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Tag: video conference call

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Your Webcam During Conference Calls

Do you often forget about your computer’s webcam during a video conference call? Or do you prefer to hide in the shadows of audio-only mode? Here’s why you really can’t avoid this collaboration tool at work…

The forward march of technology has finally enabled video to become a standard collaboration tool in the workplace. Sure, the phone is still an option when joining a conference call, but I find that many folks are using their computers… and their webcams.

Once upon a time, lots of people used to shy away from group video chats (and granted, many still do). But now, video conferencing from anywhere there’s Wi-Fi is suddenly the norm! And it feels like hardly anybody cares that they’re streaming 30-60 minutes of their every move to a certain population of viewers. Have they forgotten that the camera has placed them in the center of a crowded virtual room?

It would seem so…

People are Watching You
It’s hard not to look at these little squares of humans as if you’re getting some sort of secret-agent view into their lives. And I’m not referring to people who have the floor…

I’m talking about everyone else! Those are the shots that can be strangely interesting to observe… sometimes more interesting than who’s talking.
(And if you notice that someone is working from home, don’t tell me you’ve never graded their home-decorating skills!)

Multitasking in Plain Sight
I’ve observed a variety of people from different work environments and cultures, and my impression is… those who aren’t actively engaged in the group conversation are generally doing one of two things… either staying focused on the topic… or pursuing some level of distraction.

Most provide the general illusion of normal, but occasionally you could observe something rather unusual. Once, I was surprised to see someone actively participating in a video call while driving. And I mean I was watching him drive, because his smartphone was pointed right at him!

Practicing Video Production 101
I’m befuddled that so many people either forget or no longer care that a part of the world is anonymously watching them…

It’s really difficult for me to understand, because with my background creating corporate video content, I can’t help but think about how my shot looks when I’m doing a video conference… Is the lighting good? Is the angle level? Am I centered? Does the background look uncluttered?

If I’m not feeling the shot is right, or I can’t give 100% focus on the video call, I turn off my webcam.

You Can’t Hide for Much Longer
All this said, I do recognize that not everyone is ignoring the power of their webcams. I do observe colleagues intentionally using their webcams to maximize their participation in a video conference. A good shot can simulate sitting at the head of the virtual table. Good for them!

If you were to combine the percentage of folks who passively use their webcams along with those who are maximizing their shots, I would say that easily represents a majority of video-enabled conference-call attendees. And that percentage will only keep growing. So if you’ve been sitting on the sidelines as an audio-only participant, you going to need to jump into the pool…

Give Your Face More Light
Don’t panic. There’s plenty of time to prep your shot for prime time (if that’s your concern).

One tip that will help dramatically improve how you look is to bathe your face with a source of soft lighting. That will help remove any harsh shadows. One option is to simply position yourself and your laptop next to a window (as long as you’re not in direct sunlight).

If there’s no window nearby, you can use a portable light and position it in front of you. A really inexpensive option is to use a round, hanging paper lantern.

This 17 ¾” diameter shade made by Ikea is a good choice.
It sells on Amazon for $12.22.

Then, you attach the shade to a bulb mount and power cord.
This one on Amazon costs $11.99. It’s 20 feet long and sports an on/off switch.

It’s a really simple solution, and it’s actually used as a remarkable lighting hack by some professional TV and video lighting gaffers I’ve worked with.

Full Attendance is Required
If you’re not powering up your webcam, I say your time has run out. I think soon… the cultural norm will be for all participants to use their webcams when virtually attending work meetings.
(That’s such a big shift from not so long ago…)

So, instead of being able to catch up on email during video conference calls, you’re going to have to attend with your ‘smiling face.’

There’s a silver lining here…

If everyone is required to fully ‘show up’ to every video conference they’re invited to, that will put pressure against a workplace trend we’d all like to trim back… too many meetings!

…a conversation for another day.

Nobody Listens to Work Voicemails Anymore

If you’ve recently left a colleague a voicemail at work, you may want to consider following up using a different communication method…

A few years back, I left a voicemail for a colleague at work. I waited for a response to my question, but after more than a day, I heard nothing back. Then, I ran into her into the hallway and took the opportunity to ask her my question directly.

But when I referred back to my message, she said, “voicemail?”

She stared at me… confused for just a moment. Then, she smiled slightly.
“Oh… I don’t listen to voicemails. Please, just email me.”

I tried to process this moment to understand if this was just one person’s preferred workflow or something else. I decided it must have been an example of a unique relationship with voicemail.

But I think I was wrong…

The Demise of Voicemail
Certainly, in any number of circumstances, some people have to use voicemail as part of their work communication. But if there’s a choice in the matter, I think my little story is an example of a growing shift in the workplace.

Even though I believe it’s easy to quickly leave a voicemail vs typing up the same detail in an email, it’s actually slower for someone to have to wait around and listen to your voice rambling through the few sentences on the other end.

Voicemail is relatively inefficient and lags behind newer technologies that enable faster communication.
(For that very reason, John Brandon from Inc. has declared that “Voicemail is Now Officially Dead.”)

I guess this is today’s reality, even though tech innovations have supercharged the voicemail proposition as some platforms can send your desktop voicemail through to your email as an attached audio file.

Desktop Phones are Gathering Dust
As I consider all of this, I think about my own work experience of late…

I definitely receive fewer voicemails than I used to. And those that I do get are primarily from people outside of my company.

Most everyone else on the inside emails me or uses the instant-messaging platform to reach out.

This trend is not only about employees shunning voicemail. I think it has to do with people also not choosing to use the phone at their desk.

The Rise of the Conference Call
This is not to say that employees don’t talk to each other anymore. Far from it! Conference calls are alive and well…

So are web-based conference calls where you can activate your webcam and visually participate in the conversation as well. Although I must admit I do choose which conference calls get my ‘video’ participation.
(I don’t have to tell you that opening up your live feed to a full video signal requires that you appear relatively attentive.)

But for me, the decision to activate my webcam is more than just deciding whether I want to multitask or not. It also has to do with what type of image I’m projecting to the other participants.

This probably comes from my background in video production and what has become a now instinctual need to present a ‘good image.’

Should Employees Care How They Look on Your Computer Screen?
And I’m not talking about looking good, which is certainly important and why some folks might choose to shy away in the moment from a particular video chat. I’m talking about the shot looking good…

  • Is my shot framed properly to ensure I’m front and center and not a speck in the left corner?
  • Is the lighting soft and hitting me from the front?
  • Is there a window behind me that destroys my shot by overwhelming it with light?
  • Is the angle of the shot level to ensure that the webcam is not looking up my nostrils?

That’s a lot to consider and certainly not what the average person normally takes the time to think about.

In fact, I’ve observed that when people get over the hump of displaying their image to the rest of a conference-call population, some tend to forget about it entirely.

And then I’ve found myself watching people who are seemingly oblivious to the fact that they can be seen. I want to blurt out, “Don’t you know that people are watching you even though you’re not speaking?!”
(Maybe I should text them.)

It’s so interesting to observe public norms shifting to finally embrace and then quickly ignore the once revolutionary promise of the 1960’s video phone.

The Downside to Efficiency
Who’s got the time, right?

Sure, we’ve all got to attend work meetings, in person or virtually.
But beyond that, all bets are off.

People aren’t calling each other. They’re not leaving voicemails anymore. Heck, I see so many instances where colleagues aren’t getting up from their cubes to talk to each other anymore. They’re emailing each other… when they’re sitting fifteen feet apart.

I suppose that is more efficient at one level.

But what are we losing in the process?

Connect to the Conversation
I would say the most important contribution that you make to your workplace is how you support the culture.

  • How do you show up?
  • How do interact with your colleagues?
  • How positive a force do you project through your voice?
  • What do the expressions on your face say?

Sure, I understand that many of you can avoid all of this and get the job done faster with just your keyboard.

But if you don’t take the time to offer others the clues to your own humanity, how can you ever expect to be truly recognized for who you are and what you offer at work?

Without contributing to these public-facing elements, it’s much harder to build your personal brand.

Never forget the human factor.

Voicemail may be one tool that technology has effectively replaced. But there are plenty of other ways to truly connect to the ongoing conversation.

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