How to get the best out of video communication tools

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Online meeting tools have long oiled the machinery of globally dispersed companies full of employees demanding greater flexibility in the way they work. But the coronavirus pandemic and enforced isolation have now taken their use to the next level.

From Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams and Zoom to Google Meet and Jistsi, how do you go about getting the best out of these video communication tools?

Firstly, be aware of how intrusive they can be, warns video and live-streaming consultant Gavin Gration. ‘Whereas emails and phone calls can usually be handled quite easily at home, when you introduce video into the home-working environment it can be quite challenging for some people to accommodate,’ he says.

Try to hold regular online team meetings at a specific time of the day. Moving a meeting around without a very good reason can be inconsiderate. ‘And try to set an agenda and stick to it,’ adds Gration. ‘In smaller less formal meetings things tend to move along nicely. However, meetings with many participants benefit from an appointed chairperson who can help keep everything on track.’

We may be talking about video communication tools, but do bear in mind that you need decent sound. ‘Laptop microphones vary in quality,’ says Gration. ‘So stay close to the microphone and avoid or turn off anything noisy such as air-conditioners or TVs. If you have a headset then make use of it. Most phone headsets will work better than the built-in laptop microphone.’

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Also make sure you know exactly where the webcam is located on your device and try to maintain eye contact, especially when you’re speaking. ‘Think about positioning the camera to avoid excessive backlighting, such as a window behind you,’ suggests Gration. ‘Try to experiment before a proper meeting to see what works best for your location.’

And try to get into the habit of muting yourself when others are speaking. ‘But don’t forget to un-mute your mic when it’s your turn, says Gration. ‘Some apps like Zoom have a push-spacebar-to-talk setting, which can be handy. Try not to slouch in your seat, dress appropriately and keep your eyes around the top third of the screen.’

Finally, consider how safe and secure you are. ‘Unfortunately, every type of technology has security and privacy challenges,’ says Rebecca Herold, CEO and founder of The Privacy Professor. ‘And yes, there are inherent risks with all types of videoconferencing tools. This is due to the way they reveal the environments of all the participants, usually connect through wireless networks and often have multiple people using them at any one time.

‘A huge problem with some popular video conferencing systems is that the meeting numbers are not secured and passwords to gain entry are not required by default,’ adds Herold. ‘Most people don’t even use passwords because they mistakenly believe that either no person would be able to guess their meeting number or they have nothing to hide.’

 So make sure you use passwords and consider the way you’re sharing them. ‘If meeting information is published on Twitter, then you’re asking for trouble,’ warns Gration. ‘Consider additional security measures such as locking the meeting or having a waiting room to screen participants if you think there’s a risk of your meeting being gate-crashed.’

This article was first published in Student Accountant

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