Tag Archives: Zoom

Zoom Meetings Still Stressing You Out? Here’s Help. 

By Tracey Dowdy

Many of us just hit the one anniversary of going into quarantine, and although so much has changed over the past year, one thing that seems to be here to stay is video conferencing. Once the purview of executives and freelancers with overseas clients, virtual meetings have become ubiquitous, with everyone from the President to preschoolers communicating and learning via a computer screen. 

If even after all these months, the thought of jumping on a Zoom – or any other video conferencing call – stresses you out, you’re not alone. Buffalo 7, A UK-based specialist presentation design agency, found that 73% of people have suffered from Zoom Anxiety this year. Which tasks cause the most anxiety? Presenting (42%); Interviews (25%); Client meetings (18%); Team catch-ups (15%). By far, the biggest trigger for that stress was having tech or audio problems and not knowing how to correct them (83%), followed closely by being unable to read other participant’s body language (67%). 

And, even though the vaccine rollout is going well, many companies aren’t returning to in-office work any time soon, and some have shifted their business model entirely, with more employees opting to continue working from home for the foreseeable future. 

If the thought of being trapped in an endless loop of Zoom calls stresses you out, here are tips and tools that can reduce your anxiety and ensure your meetings run smoothly. 

If you’re like me, having to stare at your own face for an hour, even when you choose Tile instead of Speaker View, means you obsess about how you look to the rest of the group. Do yourself a favor and turn off self-view. Once you log into the call and make sure you’re in the frame, right-click your video to display the menu. Select Hide Myself. The rest of the group will still be able to see you, but you won’t obsess about the random hairs sticking out at an odd angle or overthink the faces you’re making.

Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, who recently published a study on Zoom fatigue, says, “For me, the self-view is the most troubling. Never before have people stared at themselves so long per day. This adds stress both consciously — people worry about their appearance, grooming, etc. — and unconsciously, as psychological research has demonstrated that even when people aren’t actively thinking about their reflection, a mirror in their field of view causes them to increase self-evaluation.” 

If you don’t want to toggle back and forth or wish to block participants from seeing you all together, buy a simple camera shield or use a Post-It note to block your camera

Don’t forget, not everything has to be a video conference. Sometimes you can accomplish just as much in half the time through a phone call or an email. Before you set up that conference call, ask, “Could this meeting have been an email?” Don’t be afraid to speak to your boss or team lead and let them know that you want to participate but don’t want to talk over other team members or get bogged down with items on the agenda that don’t apply to you. Most leaders want their meetings to be efficient, so offer to dial in when the discussion is pertinent to your team. 

If it isn’t a required work meeting or is a social event, feel free to say no. We all had our fill of virtual happy hours and holiday dinners over the past year, so if you’re meeting-ed out, say so. Be honest about the impact on your mental health constant virtual meetings are having. Even the world’s introverts have had enough and are ready to give up life as a hermit. 

Finally, give yourself the grace you need, and if something goes wrong, don’t beat yourself up. Technical difficulties have been a thing since we used two juice cans and a string to make a call. Sometimes your kids will Kramer-into the room, your cat will jump in your lap, and you may even knock over your coffee mug while you dig for the reports you need. It happens. Remember, at least you’re not a lawyer trying to defend your client while appearing onscreen as a cat. Things could be worse. 

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 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.

 

 

Make Your Virtual Thanksgiving Fun

By Tracey Dowdy

With the recent surge in COVID cases, many of us are heeding the CDC’s warning regarding holiday gatherings and opting for a virtual Thanksgiving with those we love. Though sharing a meal via a video conference is something few of us could have anticipated this time last year, there are still ways to make your holiday memorable in all the best ways. 

First, choose the platform you’re going to connect through. Zoom has lifted its 40 minute limit on free accounts from midnight ET on Nov. 26 through 6 a.m. ET on Nov. 27 so your dad doesn’t get cut off in the middle of his classic “Thanksgiving of ‘82” story. Other platforms like Skype Meet NowGoogle MeetJitsiFacebook, and WhatsApp all offer free video conferencing, with differing levels of service and features. Take some time over the next day or two and determine which features are most important for your crew. 

Platforms like BrightfulBoard Game Arena, and Tabletopia allow you to play hundreds of new and old games online. Plus, many of your favorite board games are available as apps for your iOS or Android device, and several have online multiplayer modes so you can play while voice or video chatting with your family and friends. ZoomJam created sociable face-to-face games to play with family and friends through video chat, with a dozen games to choose from. And, if all seems to be going well and you’re looking to ruin everything, Hasbro allows users to play their most popular games, including Monopoly, through their site. A few years back, they set up a hotline for players to call and settle those savage Monopoly disputes – here’s hoping it makes a comeback this year. 

As with all video conference calls, be mindful of what’s in the background. There’s been countless horrifying or hilarious – depending on who you ask – stories of video conferencing fails since we all started working from home back in March. Remind everyone when the camera is live and when your mic is on. If you want to keep your mother in law from judging your housekeeping even from out of state, consider downloading or selecting a custom background for your video chat. Of course, Zoom offers its own selection, and Apple’s FaceTime will allow you to chat as your memoji avatar. 

Apps like Teleparty (formerly Netflix party), Amazon Prime Watch Party, and Hulu Watch Party allow you to watch a movie together, all from the safety and comfort of your own home. Most require a subscription, so keep that in mind as you choose a platform. Make Use Of has a more comprehensive list of options. Watch2Gether not only offers video options, but it also allows you to listen to music, do karaoke, or even “go shopping” so you can still hit those Black Friday sales together. 

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.

Use Facebook Messenger Screen Sharing on Your Phone

By Tracey Dowdy 

Facebook Messenger now allows users to share their screens on iOS and Android mobile devices. You can online shop, browse through photos together, or scroll through social media all within Messenger’s familiar interface.

Any added features help Messenger stand out among the competition. Google Meet,  SkypeZoom, and Microsoft Teams are popular options, but some users are more comfortable connecting via Messenger, a platform most are already familiar with. Now, Messenger’s screen sharing feature lets you instantly share your screen, either in video calls with up to eight people or using the Messenger Rooms feature to chat with up to 50 people. Perhaps best of all, there’s no time limit, unlike Zoom, that cuts you off after 40 minutes unless you opt for the paid version. You can also screen share in Messenger Rooms on your desktop.

As Room creator, you can decide whether to limit the ability to screen share to yourself or make it available to all participants on the call. Messenger’s other fun features include creating a custom backgroundlivestreaming your video chats, and participating in a Watch Party from within the platform. 

To screen-share via Facebook Messenger on your phone: 

  • Open the Messenger app on your iPhone or Android device.
  • Start a video call by selecting one or more of your contacts, then tap the camera icon.
  • Once on the call, swipe up on the toolbar at the bottom (where you find the icons for hanging up or turning your mic off). 
  • From within the expanded menu that pops up, tap Share your screen. 

Now, other participants will be able to see a live view of whatever is on your screen. Your chat interface (the live video being streamed) will migrate to the upper right-hand corner of your phone, so you’ll still be able to see the other chat members while displaying what’s on your phone. 

That’s it. Facebook has made the process pretty straightforward, so even the most technologically challenged among us should find screen sharing within Messenger simple and easy to access. Have fun sharing! 

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.

 

 

 

How to use Facebook’s Free New Video Chat Option

By Tracey Dowdy

Never one to let the competition get too far ahead, Facebook has come up with a new video chat alternative to its competitors, Zoom, Skype, Jitsi Meet, and Google Meet. With Messenger Rooms, up to 50 people can chat in a room at once, with no time limit. Participants don’t even need an account to use the room.

Messenger Rooms offers more features than its Facebook Messenger video chat option, allowing up to 50 people on screen with no time limit through either the main Facebook app or through the dedicated Messenger one.

Zoom became especially popular in the early days of self-quarantining, but issues around security leading to Zoom-bombing soon became an issue. Facebook is no stranger to security and privacy problems. Still, in a livestream earlier this month, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the company has been “very careful.” He tried to “learn the lessons” from issues users have experienced with other video conference tools over the past several months. 

Facebook also owns WhatsApp, with over 700 million accounts participating in voice and video calls every day on both platforms. In a press release in April, Facebook noted that the number of calls has more than doubled in many areas since the coronavirus outbreak began.

Facebook seems to be taking the potential security risks seriously. Messenger Rooms promises these features:

  • Locking: Rooms can be locked or unlocked once a call begins. If a room is closed, no one else can join, except a Group administrator for rooms created through a Group. 
  • Removing a participant: The room creator can remove any unwanted participants. If the room creator removes someone from the call or leaves, the room will lock automatically, and the room creator must unlock the call for others to join. 
  • Leaving: If at any point, users feel unsafe in a room, they can exit. Locking down a room prevents others from entering, not participants from leaving.
  • Reporting: Users can report a room name or submit feedback about a room if they feel it violated Facebook’s Community Standards. However, since Facebook doesn’t record Messenger Room calls, so reports and feedback will not include audio or video from the room.
  • Blocking: You can block someone on Facebook or Messenger who may be bothering you, and they will not be informed. When someone you’ve blocked is logged into Facebook or Messenger, they won’t be able to join a room you’re in, and you won’t be able to join theirs.

Make sure you have the latest version of the Facebook and Messenger mobile apps downloaded from the App Store or the Google Play Store to create a room on your phone. 

  • Open the Messenger app.
  • Tap the People tab at the bottom right of your screen. 
  • Tap Create a Room and select the people you want to join. 
  • To share a room with people who don’t have a Facebook account, you can share the link with them. You can also share the room in your News Feed, Groups, and Events. 
  • You can join a room from your phone or computer — no need to download anything, according to Facebook.

To create a room on your laptop or desktop, go to your Home Page and to the box at the top where you would usually post. Click on “Create Room” and follow the prompts to name your chat, invite guests, and choose your start time.

Currently available to everyone in the US, Canada, and Mexico, Messenger Rooms is rolling out worldwide over the next week.

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.

Helping Children with Online Learning

By Tracey Dowdy

If nothing else comes out of this pandemic, parents will at least have a greater appreciation for the myriad of skills it takes to teach a classroom full of children. Granted, most of the parents trying to teach from the kitchen table are also managing a household, working from home themselves, and hadn’t chosen teaching as their profession, making their job infinitely more complex. The prospect of accomplishing anything remotely resembling academics may seem overwhelming, but with a little preparation, clearly defined rules, and reasonable expectations, you can do it. 

Here’s how. 

Get set up. 

Determine which video conferencing platform they’ll be using and create the account together. By involving them in the process, you’re demonstrating that you are there for support but ultimately this is their responsibility. Do a practice run or a demo so your child knows how to answer a call, raise their hand, share their screen, record the lesson, mute the microphone, and how to exit the call. Many of the platforms allow you to save your settings, so while you can test the camera and mic on your system, make adjustments in the video-conferencing software you’ll be using. Gather earphones, an external camera and/or mic if there’s not one built into the computer, paper, pencils and any other necessary supplies (protractor, pencil sharpener, eraser) to take notes. Because video conferences use a lot of power, your battery will run down quickly. Make sure you have adequate battery life, or better still, plug in the device to avoid dropping the call. 

Don’t Hover

You may want to be within earshot the first time or two, but after that, take the time that they’re “in school” to work on whatever needs your attention, just like a regular school day. Of course, you’ve taken on the role of the teacher in some aspects, so if they’re goofing off and not paying attention, help them stay on track and focus on the lesson. If you have older kids, allow them some privacy so they can interact with their peers and teacher without worrying about you overhearing anything. You can check-in as needed, but don’t hover. 

While one of the benefits of video conferencing is being able to do it from anywhere, consider whether your child’s bedroom is an appropriate place to have on camera. Remember, privacy is still very important, and screenshots are easily taken by anyone participating in the conference. Wherever you choose, tidy up around you and make sure there’s nothing personal – photos, clothing, art, etc. in the background you don’t want on camera. Before the call starts, sit down, open your camera, and look at your background. If you want real anonymity, consider a virtual background that will take the place of your personal space.  Also, if your student is going to be sharing their screen or sending screenshots, make sure no other browser tabs are visible to avoid any potentially sensitive or private information being shared. 

Encourage them to go to the bathroom before or wait until after class – NOT during. A video of a student bringing her laptop into the bathroom during class recently went viral, and no one wants that kind of attention. If they really can’t wait or there’s an emergency, remind them to make they temporarily disable the video and mute themselves, and then turn everything back on again when they return. 

Remind your students that you and the teachers expect the same level of respect and appropriate behavior as when they were face to face. If your student is using Zoom, caution them about Zoombombing, and remind them there are real-world consequences for online behavior. Again, any live video chat can be recorded and screenshots captured by participants so it’s important to always behave appropriately. 

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.

Free Video Chat Options While Social Distancing

If you’re like me, your family and friends are spread out over several states and even internationally. But, one of the good things that have come out of our shelter in place or self-quarantining orders is that many of us have a little more time on our hands to reach out and catch up. The descriptions of the options below refer to the free version of each of these platforms. The paid versions offer more features. 

Depending on the purpose of your chat, some platforms are better suited than others. Zoom surged in popularity once everyone started teleworking, but has been plagued with security concerns in recent weeks. Don’t worry – there are plenty of other options for you to choose from. 

My office has been using Jitsi for our team meetings but is a solid option for non-work related chats too. Compatible with Android, Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux systems, you can join a meeting through the Jitsi app or directly from your browser without creating an account – the meeting organizer simply sends a link to the “room” you’ll be meeting in. Users can customize the meeting URL and exchange messages and emojis during the video conference through an integrated chat.

Google Hangouts allows you to video chat with up to 25 people, with up to ten of you visible onscreen at once. It’s arguably the most user-friendly. seamlessly integrates with Google Calendar and Gmail, and doesn’t cap the amount of time you can chat where others set a time limit. Zoom, for example, limits you to 40 minutes if there are three or more people on the call. Google Hangouts has an app on iOS and Android but works just as well on your desktop or laptop. It also  

Your family and friends are likely familiar with Facebook’s Messenger app which we primarily used for sending messages. But it also offers a video chat option, making it a solid choice for those who are on the social media platform all the time anyway and may not be comfortable with creating another account or figuring out a different platform. To start a chat, simply go to Messenger, type the names of your Friends you’d like to chat within the “To:” field, then click on the video camera icon in the top right corner. Facebook will call them, all they have to do is answer the call. 

If you’re an Apple device user, FaceTime that wants to chat with other Apple users, FaceTime is the way to go. If you have an iPhone, iPad or Mac, it operates seamlessly, letting you start a video chat with up to 32 of your contacts (remember, iOS users only) just as you would a phone call or text message. If your Wi-Fi or data connection is weak or you have a poor phone signal, you have the option to do an audio-only call. 

Skype, the granddaddy of them all, is available for iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac, offers video and audio calling, and a messaging feature. Its user-friendly interface supports up to 50 people on the same audio call but the number of video callers depends on what device you’re using.  You can also record, save and share your video calls, and even incorporate live captions and subtitles. 

Houseparty is currently the third most downloaded app on the iOS app store in the United States — behind Zoom and TikTok — and comes top in the United Kingdom. Available on Android, iPadOS (for iPad users) and macOS (for Mac users), the app allows “partygoers” to chat, take quizzes, and play games like “Heads Up,” and “Quick Draw.” Once you’ve downloaded the app, you can add your “friends” via your contacts or by pairing with Facebook or Snapchat. Users can invite up to eight friends to join their a “party” and there is the option to “lock” the party so that only invited guests can join.

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.