Now, more than ever, we are relying on the internet to keep us connected, productive, and knowledgeable. If you are fortunate enough to have a job that allows you to work from home, you are most likely having your fair share of on-line meetings. The constant Zoom, Go To Meeting, Skype calls are a new frontier for most and come with their challenges and frustrations. I have some tips that will hopefully make these meetings a bit less stressful and a lot more successful.
When we are connecting to other people around the world through our home work station, be it desktop, tablet, or your son’s gaming computer you had to “borrow” to attend a remote meeting, there are some basics you need to understand. All of your audio, video, and computer content (slides, spreadsheets, documents) all travel through the network in what are called packets. Audio packets are quite small and very easily travel from place to place. Computer screen sharing content, if it is static with little to no motion, are also relatively small to medium-sized packets of information. Motion video, your camera view, are very large packets of information. The computer, through your camera, is trying to capture all the motion of your mouth moving, anything in the background moving, color changes, brights, darks, and everything in between. This is an enormous amount of information to share across the network for other people’s computers and home networks to gather, put it back together, and allow them to see you.
If there are any issues in the transmission of audio and video over a network, the video content is going to be the first to be dropped to allow the audio information to get to the others. This is by design because being able to hear what someone is saying is easier to transmit than how they look saying it. (I know this opens a whole discussion for hard of hearing folks needing to see the lips moving and facial expressions to understand what is being said. But let’s take that topic offline for now.)
Make your audio the best it can be: Make sure your space is quiet. I understand there might be a lot of extra “co-workers” around your home office at this time. Try to limit the amount of background noise that could be picked up by your microphone. When in a call, please mute your microphone when you are not talking. This will help everyone on the call hear and understand the person that is talking. (And don’t forget to unmute when you have something to add!)
Make sure your microphone and speakers are separate from each other. Ideally, headphones with a boom microphone work best. In-ear pods also work very well. Essentially any way you can keep your microphone from not hearing your speakers will eliminate that annoying echo for everyone else on the call.
Since this is the real bandwidth hog of the system, please keep your camera off if not needed. In my situation, I have 3 students with me on my home network, all trying to do their on-line classes, remote gaming, and what have you. My bandwidth is at a premium and sharing video just isn’t working out too well. However, if you do need to or want to share your video, please keep these things in mind:
Camera view – what does the camera see? Make sure your camera has a nice view of your lovely face as eye level as possible. We don’t want to see up your nose, or the side of your face while you are looking at another screen. Make sure your background doesn’t have anything moving such as ceiling fan, dogs playing fetch with your slippers, trees moving outside, etc. Speaking of outside, make sure if there is a window behind you that it has curtains or shades drawn across it. A bright backlight will make your face look dark. You need to have a lot of good light on your face to make it better for the camera to capture your face and better for the far end to see you.
Speaking of backgrounds, software and conferencing apps have tools to help mitigate these issues. Fancy backgrounds, blurred images, and the like will provide some consistency in the image quality and add a bit of professionalism (or levity if you choose the “at the beach” background!)
Finally, make sure all those non-essential web applications are closed on your computer so they are not competing for your computer’s resources while in your call. If possible, make sure your computer is connected to your home network through a wire and not wirelessly. If you have to connect wirelessly, limit the number of other devices also connected to your wireless router. This will also improve your connection. And most importantly, you do have a password on your wireless network, right? No need to leave that open for all your neighbors to share your bandwidth.
Remember, we will all find ourselves coming out on the other side of this with greater knowledge in our minds and love in our hearts. Stay well friends.