At Home with Tech

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Tag: Working from home

Why Zoom Meetings will be a Permanent Part of Home Life

It’s probably time to give your imperfect Zoom background another look, because you’re probably going to be using it… forever.

During one of my recent Zoom meetings, I received a comment about the old iMac in my home office. The white computer was sitting sidelined in the background on top of a short bookcase. I retired this 2004 iMac long ago.

But like some of my old tech, I never threw it away. Now, it sits like a museum piece, available for anyone to appreciate (or question) whose wandering eye might be checking out the details of my home office.

What’s That?
Don’t think for a moment that your Zoom-fatigued viewers aren’t looking around your Zoom box. They crave any opportunity to thaw their pandemic-frozen eyes, locked to their computer screen all day.

Anything of interest is an immediate target. And so was my ancient iMac.

It’s actually hard for people not to notice the details of the space you’re in. It’s natural.

Virtual isn’t Real
So, if you feel your room isn’t ready for prime time, should you simply activate a virtual background?

Easy, right?

That’s what many people have been doing during their Zoom meetings. But even though the functionality is there for that exact reason, I think it’s a bad trade-off.

The Value of Authenticity
Sure, it’s a one-click solution to hide your environment that could otherwise use a little more art direction. But it also erases any opportunity for your authentic living space to support your personal brand.

You can only work with what you’ve got. And I think your viewers will understand that. In fact, they’ll appreciate it.

Yes, you should remove any unnecessary clutter in your background. But if there’s an unusual object like an old Mac perched on a shelf, so be it. If you’re lucky, it may become a conversation piece during your next Zoom.

And that can really help to provide some context to your identity, especially when you’re meeting someone for the first time on a two-dimensional computer screen.

It’s Time to Build an Official Zoom Zone
Yes, thanks to Covid-19, our lives have become televised (well… streamed).

And when we eventually return to a post-pandemic existence, I think that new normal will still contain a healthy dose of Zoom meetings. Sorry to break it to you, but that’s not going away… ever.

Sure, you may be free to move about the cabin of life again, but video conferencing from home is an established norm that has taken off.

And this will bring up proactive decorating opportunities for spaces that you’ve designated as your Zoom zones. Perhaps you’ll consider a new framed print or painting on the wall behind you. A different piece of furniture? An arrangement of fresh flowers? A total redesign?

The same way that the family room became the next generation of the living room, I feel it’s inevitable that a Zoom zone or even a ‘Zoom Room’ will become a natural addition to our future homes.

Yes, people can always use a virtual background. But eventually, they’ll move out of their temporary Zoom mindset.

Sharing a more permanent reality is usually a much better long-term solution.

Let your Hands Do the Talking on your Next Zoom

Now’s the ideal time to add your hands into your Zoom conversations. Here’s why.

If you like using your hands when you talk, communicating on Zoom and other video conferencing platforms is the perfect place to apply your style. In fact, this digital ecosystem is an ideal space to apply your non-verbal communications techniques.

I’ve talked before about the importance of using non-verbal face cues during Zoom meetings to generate maximum engagement, but your hands can also play a powerful role in effective Zoom communications.

Unleash the Power of your Hands
Any number of gestures that might feel forced or unnatural during an in-person meeting can work really nicely in the Zoom universe.

  • Giving a thumbs up
  • Raising your index finger to make a point
  • Using one hand to represent an idea or thing
  • Holding up both hands to punctuate an “either/or” explanation
  • Moving a stretched hand diagonally upward to demonstrate success
  • Waving goodbye to make a solid Zoom exit instead of just disappearing

Welcome to the Stage
Your hand gestures can either stand alone or join your spoken words to provide emphasis. You’re essentially following the same rule book as when presenting on a stage.

You may not feel like you’re walking on stage every time you join a Zoom, and many people don’t. But you shouldn’t make the same mistake.

If all the world’s a stage, then so is every Zoom.

And Zoom can be such a hands-friendly place because the medium effectively makes you a presenter every time you talk.

We are Children of TV News
This may seem counterintuitive. You’re probably more focused on Zoom draining your mojo, because you’re feeling unnaturally cramped into a tiny on-screen box.

But that box is a not-so-distant cousin to the all-mighty television screen. And for decades, we’ve been conditioned to apply significance to a singular face that’s talking at you based on the norms of TV news.

Sure, today the market is clearly oversaturated with countless YouTubers in little boxes. And your own circle of contacts might curate an additional few dozen mini faces to regularly stare at.

Open Hailing Frequencies
You may end up feeling like an anonymous face projecting yourself to an often faceless audience. How much of an impact can you really have on a pandemic-numbed and Zoom-fatigued population?

It may be difficult to believe, but for every second that you’re visible on a Zoom, you have the power to move the needle.

Using your hands properly will make you even more effective.

Amplify your Moment
To take advantage of this opportunity, you don’t need to be the official ‘presenter’ who owns the digital floor for an extended period. If you say just one sentence, your viewers will see you as the presenter in that particular moment.

The floor is yours. Use it!

And it doesn’t matter if you’re a little thumbnail image in Gallery View. Then, the movement of your hands can carry even more weight. That’s because your small image makes you more difficult to read. Your non-verbal face cues might be invisible. But a solid hand gesture is hard to miss.

Get your Hands in the Shot
I’m sure you know the importance of setting up your webcam shot to properly display your face. Now you’ve got to make sure there’s room in your Zoom box for your hands to show up.

The trick here is to reduce all of the extra headroom space you probably have in your shot. (That’s the extra area between the top of your head and the top of your shot.) Instead, you want your webcam to show off more of your midsection. That’s the area where your hands live as they rest on your desk.

This technical adjustment is usually easy to make by simply tilting your webcam. That redirects your shot down to just above your desk. Just be sure your shot is wide enough. You don’t want your webcam to cut off your head!

Practice Assertive Communications
After spending so much time on Zoom meetings, everyone should feel like they’re able to successfully contribute to the conversation. And as in any environment, you’ve got to effectively assert yourself.

Yes, that can be especially difficult to do when restricted to a Zoom box. So it’s important to use every technique at your disposal.

Sometimes the answer is to just let your hands do the talking!

Nature, Technology, and the New Year

This photomosaic is my homage to the opposing elements that have helped to maintain my balance throughout the pandemic.

I don’t usually think of nature and technology as being cut from the same cosmic cloth. But together, they’ve done so much to help me endure all of the disconnection caused by the pandemic. Over the past year, I’ve found it remarkable to see how much these opposite elements have been able to fuel both the spirit as well as some simple daily essentials.

For me, there’s been a huge need to rebuild connection points that have been shattered throughout all of the disruptions.

Too Much Zoom?
I don’t have to tell you how much Zoom and other video conference platforms have helped to maintain face-to-face communication throughout all parts of our lives.

But unrestricted by life’s former patterns, our computers have also beckoned for our extended attention without regard to former boundaries. Zoom fatigue was the term we gave to the resulting drain on our life force.

Choosing to break away from the digital siren’s glow and step outside for a simple walk has been critical to maintaining sanity. Doing a nature walk is even better. For me, it’s been a great way to refresh and remember what’s really important in life.

Back to the Future
Leaning on both nature and technology helped me to keep it together in 2020. It’s about maintaining balance. And for me, I did that by better balancing my time between the two.

There were also ways to positively engage with both simultaneously. I found that snapping more nature photos and time-lapse sunrise videos was a joyous connective tether.

As we look to a better 2021, we should continue to weave together the impact of these two contrary forces. Eventually, there will be a next new normal after the pandemic ends. That life should continue to reflect our healthier balance with both technology and nature. (That’s my New Year’s resolution.)

And if your harmony isn’t quite there yet, now’s a great time to get started!

I wish you a safe and healthy 2021.

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