Culture

Ten Rules for Productive Video Meetings

A guide for how to have more productive video calls while working from home.

Apple Macbook Pro on standing desk
TL;DR

Video meetings require just as much thought and intention as face-to-face meetings — ensure that your call is optimized for clarity, punctuality, and humanity, in order to have a more productive, less annoying meeting.

Whether you’re doing business with an overseas client, having your routine meeting with your team, or dealing with immediate business needs from afar, this much is true: Video calling is the new standard for face-to-face communication, and we need to take it seriously.

Much of this reality is out of our hands, but there are some things that we can do to optimize this new normal. Below are ten simple rules for video calls that, if implemented by everyone on your team, will make a significant difference in the quality and timeliness of your video meeting.

1. Use a laptop, not a phone.

Both have about the same video quality, but the difference is in the perspective. Laptops can be set on secure, flat surfaces and will show a screen-filling landscape image — phones, on the other hand, make you more likely to sporadically move about, and will almost always have a much more limited user interface for video calling. Do us all a favor and save your sandwich-making until after the call.

2. Have decent lighting.

You don’t have to have a studio lighting setup to look good on camera — windows will do just fine! You obviously don’t want to be blasted with light… just enough so that your face is well-illuminated, so adjust the blinds accordingly. Also, make sure not to have too much light behind you either, as that will cause your laptop’s camera to expose for the light behind you and not your face, leaving you a completely dark silhouette.

3. Keep your device at eye-level.

Not only is this great for posture (no slouching!), it helps tremendously with staying engaged in the call. If only 1/3 of the image is your face and the remaining 2/3 is the ceiling, that doesn’t allow you to use your hands much — by putting your laptop just a few inches higher, on a box or a riser, the screen will be filled with your upper body and will help you appear more attentive.

4. Declutter your bandwidth

Households with kids might not be able to do much about this one, but for those who can: Turn off all other wifi-sucking devices while on your video call. You can’t help everyone else’s internet connection, but you can contribute by making sure things are as fast as possible on your end!

5. Be aware of your background.

Whether you’re calling from your home office, the living room, or a quiet corner of the house, just make sure to keep your background in mind. Nobody expects you to rearrange your place just to look more professional, but you can definitely make things tidy — less busy background generally help keep focus on your face better though.

This rule can flex depending on the level of formality of the call: You probably don’t want a messy kitchen in the background while you’re trying to sell your client on an expensive offering. A bit of common sense goes a long way!

6. If it can be emailed, don’t meet.

The running joke that I’ve seen on the internet over the past few weeks is, “guess we’ll see how many of those meetings could have been emails…” — and I couldn’t applaud louder for how true that is. But, it seems that people are simply replacing these missed meetings with video calls, as if it’s some kind of treat to see people’s face on a screen. Rather than being more efficient and just emailing each other, as the joke goes, we’re doing the same ‘ole time-wasting meetings because it’s habitual.

7. Treat it like an actual meeting.

This is one of the cardinal points I’m trying to make here: Video calls ARE meetings, so they should be treated as such. These might sound like simple thoughts, but trust me — these things make all the difference in the way you’re perceived in a call, and how well the call will go.

  • Be on time (at your laptop 5 minutes early)
  • Be presentable — pajamas are not presentable.
  • Don’t call from bed or look like you just woke up.
  • Be ready to contribute.
  • Keep eye contact with your screen.
  • Good posture, no slouching.
  • Smile as if you’re in person.
  • Try not to talk over anyone else speaking.

8. Stay muted, stay visible.

Voice call applications do a pretty great job at filtering audio and highlighting whoever’s speaking — but, sometimes our devices or environments aren’t so conducive to this purpose, and it creates unnecessary noise or echo. There’s an easy way to combat this: Unless you’re speaking or in a time designated for community, stay muted.

Not only does it eliminate a lot of noise, but it also saves everyone from hearing the random noises we all make, like cracking knuckles or a creaky chair.

However, the exception to staying muted is staying present — you must keep your video feed on, even if it seems like there’s no need.

  • If audio was enough, your group would have just had a phone call.
  • Even if you’re listening, nobody can tell, which can come off as disrespectful.
  • Body language is massively important, even if it’s limited by video.
  • Someone is probably paying money to have you there, so show that you care.

9. Respect people’s time and attention.

Just like a regular meeting, staying focused and on-topic is of paramount importance. Plus, let’s be real here: Even though you’re working from home, still nobody likes meetings. Figure out a structure for your video call that works for you, and then actually stick to it — don’t “accidentally go overtime” or stretch out the meeting because you forgot to mention something. Send out an itinerary for the meeting beforehand so you’re all on the same page, and responsibly moderate the conversation so that it’s productive and helpful.

10. Be kind.

Working from home is not a walk in the park, especially now. Personally, I’ve been working from home (or co-working) for almost three years now, and let me tell you… it’s not always so fantastic. Being able to separate leisure from work, while inhabiting the same space is a discipline that takes practice in order to be even decent at.

While these points are here to be helpful, the most important thing you can do in this time is be kind to your team / boss / coworkers. Everybody’s adjusting in different ways, and that includes figuring out how to be a person with a job, but from their desk at home — it can be strange in many ways, so just assume the best of the people you’re having a video call with, and choose to find the positive in the situation instead of pick it to pieces.