Tag Archives: work from home

Tips for Leading Online Meetings

Online meetings became the new normal months ago but based on personal, or perhaps professional, opinion, some of you are still struggling to make them work. There’s a lot to remember – when to mute and unmute yourself, choosing a background and decent lighting, and even deciding how to exit a meeting. Since we’re headed into 2021 with many still working from home, this guide will help you improve your game. 

If you’re task-driven, working from home without the distraction of phones ringing and coworkers randomly swinging by your desk to chat may be your idea of heaven. If, on the other hand, you enjoy working as a team, you may miss the camaraderie of onsite work. To balance this, some offices have created a “virtual water cooler.” It can be as structured as a specific time and place or as informal as a virtual happy hour. The idea is to connect your team and make them comfortable with one another. A study from the University of Texas at Arlington discovered that individuals who shared a funny or embarrassing story about themselves with their coworkers produced 26% more ideas in brainstorming sessions than workers who didn’t.

While some may be eager to kick things off and power through the agenda, if you’re trying to maintain a team rather than a group of standalone employees, make time for casual conversation. Have everyone sign in a few minutes early to allow your team to catch up and interact informally before you switch to business-mode. This encourages engagement, strengthens culture, and deepens your relationship with your team.

If you’re the boss or tasked with running the meeting, start by asking how many people need to attend. Meetings that could have been an email are the bane of the workplace, and including unnecessary attendees bogs down the agenda and leads to team disengagement. 

Next, choose the right platform. Not all software is created equal, so check out this breakdown on TechRadar comparing options like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, ClickMeeting, and Skype. Ask questions like, “Do I need to the team’s faces as we work through this HR issue?” If so, Zoom maybe your best option. If you need your team to share screens to edit this document collaboratively, Google Docs is a solid option. If you need to watch this presentation together in real-time, choose a platform that allows screen sharing. 

Disorganization is a shortcut to frustration and disengagement, so it’s important to clarify details like the dress code, time – especially if you’re working across time zones – and the agenda for your meeting. Email attendees any key talking points, a timeline for the meeting, who will attend, each team member’s responsibilities for the meeting, and a list of relevant documents, files, or research they need to have on-hand. “You want to make sure that everyone enters [into the meeting] with clear guidelines of expectations and knowing what [everyone is] going to be doing and how to manage the virtual space,” says Bryant Galindo, the co-founder, and CEO of CollabsHQ. You’ll also want to include details like whether or not everyone speaks freely or will the team lead unmute mics when it’s that person’s turn to speak? Do all team members need to be on camera at all times or just the current speaker?

As the meeting ends, each team member needs a clear objective or action step. Closing the meeting is less about, “We’re done,” and more, “Get started.” Task each team member with their deliverables and next steps, the due date, who is responsible for follow up, and assign the date for the next meeting. 

Finally, as a host, it’s important to get team feedback from your team on how they felt the meeting went. You choose one on one conversation or an anonymous feedback survey via sites like Google Docs or SurveyLegend. Online meetings are a staple and making them streamlined, inclusive, and effective is the key to ongoing engagement and success. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

 

Tips for Video Conferencing from Home

By Tracey Dowdy

With most of us working from home thanks to COVID-19 protocols, chances are that at some point you too will be called into an online meeting.  And by now, we’ve all heard horror – or hilarious depending on your perspective – stories of individuals participating in a video conference with coworkers. Whether it’s the boss who accidentally turned on the potato filter and couldn’t figure out how to remove it or the woman who forgot her camera was on and took her laptop to the bathroom with her (#PoorJennifer), video conferencing is fraught with more peril than a game of Jumanji.  

Don’t despair my friend. Following these tips will ensure that your online meetings run as seamlessly as those in-person. 

GET UP AND SET UP

  • Make sure that you have a dedicated space with everything you need – files, documents, chargers, coffee – within reach. 
  • Set your camera up at eye level so it appears you’re looking at whoever is speaking. Make sure your face is well lit, and your whole face is visible. 
  • Let your family, roommates, whoever else may be at home with you know you’re in a meeting and unavailable unless it’s an emergency, just like when you were in your office to avoid a repeat of everyone’s favorite meeting crasher.  
  • Tidy up around you and make sure there’s nothing personal – photos, clothing, art, etc. in the background you don’t want on camera with you. Sit down, open your camera, and look at your background BEFORE the call starts. 
  • Pro tip: If you don’t have time to clean, consider a virtual background
  • Pro tip 2: If you’re going to be sharing your screen or sending screenshots, make sure you check what browser tabs are visible to avoid any potentially sensitive or private information being shared. 

CHECK YOURSELF 

  • Sweats and yoga pants are de rigueur these days, but if your office usually calls for something more – unless you’re told differently – get dressed for work, at least from the waist up. 
  • Don’t worry about makeup if you don’t usually wear it, but make sure whatever the dress code, your appearance reflects that you’re at work, not that you just rolled out of bed and are headed back as soon as the call ends. 
  • Pro-tip – try to avoid stripes as they can “dance” on camera, and black or white shirts may cause your iris to auto-adjust and make it hard to see your face.

HERE WE GO

  • Get to the meeting a few minutes early to check your internet connection and that the link to the meeting is working for you. 
  • Watch your audio, not only to make sure you can be heard but that they can’t hear everything that’s happening on your end. Mute your mic when you’re not speaking as any background noise can be distracting for others on the call. 
  • Remember, you are more visible in a virtual meeting than in-person because other participants will be staring at your face throughout the call. Try to look into the camera when you’re speaking, not at a particular person. 
  • If you need to step away for any reason, or if you need to look up something in another window, communicate that clearly so participants understand what’s happening and don’t think you’ve left the meeting. 
  • Knowing when to speak during a video conference can be tricky as some participants may have slight delays in their audio. Most meeting platforms have a “raise hand” feature, but if yours doesn’t, agree as a team what the cue will be. 
  • Speak clearly, no need to shout, and take notes if you miss your opportunity to respond so you can add your input an appropriate time. 
  • Pro tip – Stay off your phone and don’t eat – remember – everyone sees what you’re doing and they definitely don’t want to watch you chow down on that massive sandwich or cram a too-big forkful of salad in your mouth. You don’t want to be the next viral video. 
  • Pro tip 2 – If one of your coworkers does make an embarrassing faux pas, don’t post it without their consent. It’s unlikely #PoorJennifer agreed to have her mistake posted online. Put yourself in your co-worker’s position – if it’s not funny for everyone, it’s not funny and doesn’t need to be shared. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Tips for Working From Home

Did getting to work from home seem like a dream come true but now that you’re a week in, with or without children at home with you, it feels more like a social experiment gone wrong? 

Take heart because you’re not alone. Well, technically you should be alone, but we’re all with you in spirit. Freelancers like myself, consultants, and entrepreneurs have worked from home and learned the do’s and don’t’s that can not only help you make it through the Coronavirus quarantine in the days and weeks ahead, ensuring that you get your work done in a timely manner and your return to the office is as seamless as possible. 

Get up and get dressed. As someone who has worked from home for years, trust me when I say you need to get out of your pajamas if you’re going to be successful long term. It may work for a day or two, but if you’re in pj’s, you are subconsciously telling your brain this is a day off and you’ll have a hard time flipping the switch into work mode. You don’t have to put on a power suit or a pair of heels but at the very least, get up, wash up and change into day wear. 

Set boundaries. One of the biggest temptations will be to get sidetracked by something around the house. There’s laundry to fold, dishes in the sink, or a floor that needs to be vacuumed. Set work hours just as you would have in the office, and try to stick to them. Take a lunch break just as you do at work – pack your lunch in the morning if that helps –  and then get back to work. Maintaining a routine helps you stay on task and makes you more efficient. 

Create an organized workspace. Not everyone has the luxury of a home office, but wherever you choose to set up shop, treat it like your desk at work, even if you’re sitting on the sofa. Get whatever supplies you need – laptop, power cord, phone, pens, paper, your water bottle or coffee cup – and get busy. Every time you have to get up to get something you’ve forgotten, your productivity drops a little and you’re going to be tempted to stop and quickly fold that laundry or hang up those jackets, rinse those dishes, pull the chicken out of the freezer for dinner…

Be social. That may seem counter to what I said under setting boundaries, but if you’re accustomed to working in a communal space, the isolation of working from home may itself be a distraction. Use a time manager like Strict Workflow, an extension that enforces a 25min/5min workflow: 25 minutes of distraction-free work, followed by 5 minutes of break, and use social media as a substitute for a conversation in the breakroom with a coworker.

Take breaks. If you’re working from home with children in the house, particularly young children, you may not have a choice about when those breaks happen. But, being organized and putting their needs first by making sure they’re fed, changed, or working on an activity before you sit down to work means fewer interruptions and distractions. Something as simple as setting a timer can help your children remember to stay on task because a break is coming up soon. Remember, their school days are structured into blocks of time, so re-creating that model at home is helpful.

Rely on siblings. Use this season as a teachable moment. Talk to your older children about being part of your family’s leadership team and ask them to mentor their younger siblings. Of course, there are some things they’ll need a parent’s attention for, but little things like a refill of a water bottle, potty break, or sharpening a pencil can easily be managed by a sibling. Ask them to step up in small yet significant ways like making lunch for the family or starting dinner while you finish up your work.

Be flexible. Your greatest challenge but also your greatest asset in this situation is the ability to be flexible. You have to be flexible at your job, and it’s a given that you have to be flexible and able to roll with interruptions and surprises as a parent. The whole day doesn’t have to be filled with academics. Children can often knock out their school work more quickly in a one on one situation than in a classroom. Work when they sleep. Play in the backyard together over your lunch break, or send them outside for “recess” if you need to make or take an important phone call. 

Finally, set reasonable expectations for yourself and your children, be quick to forgive, and make sure you set aside time to enjoy each other. These are uncertain days that have left everyone anxious. Model the behavior and attitude you want to see in your children, and remember, you will get through this. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.