Gone are the days of team meetings with outsourced coffee and catered lunches. For both students and professionals, we’re now just another square in the Brady Bunch intro sequence.
Candidly, I don’t like video conferences. I think that many of these calls are rich with awkward pauses and constant cacophony. These same issues aren’t unique to video calls, but there’s something about Zoom that just makes conferencing more chaotic.
After spending a few weeks playing around with Zoom with both my team and different clients, I compiled a list of tips and tricks that make for a smoother user experience. Having worked at my college’s IT center for 3 years, trust me when I say it’s not Zoom, it’s you!
1. Don’t Just Double Check, Triple Check Your Zoom Link!
Scheduling truly is one of most tedious things to do with a group. Before switching to Zoom calls, I still endured emails bouncing back and forth like a ping pong ball. One of my pet peeves is being one of thirty people in a scheduling email chain. Your inbox pops off as two people duke it out to claim an ideal meeting time. Oh if only I could take myself out of the chain sometimes until it was all over… As annoying as coordination is in any environment, I can’t stress enough to pay attention to the details. Conference call codes and links change like the dates/times being ricocheted over email. I’m embarrassed to admit, but I must, that there’s been a handful of times when I send the wrong link to my team and we’re not in the right Zoom call. That’s why I cannot stress enough that even if there’s been a dozen emails, stay diligent and triple check that link!
2. If You’re Taking Notes Good for You, But Remember to Hit Mute
This mistake happens all the time, especially to my fellow admins; forgetting to hit mute while typing. You’re trying to stay focused during the Zoom call, thus you’re taking notes as you would in any lecture/meeting. And it seems convenient to take notes on your computer during a Zoom call. However, you forget that your Macbook keys sound like a shaken box of Tic Tacs. In every call I’ve joined, there’s always an awkward moment where someone is called out. The moderator politely asks for the individual to mute themselves because they’re typing loudly. You can get a lot of things wrong, we’re only human, but don’t be that one person who gets called out for doing your civic duty of staying busy.
3. Please Please PLEASE Have a Meeting Agenda (or Ask for one)
You can come off as real bold asking for an agenda, but someone’s gotta do it! I admit I sometimes get gutsy and I poke the bear. That bear being the executive leading the meeting. It can be intimidating to ask for a Zoom call agenda. Yet, it’s better to come in with a script than to join a meeting blindly. If you’re a student, then your educator might have a lesson plan. And if you’re a professional there may already be a meeting plan. Whenever I’m in a Zoom meeting I need to know for how long and what’s “the point.” What is the reason that I need to get out of sweats? (Why do I do this? Keep reading!) What are we trying to accomplish? Having a meeting agenda makes the Zoom call all the more focused, and can help you wrangle in people caught up playing with the backgrounds...I literally can’t even get into how annoying that is...like literally I CAN NOT…
4. Trade in the Groutfit for Something Cute, Comfortable, and Classy
In my first Zoom calls, I remember being taken aback seeing my colleagues adorning collegiate hoodies, beanies, and baseball caps. There are people that I frankly couldn’t recognize without their signature styled hair or garments. To a degree it’s been comforting seeing the human side to people on Zoom. Through noticing their styling outside of the office I get a better sense of the person behind the email. As comforting as a Zoom in your sweats, I think that if you’re a professional you can do better. It sucks to admit, but appearances still matter in this world. Considering fashion as a tool of expression, I think that you can present yourself as both professional while remaining comfortable. Of course, if you have to get in a suit do it, own it, sell it!
I’ve opted to trade in my college crewneck for a nice turtleneck paired with some good Lulu bottoms because why not!? I may not opt-in for a full blowout, however I’ll put enough effort to look groomed. That’s my caveat, find a nice top, brush your hair, and smile because you’re on camera!
5. If You MUST Use a Digital Background Please Make It Make Sense
I knew in writing this list I could not, and would not, avoid the topic of Zoom backgrounds. I am unapologetic about being a pop culture fanatic. Despite knowing trending topics like the back of my hand, I recognize that there is a time and a place to show off my fandom. A Zoom meeting is not one of those times. In a recent Zoom meeting I was shocked, quite literally shocked, that someone had a Joe Exotic background on for the entire meeting. It wasn’t an elephant in the digital room because several people all had to comment on the background. Just like my last points about presenting oneself, being organized, and muting the mic, I think that there’s an unspoken etiquette about not being outright distracting. The occasional mic issues I get, having a baby crying the background mmm okay sure, but a TIGER KING background? Sir, you knew what you were doing. Now I love TIGER KING and I’m not sorry about it, but save that for stanTwitter or another call.
6. Be Forward If You Predict a Distraction
Going back to the mention of crying babies or someone slurping on a straw, I think it’s worth giving a heads up if you know you may have distractions. If someone prompted you to jump on a call during your lunch I think you can say, “Hey there, sorry I was just in the middle of lunch.” Or if you’re working at home and things are a bit loud I think it’s okay to say, “Sorry the kids are making noise,” or whomever is making noise. Letting the other person know what to expect is always just a good sign of respect.
7. Don’t Forget the Camera is ALWAYS OnI’m glad to report that I’ve never had this issue! Sadly, I’ve seen a few meetings having awkward moments because someone was either caught texting or leaving the meeting screen. Don’t think that just because you open another window or minimize Zoom that you’re no longer live. That green light atop your screen is your reminder and alert that you’re still on screen. I recently had a minor hiccup happen where I had to leave the meeting, and I handled it lowkey. My computer was running low and battery, and while I went to grab my charger I turned my video off. When I settled back in I resumed video and it was less distracting than if my colleagues had seen me stand up and walk away.
8. Take the Time to Check Your Connection
Now of all the tips I’ve presented this is one where you can let tech take the blame. Having reliable WiFi is truly a luxury that those of us working from home take for granted. I could not imagine the anxiety I’d have if I knew that I could drop out of Zoom meeting any moment. It behooves you test out the WiFi wherever you are to find out where and what devices it works best on. If you know that your internet connection isn’t the most reliable, I think it’s fair to share that and ask for a dial into the Zoom. There’s always a work around to IT issues you just can’t be afraid to ask!
9. Don’t Ask me to join a Zoom Happy Hour…Especially Work Related
This recommendation has less to do with work, but I think has everything to do with etiquette all the same. It’s already quite jarring working from home during this current situation. I sometimes feel like my different all coalesce in what should be my safe haven; home. Again, I’m not at all complaining about work - I truly am grateful to remain employed. I just can’t muster the energy to spend more time on another Zoom call trying to be engaged or preppy when really I just want a break from social interactions. Because yes, emails and calls all count as interaction even when you’re not seeing people. I get trying to build morale, but how about, “Have a great day!” over text?