It’s 7:55am and with sudden humorous dismay I realize I have a scheduled video conference starting at 8.  Although I’ve been awake and working since 6am, new habits have emerged in our pandemic stay-at-home reality.  I had not yet showered, no makeup and was still wearing my night PJs, having not even changed into my day PJs. 

Solution?  Join the video conference with just my name—no video.  Other participants want to “see” me—just displaying my name isn’t much better than just talking on the phone.  Not on your life am I showing my unkept and ungroomed self still in my PJs! 

To make things worse, my next videoconference is scheduled to begin at 9am, on the heels of the first one.  Once again, participants gave me grief for not joining the video-sharing. 

By the end of the second videoconference at 10:30, there didn’t seem to be a good reason to groom myself until after my mid-day walk.  When I returned at 3:10pm from a brisk invigorating walk, horrors of horrors, I’m late for a 3-5:30 videoconference! I quickly log in and for the third time this day, receive grief for displaying only my name.  Although this time, participants insist I join the group, groomed or not.  So embarrassingly I turn on the video.  Hair pulled up in a ponytail (it’s longer now without access to my local hair salon), partially covered with a visor, no makeup, but at least in my walking outfit rather than my day PJs. 

Any of this sound familiar?  As videoconferencing becomes our new societal norm, many of us are still learning how to appropriately navigate this technology.  Up to this point, video platforms have been primarily utilized for business meetings. 

Zoom Video Communications, Inc. has reported that the use of their platform has gone from around 10 million users at the end of 2019 to nearly 200 million now during this pandemic.  While it once enabled client conferences and training webinars, all of us stay-at-home people are using it for virtual happy hours, exercise classes, family birthday parties and Easter/Passover services. 

While Zoom seems to have risen as the prominent platform, other services like FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype, WebX and Duo (just to name a few) have also seen a rise in their utilization.  So how DO we navigate this new reality?  Search the Internet and you’ll find a proliferation of “tips” and “quips”.  Here are just a few. 

  1.  Mute yourself when not talking.  This is a big one.  Unlike sitting in a meeting, we tend to multi-task more during videoconferencing.  Typing, shuffling papers, coughing, dogs barking and other background noises are distracting to participants.  And be careful that you haven’t accidently unmuted yourself when you decide to utter an expletive, comment to your significant other how slovenly someone else looks, or generally want to say something you don’t want the other participants to hear.  Or have you ever been on a videoconference when someone answers their other phone and has a full-on conversation?
  2. Be aware that multi-tasking is visible to participants!  Switching over to work on your PowerPoint presentation doesn’t stop your video—participants can still see you even though you don’t see them.  OMG did you see the guy picking his nose….
  3. Prepare in advance.  Another big one.  It’s very disruptive if you’re still struggling with making your video or audio work while other participants are wanting to start the meeting.  It’s particularly important when you’re participating in a virtual happy hour—don’t waste others’ recreation time! 
  4. Pay attention to your background.  Messy house?  Use a virtual background if your computer and conferencing platform allows it.  And what about a family member walking into the view of the camera partially dressed, or not dressed at all?  Or your child deciding to do or say something embarrassing—perhaps load themselves into the dishwasher? 
  5. Position your camera appropriately.  Face the light source, raise the camera so others aren’t looking up your nostrils.  And just like photography, ladies, facing the camera looking down on you is face-slimming. 
  6. Dress appropriately.  OK, so those sweats are comfortable and putting your hair up underneath a ball cap or visor feels good, but pay attention to what participants see.  Naked from the waist down, no worries–but what about if you stand up to go to the bathroom during the conference? 

Abnormal times—abnormal behaviors.  Happy videoconferencing!