By now all of us who have been able to move our jobs to the home space have faced video conferencing and virtual meetings. For that, we have had to choose the best place in the house and we have tried to make the difference between personal and work. But in this unprecedented context, where telecommuting seems to be the new norm, there are still no established rules. And what might have seemed like a relief at first – being from the comfort of home without even having to get out of your pajamas – has become a gray area where it’s all too easy to stray from the focus.
Elaine Quinn, an American entrepreneur and founder of the blog Solopreneur, which aims to be a support guide for small businesses and freelancers, explains that while working from home has become more common over the past decade, moving from a communal workplace to the dining room table can seem like an unaffordable task. We were not prepared for this transition and certainly the opportunity to delve, perhaps a little too deeply, into our colleagues’ intimacy – just as they have also accessed ours – takes us by surprise. What do we do when the pet shows up? How do we stay focused if we hear baby cries in the distance? How do we manage to leave out our personal lives if there is no space to delimit it?
The organizational psychologist and director of Smart Coach, Isaías Sharon, explains that it is important to understand that teleworking is not about taking work home: in this format it becomes relevant to work by results and objectives rather than by schedules, because in a domestic context schedules change. “For this, it is necessary to agree on rules among the work team and this means that the leaders have the ability to set good objectives and understand that the follow-up will be with different schedules than the ones they are used to. This is a change of mentality that usually is not installed in the organizations and if it is not achieved the workers end up more stressed and the functions that the telework could have to optimize the productivity are not fulfilled”, he explains.
In turn, in her book There’s No Place Like Working From Home (2011), Elaine Quinn explains that teleworking requires major adjustments that remain largely an enigma for those who have not been exposed to these dynamics. So much so, that at times we forget such basic – and key – things that could improve the experience, such as looking back before taking a video call to see what exactly our colleagues will see. “In addition to the technical issues, there’s the discomfort this situation creates,” he relates.
That’s why, at a time when our homes and workplaces have inevitably merged into a single space – for an indefinite period of time – it’s important to have some tips on how to optimize and make virtual work meetings more effective.
Pre-planning: Isaías Sharon explains that the meeting cannot be improvised, even if it is an emergency meeting. “It is important to take a few minutes to plan and send a list of the topics to be addressed – it is advisable that there are no more than three or four – so that the focus is not distorted. In this sense, it is important that both the convenor and the participants are clear about the objectives of the meeting”.
The importance of the moderator: Work-related video conferences cannot end up being a debate or cross-conversations, and for that there must be a moderator to guide the conversation. This, as Sharon explains, maintains order and allows us to converse, without someone trying to impose themselves.
Test the sound: Elaine Quinn wonders in her book what the point of a video call is if the message cannot be transmitted or received. Therefore, one of the first things to do before starting the video conference is to check that the sound works well and that there are headphones on hand, because sometimes the computer’s own microphone is not enough to hear clearly. The most effective way to do a sound check is to call a friend to make sure everything is working well.
Check the Internet connection: If we do not have a fast connection, it is important to install ourselves in the closest place to the router to avoid any type of interruption in the connection. Otherwise, these interruptions could unnecessarily prolong and hinder the flow of the video conference. In his column Tech Headaches of Working From Home, New York Times technology columnist Brian X Chem explains that we have all experienced a slower signal these days because we are all working from home at the same time, at similar times, and therefore it is good to have a plan b. One solution may be to connect to cellular internet.
The mute option: For those who live with their families or simply in noisy environments, it may be advisable to resort to headphones that isolate the sound of the environment. If we do not have that facility, there is the option to mute our microphones. In Zoom and Hangouts -two of the most used applications for group video conferences- you can press “mute” just before entering the meeting and “unmute” when you want to speak. This way we do not interrupt others, we save the Internet signal and we respect the turns to speak.
Use the camera: As Sharon explains, forcing us to use the camera helps us to communicate better, since we can see each other. This allows instant feedback. At the same time, it also forces participants to prepare for the meeting and choose a location. This allows for greater focus and helps everyone to regulate themselves.
The importance of space: To prioritize concentration and respect the purpose of the video conference, it is necessary to choose a place where we can be quiet and without major distractions. Hopefully an enclosed space to which our partners do not have access, at least for the duration of the call. As Quinn explains in his book, in virtual meetings, establishing an agenda and delimiting times and spaces is crucial: “We are in our most intimate place and it is easy to get carried away by other things. That is why it is advisable to establish a guideline of items to be addressed in the meeting before it takes place, so that we can make the most of the time”.
Respect time: Sharon’s recommendation is that the meeting should last no longer than 45 minutes. And more than the duration, what needs to be respected are the start and end times of the meeting.
Summary of agreements: At the end of the meeting there has to be a summary of agreements to assign tasks. “That way the meeting is not just a conversation, but also allows to have designated people responsible for each action to be taken,” explains Sharon.
*Article written by: Emiliana Pariente in Revista Paula