Communicating effectively with a remote team on video

Part of working with a distributed team, like the one at Automattic, includes communicating with co-workers on video calls. 

Even though most of our communication is asynchronous and my teammates are in different countries, I can still see and hear them thanks to video conferencing. 

Once a week I have a meeting with other members of my team using the Zoom video conferencing app. I also have other meetings relating to projects I’m working on, and on occasion, also lead webinars for customers.

Communicating over video calls is incredibly important for team building, bonding, and problem solving. When we can’t be together in person, video is the next best thing since you can still hear someone and see their facial expressions and gestures. You get a better idea of their communication style and tone of voice and get a better picture of the person behind that email address or username. Video, however, is not perfect!

You’ve probably participated in a video call where someone was talking to the group, but they were facing away from the camera. Or saw someone in a dark room and couldn’t see their lips move. Or perhaps you’ve seen someone who was positioned far away from the camera and it made them look small and not interested in what was being discussed during the call. Not ideal when you’re trying to connect and communicate as effectively as possible.

Aware that I could do better I attended a workshop called “Better on Video” where I learned some very useful tips. Not surprisingly I learned that it’s all about the camera and how you interact with it in order to make others on the call feel like you are communicating directly with them.

Before, I had my chair far away from the camera. It was hard to see my facial expressions during a video call.
After, my face was easier to see and I was able to make better eye contact with the people on the call.

Establishing eye contact is key. Make sure that whoever is on the other side feels you’re talking to them, and not to a camera positioned in an odd place. As you know, this also applies to interactions IRL (in real life). 

One good trick here is to position the Zoom app screen directly below the camera on your laptop or monitor. When you’re talking, look at and talk to the camera. Those watching you on the call will feel that you’re looking directly at them and – trust me – will notice the difference.

Once you get in the habit of looking at the camera, you can make improvements and fine tune your camera presence. A small change in posture, for example, can make a HUGE difference! 

How can you check your posture when you’re looking at the camera? Record yourself on video. A short 30 second clip of you on a video call can help you evaluate your appearance. 

If your eyes were looking away in that clip try again. Record, watch, re-record, watch, re-record…. you get the point! 

The idea is not to be a perfectionist, but to be aware of the small ways you could improve in and get better over time. 

The Before photo shows poor camera lighting, shadows hiding the eyes, and the body far away from the camera. In the After photo there is more natural light in the room, the eyes are visible for effective eye contact, and the camera is centered showing more of the person’s body.

After feeling more confident about your eye contact on video, you can improve your overall presence by experimenting with many different things that factor in on how you’re showing up on video.

Is there a time of day that you feel more confident in or your voice sounds better? Do you need to add a new lamp, face light, or ring light to your office space so that others can see your expressions more clearly? Does changing your chair help improve your posture? Perhaps standing works best for you? Is the background in your space messy or distracting? Can others see your hands? 

Give yourself time and space to experiment. Find the combinations that work best for you. Over time you’ll improve, communicate more effectively, and make a great impression during video calls. 

If you find this type of remote work appealing, you can learn more about the Happiness Engineer job and find instructions for applying here.

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