I like to think of myself as a pretty tech-savvy individual, but that notion has been seriously challenged ever since I started working from home. Upon learning that I was going to work remotely, I considered quite a few things. I wondered how it would feel sitting in my mid-century modern desk chair (immensely uncomfortable), how the lack of a commute would start my morning (a little jarring), and if I had forgotten any files from the office (thankfully, no). However, throughout all of my thinking and worrying, I never once wondered how video conferencing would be.
I mean, how could I stress about that? I used to work for an organization that operated almost entirely online. But, like my job at that company, it turns out that the allure of video conferencing quickly diminishes the more you get acquainted with it. So, like an earnest Buzzfeed article, I’m going to share three lessons I’ve learned from my time spent video conferencing for work.
Lesson #1: Where to look during the call | In a physical meeting, I rarely look at myself. And by “rarely” I mean I never look at myself. How could I? It’s not like my meetings take place in a funhouse room of mirrors. Instead, they happen in conference rooms, settings that allow me to move my gaze from person to person as they speak. If only that were possible during video conferences.
Instead of naturally adjusting my gaze to view the person who is speaking, I have become preoccupied with staring at myself. Not in an “oooh who’s that good looking fellow” way but more of a “should I be concerned about the dark-as-night circles under my eyes” kind of way. I feel myself always checking to see if I’m slouching on camera or if I’m conveying the appropriate expression to match the discussion. It is exhausting, and it makes me miss sitting in the same room as the people with whom I’m meeting.
Lesson #2: How to make peace with interrupting | Like most people who weren’t raised in a barn, I learned from an early age how important it is to not interrupt someone when they’re talking. But video conferencing is like the Wild West when it comes to manners because interrupting is the norm.
I don’t know if it’s the delay that comes from the video being beamed from multiple homes, but there is a lag that leads to near-constant interruptions, which creates moments like:
Speaker #1: So if you turn to page three, you’ll se–
Speaker #2: [Referring to a previous topic] You’re so right! We have seen an increase in engagement.
Speaker #1: Oh…go ahead.
Speaker #2: [Realizing they just cut off speaker #1] So sorry! Please continue.
Speakers #1 and #2: [Awkwardly stare at the camera without speaking]
I wish that this was an exaggeration, but it is far from it. After two weeks of video calls, I feel like my coworkers and I have become slightly better at knowing when to speak up, but it’s still a challenge that rears its ugly head regularly.
Lesson #3: When to quickly mute your video | Once everyone has successfully unmuted their computers (budget at least five minutes at the start of each call to sort this out), it’s time to employ your muting skills. I am blessed to have a dedicated home office, but it’s upstairs and is frequented by the sound of people pounding down the stairs or dogs running through the hallway. In an effort to keep those unwanted ambient noises from joining the video call, I constantly have my cursor poised above the mute button to block out any non-office sounds. It’s not a skill I ever planned to develop, but I may be adding it to my LinkedIn once this remote office life concludes.
Although I am happily sharing the struggles of working from home, I do recognize how favorable my situation is. I have a job that allows me to work remotely, and I work for a company that is immensely flexible and generous during these uncertain times. While it’s not how I thought my day-to-day would look even three weeks ago, I am focused on how this is temporary, and I promise to do my best to refrain from fixing my hair on camera in between battling interruptions.