5 tips for not bungling home videoconferencing

It’s 1 minute to the conference call, your cat has chewed through the headset cable, and Skype or Zoom doesn’t want to connect. Get ready for videoconferencing in advance — we explain how.

The current pandemic has turned videoconferencing into a vital tool for both work and personal communication. We explain how not to goof up in front of the boss or, worse, the mother-in-law.

Oddly enough, the choice of application is far from the most important part. Most services provide similar features, and unless you have some specific requirements, you can just use what’s on your machine already — or whatever the majority of participants use.

Most companies have their own teleconferencing standards and tend to use a certain platform, be it Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams. As for the mother-in-law, the choice is likely to be even simpler. With that said, let’s get to the point: what you should consider to make your video call as smooth as possible.

1. Prepare for the videoconference in advance

Don’t connect at the last second only to discover that your cat bit through the headset cable and the camera needs a driver update to work. Sign in beforehand, check that everything is in working order, and if you encounter problems, solve them relatively stress-free. And if you’re using a laptop or smartphone, it won’t hurt to make sure that the battery is charged before the call starts.

2. Mute the microphone first thing

Remember to mute the mic when you’re not talking into it. Background sniffing and snuffling make concentrating difficult — and your colleagues have no need to hear your tech-savvy cat regurgitating that headset cable.

3. Ensure a decent connection speed

We sometimes forget how many different home devices are connected to the Internet, eating up bandwidth. And then we’re surprised when the sound gets garbled and the picture turns into a pixelated haze at the crucial moment.

Before starting an important video conference, make sure to knock bandwidth competitors off of your network. Your kid’s tablet streaming a cartoon in 4K, Windows updates, and game downloads can wait until the call ends.

A wired Ethernet connection usually beats Wi-Fi — especially if you are separated from your router by a couple of concrete walls and the ether is clogged up with your neighbors’ networks (which are suddenly also hosting important video calls, playing online games, and watching 4K streaming videos all day long).

4. Figure out the settings and features

If you are not familiar with the application you’re going to use for the call, and you have to organize the conference, spend some time studying the app’s settings. In Zoom, for example, the default settings allow call participants to share their screen without prior permission from the organizer. In open webinars, this can sometimes lead to such accidents (or pranks) as collective viewings of pornography.

If you don’t want your conference call to be disrupted in such a manner, leaving you red-faced and having to apologize, disable this channel of creative expression in advance.

5. Look presentable

A relaxed home environment may be a pleasant change, but don’t overindulge. When video conferencing, make sure you’re wearing decent clothes (lower body as well, just in case). Don’t lie on the couch during a serious meeting, and don’t play games in the background or quietly strum your guitar while colleagues are talking. To play it safe, simply behave and look just as you would at a face-to-face meeting.

Modern technology can lend a hand by the way: Some video conference services let you hide an unsightly environment by surrounding you with a virtual background. For example, Skype and Teams can blur the background, and Zoom goes even farther and can set you against a glorious backdrop of waterfalls, glaciers, or even the aurora borealis.

Two things to consider though: (a) it can impact speed, especially if your computer is not very powerful, and (b) technology has its limits. It may try to hide your cord-chomping cat, of course, but the result might look a little weird. So, our advice is to experiment with the different settings and options, not 2 minutes before the call starts, but an hour or even a day in advance. Then you will know exactly how everything will look and avoid hair-curling moments.