Experts weigh in: Should you use Zoom filters, how to best light yourself, and how not to get hacked, among many other tips.
It’s easy to get caught up in a Zoom meeting and forget to do simple things like end the session if you’re the host, or turn off the camera if you leave the room for a moment. There are certain things to avoid doing if you want to use Zoom and keep your professional reputation intact.
Given the shelter-at-home edicts, working from home will be the norm for at least another month. And, “Zoom has become the platform for pretty much every meeting,” said William Mandara Jr., CEO of Mancini, a tech-first design firm. “Technology in general has been and will be the reason we all make it through this.”
The digital transformation agency Blue Fountain Media first used Zoom for clients and those who work from home, but now, with the entire staff working remotely, “We use it for all team meetings, and I’m on Zoom meetings no less than six hours-per-day,” said Brian Byer, vice president and general manager of the agency.
SEE: Policy pack: Guidelines for remote workers (TechRepublic free PDF download)
Zoom is essential for tech’s best-known companies. “Zoom is a core part of GitLab’s tool stack,” said Darren Murph, head of remote at GitLab.
“We use it daily to communicate with our all-remote team of more than 1,200 people across 65+ countries,” Murph said. “We use it for one-on-ones, stand-ups, team meetings, as well as informal communication. We build relationships via coffee chats, and even encourage parents with kids who are home from school to schedule ‘Juicebox Chats’ for children around the world to connect with one another. We routinely host company wide AMAs, with hundreds of people involved simultaneously. We use Zoom to bond with colleagues, recently hosting 130+ people in our marketing team for a Global Talent Show, replete with judges and prizes.”
TechRepublic asked experts to provide advice on what not to do during company Zoom meetings. Here are their best tips:
1. Don’t check yourself out. “Especially when you’re talking,” warned Dave Aizer, a media coach and TV host. “When you’re speaking, your eyes should be on the camera to enhance the impact of your presentation. If you look at yourself, especially when speaking, it diminishes your power and—if you don’t like what you see—may even make you feel self-conscious. You can minimize the image of you [on your own device], if that helps.”
2. Don’t apologize. Colleagues now get glimpses into each others’ homes and personal lives. “Do not apologize,” said Steve Pemberton, chief HR officer at Workhuman. “If your child interrupts your video conference, don’t shoo them out, embrace the moment, and welcome them into the frame, introduce them to your colleagues. Not only will this make your family members feel special, it also helps to increase employee engagement, as it keeps humanity in the workplace.”
3. Don’t overexpose your life. While it’s inevitable the aforementioned “glimpses” are bound to happen, or to reference a sound from a pet or child, don’t hijack the meeting by flipping your camera around to allow everyone to see a messy room or worse.
4. Don’t be wiggly, you’re not in second grade. “Zoom is mostly great, however we’ve found the video can sometimes struggle when there is a lot of movement,” said Sam Williamson, owner of CBDiablo. “This can cause freezing issues. Restrict movement as much as possible during video calls. For some this means resisting the urge to ‘talk with your hands.”
5. Don’t avoid the camera. “To avoid embarrassing situations, tell everyone at home you’re going live and will be on video,” said Debra Locker, president, Locker PR. “We are all crammed into our homes right now. If you are in a room with a door, close it. Consider a note on the door. Find a quiet area. Engage your children and/or partner in assisting with entertaining pets, babies, etc.”
6. Don’t forget your manners, no matter how feral you’ve become sheltering at home. On Zoom, “Use the ‘raise hand’ or similar function, rather than interjecting or interpreting facial cues,” said Ben Christensen, co-founder of Handshake, a business social-media platform for college students. Have somewhere to ask questions before the meeting, a chat function, or dedicated Q&A at the end of the meeting. This ensures everyone feels included and heard, and allows for a more productive meeting.
GitLabs’ Murph added, “It feels rude in video calls to interrupt people. This is because the latency causes you to talk over the speaker for longer than during an in-person meeting. We should not be discouraged by this, the questions and context provided by interruptions are valuable. This is a situation where we have to do something counterintuitive to make all-remote meetings work. At GitLab, everyone is encouraged to interrupt the speaker in a video call to ask a question or offer context. We want everyone to contribute instead of a monologue. Just like in-person meetings, be cognizant of when, who, and how you interrupt. We don’t want ‘manterrupting.'”
7. Don’t abuse filters. “Don’t play with filters,” emphasized workplace consultant Ashira Prossack. “By now we’ve all seen the memes of people with their video turned into a potato or a kitten. While that’s good for a laugh and friends, it’s not good for credibility. Leave the filters to Snapchat and Instagram.”
While Collins said, “Don’t use quirky backgrounds” for business calls, some bosses welcome a fun background. Fishbowl co-founder and COO Loren Appin said: “Switch up the virtual Zoom backgrounds. This has become a bit of a competition across our team, and helps kick off the meeting on a positive note.”
8. Don’t forget security. Never publicly share online meeting IDs or meeting URLs, stressed Aaron Zander, head of IT at HackerOne. Despite the increasingly productive tools, “they come with a caveat.” Zander explained that sharing “allows people to drop in and listen to sensitive conversations, record your voice or video, and infiltrate a virtual workplace. With the Zoom boom taking over social media, be careful how much you share in your screenshot. It’s important to understand the link sharing options for file sharing; this includes video links and services like Zoom. The last thing you want is an intruder—external or internal—to drop in on sensitive meetings.”
9. Don’t forget to hit “mute” when you’re not talking. The fully remote Flexjobs is reliant on Zoom, and Kathy Gardner, senior director of PR and media, said: “Some of our best practices include muting yourself when you’re not talking, and using a headset for the best audio quality.” Gardner also recommended using the “raise hand” feature or, for the host to come up with an equivalent to indicate “when to speak, such as a chat comment that you want to chime in. It lessens people talking over each other.”
10. Don’t be too far from your router. A “culprit to extended buffering times and spotty connections, is your Wi-Fi. To boost performance in every room, routers need to be centralized—avoid cabinets or closets,” said a rep from Best Buy’s Geek Squad. “The more materials the signal must travel through, the weaker and slower the connection. For certain homes, a Wi-Fi repeater, or mesh network may be needed.”
11. Don’t forget good lighting. “Zoom is great, but if you’re sitting in the wrong spot, no one can see you. Try and pick a spot where the lighting is on your face or above you.” Just “make sure your room is well-lit,” said Calloway Cook, president of Illuminate Labs. “I’ve been on many calls where some of the members were in a room so dark you couldn’t make out their face. This looks unprofessional and gives the impression you’re not good at planning.”
12. Don’t use the brightest setting on your laptop or monitor. “If you’re wearing glasses, the bright monitor can reflect in the glasses and be distracting,” said Victoria Elder, owner of Victori Solutions.
13. Don’t forget to say “goodbye!” Gardner reminded: “Be sure to say ‘goodbye’ when you leave a video call. That may seem unimportant, as people will likely see your image leave the screen when you hang up, but good etiquette is never a bad idea.”