Home working. Useful tips for online meeting novices

Image: Home working epic fail
By Andrew Petty on

Home working. Useful tips for online meeting novices

Home working is familiar to me, but even so, as my first week of forced remote working draws to an end I thought I would share a few observations I have made during the various online meetings that I have taken part in, over the past few days.

Working purely from home and not going to the office, adds a new dimension to everyday work. Now, due to the latest government guidance, the majority of us are purely working from home, this takes online meetings to another level.

During this week I have had meetings with a mixture of homeworkers, both experienced and newbies, some of whom are effectively taking part in their first web meetings and working from home for the first time. I have compiled the list below throughout the week and I hope that it is a useful guide to online meeting etiquette:

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1. Test your equipment

Sounds an obvious one but if you have an online meeting and you are using equipment for the first time, test it out. Make sure the microphone and video work. Why not create a test meeting with a friendly colleague and do a test? Get familiar with the software and configuration options. There are tons of short online videos to help people get started

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2. Find a quiet location

You will need to be able to concentrate throughout the meeting so find a quiet and private place, not the loo. Let people in your house know that you are going to be on a call, often a sign on the door helps. This week I have told my kids if I have my headphones on please do not disturb me. The people you are meeting with online do not want to hear other people in the background or see people moving around behind you. See points below on mute and backdrops to help further.

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3. Move pets to another room

While it is lovely to introduce your pets to your colleagues in a more informal or 1 to 1 meeting, it is not appropriate for more formal meetings to have your cat jump up on the table and walk across your keyboard mid-meeting.

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4. Use mute

So many people forget to use mute. If you are not talking there is nothing wrong to mute yourself, in fact, I would encourage it. There is nothing worse than being on a call and hearing people bashing away at their keyboards, talking to their kids, drinking their cuppa or struggling to manage their Covid-19 cough. Simply putting yourself on mute helps to prevent all of this. Make sure you know how to use the mute function.

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5. Check your lighting

For a video call make sure people can see you and you are properly lit. There should be a small image of yourself somewhere on your screen, check this as this is what everyone else sees. If you can’t see yourself they will not be able to see you. A good example of poor lighting was an MP being interviewed, this week, by the BBC from his home under bright lights. The image was just a blur and looked very unprofessional.

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6. Dress code

When working remotely make sure you’re appropriately dressed and presented for your meeting. A onesie and bed hair is not a good look.

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7. Backdrop

Think about your backdrop for video calls. My first meetings this week were in another room and I didn’t realise my collection of gin bottles were on the shelf behind me. I quickly found the ‘blur my background’ option in my software (MS Teams). This is a really helpful tool to use and I recommend people find out how they can do this within their software. Using the ‘blur my background’ function prevents people from seeing your alcohol collection, ironing pile and people moving around behind you. There is a new feature being rolled out in MS Teams which will allow you to customise your backdrop, you could find yourself on a beach without being on holiday.

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8. Put your phone on silent

If you were in a face to face meeting in an office would you have your mobile phone on? An online meeting is no different! Put your phone on silent mode before you start.

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9. Face to Face is best

Always start a meeting as a video meeting. Seeing the person or persons you are talking to is important, especially when you are working from home for an extended period of time. All of my team meetings this week have been face to face. It is really important to see people’s facial expressions. Turning your video off once you have said hello to everyone is a good compromise if you are not comfortable having video calls.

These are just a few things that I have personally noted, just in my first full week of working at home. Even if just one of them resonates with you, this document was worth writing.

Microsoft Teams keyboard shortcuts

As I work for a Microsoft partner it is no surprise that I use Microsoft Teams, here are some keyboard shortcuts which may come in useful:
Turn your camera off Ctrl+Shift+O
Mute yourself: Ctrl+Shift+M
Background blur: Ctrl+Shift+P
Go to Search (move straight to the search bar): Ctrl + E
Zoom: Ctrl+= to zoom in or Ctrl+- to zoom out
To get a complete list of all your keyboard shortcuts, enter /Keys into the search menu at the top of Microsoft Teams.

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