At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: tech tips

5 Easy Ways to Upgrade your Zoom Video

If you want to look and sound better during your next Zoom meeting, don’t forget these simple best practices to present yourself in the best possible light.

It’s been over two years since Zoom saved us from pandemic isolation. Sort of. Yes, Zoom and other video conferencing platforms have been lifelines to our outside world over these many months. As life is evolving to a new normal, ‘hybrid’ is now clearly a part of that equation. That means the need to Zoom isn’t going away.

As remarkable as Zoom has been, I think everyone is exhausted. We’re cranky. We may know how to do a good Zoom. But we don’t want to. No. We don’t want to make that extra effort. Not anymore.

If you can hear my voice on Zoom, that’s enough. You don’t need to see me. And if for some reason I forget to turn off my camera, don’t expect much. If only half of my head is in the shot, that’s more than enough. If my bright window is dominating the image and obscuring my face, get used to it. It’s still me. Besides what I have to say is all that matters.

Is this perspective resonating right now? If so, I get it. You’re sick of having to show up for your close up. You didn’t sign up for this.

I know.

But let me offer this gentle reminder…

Zoom can Help You Stay Connected
Practicing good Zoom etiquette is worth it. If you want to show up in your life, then you do want to show up for your close up. It matters. If you want a seat at the table, then you’ve got to show up at the virtual table.

Turn on your webcam and follow these five best practices:

1.
Illuminate your Face
You should be facing the window… not the other way around. Please want to actually see you. Not your silhouette.

2.
Turn Off your Ceiling Light
You may think your ceiling light fixture is helping. It probably isn’t. Not if it’s directly over your head. That’s because it’s shining light down on top of you instead of in front of your face. That creates incredibly unflattering shadows. I don’t think you’re trying to audition for the next zombie movie. So turn off that ceiling light and flick on your desk lamp instead.

3.
Elevate your Webcam
Your webcam should never look up at your chin. If your shot features your ceiling, you need to raise your camera to a more perpendicular angle with your face. Simply elevate your laptop with a few books.

4.
Reduce the Headroom in your Shot
Headroom is the amount of space between the top of your head and the top of your Zoom box. I can almost guarantee that you’ve got too much headroom. There should only be a little gap. Please, tilt down your webcam. Your viewers want to see more of you, not more of your wall.

5.
Wear your Headset or Earbuds
Sure, your computer’s onboard microphone will work, but it’s too far away from your mouth to provide crisp audio. Instead, the audio has that far-away feel. That’s because the microphone is far away. Your headset mic sounds so much better. Please wear it. If you’re concerned about how your headset looks on you, then wear your earbuds or AirPods. The audio sounds that much better. Really.

Don’t Forget to Smile
Life presents unexpected twists and turns. It can be really rough. The headlines are getting any easier to consume. I know it’s sometimes hard to pull it together. But your Zooms don’t have to reflect the imbalance you may feel.

If you take a little extra effort to follow these video-conference best practices, you can better present your best self.

And if you’re doing that, I expect you’ll feel better too.

5 Easy Ways to Help your Tech Run Better 

It’s probably time to give some of your tech and digital systems a tune up. And that may mean you need to look under the hood.

The promise of home tech often contains the glow of a ‘set it and forget it’ mentality. The truth is you really shouldn’t leave anything on auto pilot for too long. (Turning on ‘auto updates’ isn’t enough.) You need to check in every so often.

No machine runs flawlessly forever, even the ones without any moving parts. Over time, they need ongoing maintenance. That can also include the digital processes you create for yourself to help organize parts of your life.

Here are five ways that your tech and digital systems can use a little tuning up right now.

#1
Clean the Lint out of your Smartphone’s Charging Port
Have you noticed that your Lightning or USB-C cable isn’t always making a solid connection with your smartphone, and sometimes you wake up to a partially charged device?

That’s because if you usually place your smartphone in your trouser pocket, the lint has slowly been building up into that tiny port. A clue that this micro invasion has occurred is when your cable no longer clicks into the port, and the connection instead feels ‘squishy.’

It’s time to take the end of a paper clip and gently pull out that mini fuzzball that’s hiding at the back end of the port. (I always turn off my iPhone first before beginning the operation.)

#2
Hurry Up and Finish Reviewing your Photos from Last Year
If you’ve got a system set up (like me) where you review and edit your photos before you share them, you’d better set aside some time to finish all that up. Last year’s photos will only retain their value for so long. Beyond archiving and photo book creation, nobody is interested in your old photos. It’s all about what happened today or yesterday (maybe last week).

Sure, having a ‘process’ to select and polish your best photos before sharing them will ensure your audience gets to see your best work, but the downside is you may not have enough time to consistently maintain your perfectionism.

If you marvel at how fast and effortlessly some of your friends share photos, that’s because their process is stripped down to three steps across fifteen seconds.

  • Snap
  • Look
  • Share
  • (Done)

It’s worth considering.

#3
Buy a New Memory Card for your Camera
Do you let all of your photos pile up in your camera’s SD card without taking the time to erase them after transferring the files elsewhere? And then do you decide that’s it’s a good idea to hold onto them as yet another file back-up strategy to protect against some future disaster recovery need?

To be clear, we should simply follow our existing back-up process and then wipe the memory card to free it up for more photo fun.

But, if you have a problem (like me) doing that, the other choice is to simply buy another SD card and start fresh in the New Year. (They’re not that expensive.)

Then, you can pop the old memory card in the drawer, quickly forget about it and then eventually lose it.

When aliens uncover the tiny card in a million years, they’ll transcode its corrupted data, pixel-approximate the missing elements and reconstitute your images. Who knew that humans had three eyes and two noses? What a beautiful family you had! Your legacy is now intact.

#4
Reorganize the Apps on your Smartphone
If you’ve been having difficulty finding certain apps on your smartphone or they’re not where you thought you left them, it’s time to take a few minutes and do a little reorganizing. That can include placing some of your apps into topic folders and perhaps pruning others you haven’t used for a while. (You can always reload them!)

Losing a few long-forgotten apps will also free up memory on your device.

#5
Do those Software Updates
Keeping all of your digital gear current with software updates is an endless process that requires a fair amount of effort and organization. And following an auto-update strategy can sometimes lead to updates that aren’t ready for prime time. I think it’s best to have your tech remind you about the updates, and then you can manually install them. You’ve just got to find the time to do it.

The Doctor is In
Admittedly, all these easy best practices are also chores that are often delayed, sometimes indefinitely.

One way to ensure that you keep up is to set aside an hour a week to handle it all. It may not be enough, but it’ll help you know what needs more attention.

Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to keeping your tech and digital systems healthy.

Otherwise you may find they’ll stop working for you when you least expe

😉

The Secret to a Successful Remote Work Experience

Here’s my #1 insight as an employee who never physically met a colleague during the pandemic.

I just left a great job where I worked with a lot of talented people. I always felt connected to those colleagues. We talked regularly, explored the creative process in real time and produced strong video storytelling together.

But I never met any of them in person. Not once.
(Well, I actually did meet one in the New York City office during my interview process right before the world shut down.)

That, of course, was due to the pandemic and some coincidental timing during this chapter in the journey of my career.

Connectivity Denied
I came on board a few weeks into the pandemic.

Like many employees during the forced separation of our Covid-19 experience, my colleagues and I worked from home and relied on the magic of technology to stay tethered.

In many ways, it was remarkably straightforward. Email and instant messaging have been in place for years as the main way to communicate in the corporate environment. So that translates perfectly into any work-from-home scenario.

Using the phone can certainly keep you connected, but the art of the phone call has been on the decline. Many people prefer not to use voice comms when tapping down their thoughts and using an emoji or two will do just fine.

But, of course, I experienced no in-person group meetings in corporate conference rooms. No one-on-ones in the same space. No water-cooler chats.

All of that in-person connection opportunity. The ton of visual communication cues. The raw physical experience. It never existed.

Initiating a video conference meeting (like Zoom, Teams or Webex) was really the only tech tool available to replace the massive gap.

The Power of Video Conferencing
It’s not like remote work and video conferencing from home never existed before. But often, there was an in-person meet-and-greet along the way.

But remote employees hired after March 2020 have been part of this unscheduled social experiment of extreme work isolation over these past fifteen months.

I was one too.

Regular webcam meetings were absolutely essential to building and maintaining my work relationships. And I’m not just talking about group video conference meetings that I hosted or attended. It’s often the impromptu chat that can make all the difference. And I believe that one-on-one conversations are most effective when you can see the other person on your computer screen.

A couple former colleagues liked to poke fun at me for my insistence at always having my webcam turned on during our meetings and impromptu conversations. That’s fine. That’s what I needed to do.

Interestingly, I ran across more than a few people who chose to never turn on their webcams. They existed to me only as disembodied voices. Some apologized for not being ‘camera ready.’

For those of you who have similar inclinations, I would say we’re all Zooming from home with limited conditions. No one lives in a professional TV studio with perfect lighting and an art-directed background.

Using a virtual background can help, but I gave up that imperfect trick months ago. I now prefer showing it like it is. My home office may appear a tad cluttered. So what? (Hey, I’m the parent of an eleven-year-old boy, and I’m the home IT guy. It’s my reality. It’s my authentic space.)

But if you feel that using a virtual background to mask ‘imperfections’ will help you to turn on your webcam, then I’d say it’s worth doing.

Can You See Me?
Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to see the people I work with. (Even projecting a photo icon helps.) Visual communication is so critical to build solid working relationships. And I think this is true for most of us.

For those people who I never got to see, I’m not here to judge their choice. I’m sure they have good reasons. (We were all struggling through a pandemic!)

That said, I must confess that I just couldn’t develop as strong a connection with those individuals as I wanted. Maybe that’s my own problem. But I do think we all need a little visual now and again to help make it real.

It Shouldn’t be a Secret
By now, I’m sure it won’t surprise you to read that my secret to a successful remote work experience…

…is to just turn on your webcam! The rest follows.

They say simply showing up is a key to success. If that’s true, then I think you’ve got to show up for your close up. It’s as easy as that.

This will apply beyond the pandemic. I’m sure video conferencing from home isn’t going away as the workplace shifts into a new post-pandemic norm.

And for those co-workers who don’t report to the same office, this best practice couldn’t be more relevant. (Lots of my former colleagues live in different cities.)

Day 1
And as I look forward, I take these important visual communication tech tips to the next chapter in my career.

I’ve got my webcam set, my lighting prepped and my audio triple checked.
(Yes, it’s important to be seen, but they’ve also got to hear you clearly!)

Testing. Testing. One… two… three.
Here we go!

My anticipation feels like the first day of school.

I love it.

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