are likely filling an Instacart. Inadequate bandwidth is the most common excuse for people not turning their cameras on. Since no one is using coffee shop WiFi these days, this is a questionable excuse. On the other hand, now that families are sharing a WiFi pipe and everyone’s home chewing up bandwidth, it’s possible that video may suffer. Rather than accepting voice-only participation, encourage cameras even if the refresh rate is slow.
  2. Practice mindfulness. Encourage attendees to devote their full attention to the people with whom they’re conferencing. Participants who have something better to do should be encouraged to exit the call with no penalty and address their higher priority concerns.
  3. Video calls aren’t as sensually rich as in-person contact and, therefore, aren’t as engaging. It’s best for the host to recognize when a call has reached its point of diminishing returns and end it. Long calls are the enemy of quality calls.
  4. Encourage and purchase headsets, preferably ones with noise cancellation. When participants are forced to mute themselves because of ambient noise on their end, it inhibits the free flow of conversation. This wireless Plantronics Headset is particularly good.
  5. If people are shy about showing their mugs on camera, use this setting to take the edge off. It won’t transform a Steve Buscemi into a George Clooney; Zoom’s a great tool, but it’s not magic.

We elders of Zoom who have worked remotely for years with far-flung coworkers are accustomed to creating virtual communities that new converts are now discovering. Together onscreen, we celebrate birthdays, enjoy pizza parties, and imbibe during happy hours. It’s hard to imagine how we could have coped as a nation if the pandemic had occurred in the pre-Internet age. None of our virtual options are as good as in-person contact, but we’re very fortunate to have technology that connects us.