Tag Archives: remotecollaboration

Video Conferencing: Rules of Order

Screenshot of Rachel in a videoconferencing window

Seriously, look at the camera.

I’ve found myself in more video conferences than usual lately, so naturally I have been noticing what works and what doesn’t and thinking about why. I used to actually dislike using video in remote meetings. No matter where other people look, they seem to be captivated by something just out of view; all the social cues we get from following another’s gaze simply don’t work; and no matter how I wear it, my hair always looks really bizarre.

Despite all that, I’m starting to change my mind about using video in remote meetings. I’m getting accustomed to it and even starting to enjoy it once in a while.

However, I’ve noticed that it isn’t always used very effectively. As an inveterate fixer, I’ve therefore started to compile a Rules of Order for videoconferences. They’re nothing like as complicated as Robert’s Rules of Order, and strictly speaking they’re not even about order so much as about reducing the confusion and disorientation people feel. I’m still developing it, but here is the beginning of the list.

Rachel’s Rules of Order for Videoconferences

A. Reducing Disorientation

  1. In the first five minutes, have everyone in the meeting say hello and show themselves. This is especially crucial when some people are together in a room but not all of them are on camera at once, and others are remote. It’s very disorienting for the remote folks to hear disembodied voices chiming in unexpectedly. It’s also common politeness to make sure everyone understands who is within earshot.
  2. If some people are on camera, everyone should be on camera. If some participants don’t (or won’t) have video, at least show a photograph or other image of every speaker. The people who are actually on video will seem more present and animated than those who are not. Getting everyone on equal footing helps.
  3. Figure out where the camera is on your device and look at it when you are talking. It feels strange at first because your instinct is to look at the face of the person you are talking to. If you look into the camera, you will be making eye contact while you are speaking. If you look at their face on your screen, you will not. If you’re using a Mac, for instance, the camera is right next to the green dot at the top of your screen. Try moving the video window to the top of your screen so you are naturally looking toward the camera more, then just lift your gaze to the green dot when you speak.

B. Building Connections with People

  1. Look at your camera more than you look at your notes or at other parts of your screen, even when you aren’t talking. See A.3., above. It feels weird for you (at first) but it feels very natural to the person you are talking to. Video conferencing actually allows you to make ‘eye contact’ with multiple people at once, so take advantage of that.
  2. Take time to be social. Ask how people’s day is going, or what they did over the weekend. Really listen to what they say and respond to what you hear. It seems counter-intuitive; doesn’t socializing just waste time in meetings? In fact, everything goes smoother when people are relaxed and comfortable with one another. The few minutes you take in being social will pay off later.
  3. Have a hot drink while you meet, and encourage everyone else to grab a cup of something too. There are several advantages to this. First, if everyone is sipping some of the time, no one is talking all of the time. Second, it may actually make everyone more friendly. A 2008 Yale study seems to indicate that people who hold a warm beverage perceive others as warmer and friendlier, and are more likely to be friendly themselves. If you’ve had too much coffee already by the time your meeting rolls around, try hot water with lemon.

I’m still mulling over some other ideas. Meanwhile, what rules would you add?

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A Sneak Peek at Results of The Grove’s Recent Survey: Five Minutes on Working Virtually

If you haven’t had a chance to take the five-minute survey yet and would like to, you can find it here.

The Grove recently launched a short survey on virtual work and remote meetings. Among other things, we asked hundreds of people who do virtual work about their biggest pain point: the one thing they wish would go away and just stop being a problem about working remotely.

The responses fall broadly into three categories. Respondents identified pain points related to technology, to people, and to the setting where the work is done. It may surprise you to learn that technology is not the category with the most pain points. The largest set of different pain points is related to people. In fact, the number of pain points having to do with people is almost twice as large as that in either of the other two categories. Note that this doesn’t say anything about how often a given point was cited; I’m not dealing with that here, just looking at unique responses. The image below is a compilation of the responses, sorted unscientifically by yours truly. (Click to see it bigger.)

List of pain points in remote work
Compilation of responses to the question: What is the most painful part of working remotely?

The pain points related to people have to do with how people feel in remote meetings, things people do or fail to do that make the work harder, the difficulty of making or maintaining interpersonal connections at a distance, and basic knowledge and skills around working remotely. I know I have struggled with most, if not all, of these issues in the past ten years of working virtually. Many of these pain points can be addressed through training (of facilitators and participants), making explicit agreements about how to work together and behave as a remote team, and extra time and effort involved in preparation. Sometimes, though, it seems as soon as a team gets one issue taken care of, another, hydralike, rears its annoying head.

Regarding technology, the agony is divided between tool-related issues and those dealing with connection (or lack thereof) when trying to communicate. One that we did not see, but that I expected, is overwhelm about the number of tools available. Does anyone else find it hard to keep up? I sometimes feel that if I just keep looking and keep testing, I will find the perfect tool for every task related to remote collaboration. I’m not saying I’ll find one tool that does everything. Rather, I’d love to find a set of tools that collectively do everything. Easily. Okay, maybe now I’m dreaming.

The setting we’re in when we do remote work accounts for the remainder of the pain. Real life issues, the consequences of not being physically in the same room, and the effects of having to be sitting at a computer are the main groups here. As with the other categories, some of the complaints can be addressed through group norms, different tools, or extra effort, but again I can empathize and have experienced all of these myself. What about you? Do you have a favorite, and how did you stop the pain?

If you’d like to get your voice in the mix, please hop on over and take the five-minute survey. It will remain open through June 30, 2015.

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