Zoom is exhausting. We’re spendings hours staring into the lens of a camera while simultaneously trying to listen to someone speak, watch them speak, or view a screen. It can’t be done. And – more importantly – shouldn’t be done.
We’re new to this so we’re still figuring out how to use this technology in productive ways.
Here’s what we’re not: We’re not talking heads on 24-hour news channels starting into a camera lens churning out nuggets of wisdom in easily digestible sound bites. We don’t get paid to quip. We get paid to listen, think, respond, and take action.
The default Zoom settings are similar to speed dating. You’re sitting across the table from someone who’s analyzing everything they can about you in a limited time. Except with Zoom it’s you vs a dozen people at the same time in hour-long segments.
Here’s what I’ve found works best.
But, before getting to this list, here’s the most important Zoom tip I’ve seen: If the same information can be communicated in an email, do that instead. Email isn’t perfect for every type of communication but it works great for things that can be summarized, put into lists, or need to be retrieved later.
1. Mute all but the speaker. This should be obvious by now. Not doing so is March 2020 thinking. Still, it’s worth mentioning because it’s still not the default in all meetings. There are at least two reasons to do this: It’s incredibly distracting to have background noise from multiple homes interrupting a speaker, and many people seem to be assuming that they’re muted at this point so occasionally do things in their homes while assuming they’re muted.
For example, while in a Zoom meeting this week I quipped to my wife while she passed by, “It took this guy 15 minutes to figure out how to share his screen”. As soon as I said that I noticed that the admin muted me. I felt bad for interrupting the meeting with a comment that was meant to be private and certainly didn’t help the presenter with his material.
2. Turn off all but the speaker’s camera. Do you want people to pay attention to what you’re saying? Then let them focus on that rather than thinking about how they look on camera, whether people have clicked on their screen, and whether someone may be inadvertently entering their screen. If you don’t trust your coworkers to pay attention to you without seeing them staring at their laptop cameras you have trust issues.
3. Use turning on your camera as the raising your hand signal. Yes, there is a hand-raising button, but turning on your camera is a better signal that you have something you’d like to say. First, it shows the admin that you’re interested in speaking. Second, the admin may be able to gauge what you’re interested in saying based on your expressions. Third, you should have your camera on when speaking.
4. Use a real microphone. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but poor audio quality can make it extremely difficult for people to focus on what you’re saying. If you’re using your computer’s microphone you’re likely projecting the echos of the room you’re in, the laundry or dishwasher, traffic driving by, toilets flushing, etc. Calling into meetings from your phone rather than using your computer’s audio is one way to address this.
5. Get into a collaborative mindset. When we’re collaborating with someone we’re not staring at each other. We’re not distracted by a hair being out of place, or what’s in the background behind a colleague. Why? Because we’re focused on the same thing. We’re focused on a problem to solve, an opportunity to discuss, or we’re having a personal connection where we’re focused on a story a person is sharing.
One way to do this is to imaging that you’re not staring at your colleagues but are, instead, sitting next to each other like you probably do when you’re being collaborative. What does collaborative work look like? It’s pulling up a chair next to someone at a table so you can see each other’s screens. It’s having more personal conversations while sitting next to each other at lunch, or at a bar during happy hour. It’s collaboratively sketching out an idea in a notepad or cocktail napkin.
Stop pretending that you have to be a workplace pundit, and give yourself and your colleagues space to listen, think, and react so you can effectively collaborate together from a distance.