Video conferencing can be exhausting, but so can in-person meetings. Overall, the use of video conferencing has been pretty successful in my experience. I was on a monthly Zoom call yesterday when it was pointed out that attendance was up from our in-person meetings. While nothing can replace meeting face-to-face, I believe we are starting to learn that more and more of our meetings can be held virtually. Another way to put it is, we don’t need to meet as much as we used to.
How you present yourself online is just as important as in-person. And this goes beyond your choice of attire; you also have to consider your backgrounds. The selection of books on your shelf can say a lot about you as much as having no books on the shelf. You may still be trying to find your happy place, the persona that you want to present to your co-workers. While you work on perfecting yours, here are the ones that are already at your meeting.
The Middle Manager
He already found the virtual background of the beach, and it visualizes what retirement looks like to him. It is the image that has been in his head all these years while he is stuck between the boss and the people who do the work.
This person has found his perfect background. It’s usually the deck of a space ship. The Millennial Falcon and USS Enterprise come to mind, but every once in awhile, you get the Death Star. Watch out for that guy. Bonus points for the guy who has multiple monitors. It may look like he is watching ship vitals when, in reality, he is surfing Reddit.
The longest-serving employees at your company. They have done an admirable job of learning how to do their job using computers and the many technological upgrades over the past 30 years. Now they have to do their job on a camera that is located somewhere on their laptop. They are not sure where it is and don’t know where to look. You are sure to get a closeup view of your boomer employee that would typically get you a call from HR.
No matter the time of day, this employee has settled into the house’s darkest room with only two light sources. The bright light directly behind them and the light from the computer screen. This combo turns the employee into a shadowy figure with an odd green tint to them if they are close enough to their screen. Usually, the ghost will lean back in the shadow and become still and silent. So much so that you think they are asleep, or worse, dead. Not so dead that you would call 911. That’s someone else’s job.
Our tiny employee is an average size adult. They have successfully logged into their laptop and signed on to the conference. They have yet to figure out that there is a hinge on the laptop that lets you adjust where the camera points. You can only see the top of Tiny’s head and eyeballs. At least you can see if they are awake.
He found that you can use your mobile phone for videoconferences and he is taking advantage of it. Unlike the middle manager, he does not use the virtual background and is actually in the outdoors, maybe on a hike, perhaps in a hammock in the backyard. In every case, he is continually trying to adjust how he looks, where he should look, and trying not to run into a tree all at the same time. No matter where he is, you can be assured of a bouncing video feed and scratchy and panting audio. You will need some Dramamine before signing on with the Outdoorsman. Take good notes; the Outdoorsman will need you to send yours to him as he forgot to bring a notepad.
The Nostril is similar to the Outdoorsman but without the movement. The Nostril is also using their mobile phone and taking notes. They don’t prop up the phone for the perfect view/be viewed position, so they hold it in their hand or place it flat on the tabletop. This angle gives you a great view of their Nostril. And since the phone has a wide-angle lens, you get to see an up-close and personal view of their nostril.
The Astigmatist has a hard time viewing the information on their screen. Instead of investing in a pair of drug-store reading glasses, they lean in for an up-close view of what’s on their screen, giving you, the viewer, an up-close view of their skin pores. While the wide-angle lens on their camera makes their head comically distorted, it is much preferred to the Nostril.
This professional can use a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. They settle into their favorite recliner and place the preferred device on their belly. If they happen to have a beard, it’s almost like videoconferencing with a bear. A sleepy, hibernating bear.
This person never makes it to the video call, but you find they tried, they really, really, tried to get on the call. But they didn’t have the link, power, right computer, whatever the excuse is. Their response is usually sent to an email that they know will not get read until after the call is over.
The Family Man doesn’t need an office or quiet or anything. He conferences directly from the kitchen table with dishes being cleaned, dogs running around, kids asking questions. A cacophony of noises being shared to everyone on the call. But let’s give credit where credit is due. Most of us would start screaming at our family to keep quiet, but none of this bothers Family Man. And if it doesn’t bother him, then he isn’t thinking about what it sounds like on your end. Mute? He has no idea what mute even means.
There you have it. The most popular video conference personas that I have had the privilege of meeting on a video conference. But keep an eye out for new ones, they are being created every day, and I, for one, can’t wait to get on a conference call with them.
In response to the Coronavirus, companies have been considering sending employees home to combat the spread of the virus if it happens to come to their city. Great idea! If you aren’t working next to someone, there is less of a chance you will be infected, and less of a chance your company will have to stop doing business. And that’s what it’s all about.
So let’s say you have been sent home to work and you probably have never worked from home before. Have no fear, I am here to give you the tips to be a successful work-from-home employee. I “took it to the house” in 1990. Early in my career, I decided I wanted to work for myself, and that meant I had to work from home. Now over the past three decades, I have worked at home and had office space with high rent. When my partner and I decided to close our design firm, Atticus Communications, back in 2009, my goal was to step down the size of the company and reduce my office expenses. Oh, and I did it the same time we were raising young children. Take that as a warning.
Here are my recommendations for working from home and getting work done.
You have regular office hours, and they don’t change now that you are at home. If your office or clients start work at 8:30 am, you do too. Now that you don’t have a commute, I recommend you get started at 8:00 am and check your calendar and emails and whatever else you need to do to start your day off right.
But the rest of the family is still asleep
Even better, this lets you start your workday without interruption. And this is not an excuse to stay in bed.
Take a shower
We do this every day, no need to stop now. Take that shower, knowing that you need to start work promptly when your workday starts. You may be thinking, of course I’ll shower. You will be amazed at how tempting it is to just roll out of bed and fire up the laptop.
Put on clothes
Sounds silly when I write this, but working in your pajamas does not make you feel and act like the professional you are. It just feels “temporary” if that makes any sense. Put on clothes, not the suit and dress you are forced to wear at your place of work, but something that you are comfortable in, like weekend wear.
Put on shoes
This is the big one for me. I have a hard time explaining this, but wearing shoes helps me focus on work. I don’t feel as casual about the work that needs to get done. Maybe it’s because one of the last things you do before heading off for work is to put on shoes, and that puts you in the right frame of mind. These are comfortable shoes. In my case, it may be some Adidas Campus ADV skateboard shoes or Oboz Sawtooth hiking shoes. And I am not afraid to admit that many times they may be Birkenstocks or Crocs.
Create a dedicated workspace
This is important. You need a place to spread out your work, possibly leave it there for the remainder of the week, and is a comfortable space to work. When I was childless, I had a dedicated room. Then I had a corner of the laundry room (much nicer than it sounds), and now I am at the end of the downstairs den, where we used to have a play area for the kids. Once I realized all they did was throw toys on the floor and not play there, the kids and toys were evicted. Best decision I ever made. Now I have 200 square feet of dedicated office space.
But back to you. Maybe it’s the dining room table, or you have a desk in the bedroom. These are great temporary places to work. Maybe put a small folding table in the den to work from and use a comfortable chair. If you are one of these people who can balance a laptop on their laps while curled up on the sofa, then fine, work there. I don’t understand how you can do it. I can work on the couch, or at the coffee shop for short sprints, and then I am back at a table.
In my job as a graphic design, I look at a lot of stock photos, and I am always amazed at how these photographers portray subjects with laptops. They are lying in a field, or on the courthouse steps, in a dress no less. My favorite is the person who is in a pool working on their laptop. Nothing could go wrong there! You are not a stock photography model. Work where you are comfortable. But I digress.
Get the spouse on board
“Honey, while you are home, could you run a couple of loads of laundry?” No. You can’t run a couple of loads of laundry, you have to work. But it’s so easy, the machines are just downstairs or in my case just around the corner from my office. Explain to your spouse that you have work to do, and you won’t be doing chores until the workday is over. You don’t know pain until you listen to the chunka-chunka of the dryer while you are trying to work.
Get the family on board
Families with small children, I feel your pain. I have a 17 and 12-year old, and I have worked at home during this time. Childcare is your friend, and you need to use it if you want to work from home successfully. But if your company sent you home to work, then you know the daycare has been shut down as well. The kids are coming home.
If you have teenagers, then lucky you, they have probably locked themselves in their rooms and don’t want to be hanging out with you anyway. The downside is they are hogging all the internet bandwidth.
Younger kids don’t give a crap that you have work to do. All I can tell you is that you need to create some boundaries. They are not going to let you ignore them for hours at a time, but you can get some uninterrupted time if you negotiate with them. “Let me work until ten, and then I will play Zelda with you for 15 minutes”. Do what works in your home. This is no time to be a good parent and limit their electronics time. This is survival.
A couple of years ago, I posted this short video illustrating what someone who works from home goes through. School was out, and summer camp programs had not started. My youngest son decided he needed some qualify father-son time.
Don’t do chores
You got your spouse on board, and they don’t expect you to have the six loads of laundry done by the time they get home. But it’s easy just to throw some clothes in the washer and rotate them throughout the day, right? Maybe it’s the dishes in the sink or whatever. Don’t get started on this time suck. Give yourself permission to ignore the domestic chores even though you are in the same house with them. This is still your workday.
Use your lunch hour wisely
You are at home because you don’t want to catch the plague or whatever reason the office sent you home. There is no reason to go out for lunch. Eat at home. Think about how much you spend for lunch each day when you go out and the savings you will have.
Lunch takes me 15 minutes. I usually eat at 11:30 or 11:45, so I am done by noon. My phone or email is not going to ring for the next hour. Have you been spending all morning thinking about that load of clothes in the dryer? I give you permission to fold them. Now is the time to do it.
If you have chosen to work from home permanently, then going out for lunch is a great way to get out of the house and see nature/people/traffic. Sometimes you just need to go on a short walk outside.
Take a nap
Yes, you read that correctly! Do you get sleepy right after lunch? Take that 15 or 20-minute power nap, but be careful! You need to learn how to take a power nap, not a regular nap. I have learned that I can lean back in a comfy chair or sofa, close my eyes, and rest for 15 minutes. This is super helpful at home and could get you fired in an office. Need justification, lunch took you 15 minutes, and the power nap took another 15 minutes, you still have 30 minutes to burn.
Warning: I have found that if I lay down on the sofa or bed and take a “nap” then an hour later, I awake in a panic to missed phone calls and opportunities. Turning off lights during your power nap is a no-no. Don’t get too comfortable.
What if you are indeed sick?
What if you happen to become infected with the Coronavirus or just the flu? Don’t try and work. Don’t try to get that one report to Steve in marketing because of whatever whiny reason Steve gave you. Take care of yourself. Drink plenty of water, get plenty of sleep, and take the medicines that were prescribed for you. You are job number one right now. Steve? His deadline was probably arbitrary anyway. Steve doesn’t care if you are sick, but you should.
There you go, work-from-home tips from the professional. Let’s hope you don’t get sent home, and the Coronavirus is just hype and doesn’t become a real problem. But if it does, or you just want to work from home one day, I hope this list helps you get work done.
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Shawn Wright is a graphic designer in Birmingham, Alabama. He loves print design and branding but he also helps clients with web, audio and video projects.