New to Working from Home? Here Are Some Tips to Help You Meet Like a Pro

From Zoom Blog:

With many businesses now encouraging or even mandating that employees work from home amid global health concerns over the coronavirus, millions of people can expect to have their daily routines and work styles impacted. But not everyone is accustomed to working from home, and getting into work mode from a space that’s not your regular one can be a huge adjustment.

The bright side of working from home is that you save time on a commute, spend more time with family, and maybe get a few more things done around the house. But the challenges, including loneliness, staying connected, and a heightened penchant for distraction, can have a significant effect on your psyche and productivity. So, we’re here to help!

Whether you’re relegated to working from a spare bedroom, coffee shop, the library, or the lobby of your apartment building, we’ve compiled some tips to help you get set up, limit distractions, maintain confidentiality, and meet like a pro, no matter where you are.

. . . .

Let’s talk about your setup

Your laptop (Mac or PC) will likely have a built-in camera and audio, but it makes a big difference in the experience for you and others in the meeting when you have a quality webcam and a good microphone. 

To be your best self on camera, I recommend getting a Logitech Brio webcam and a set of Airpods (or the Plantronics Focus UC or Logitech Zone wireless headsets) if you can make the investment. Even a pair of wired mic-enabled headphones can go a long way. Check out this test I did. You can see my quick audio and video demo of the different set-ups I commonly see:

Great lighting also is crucial. Try and have your face be lit by a nearby window or get a small webcam light.

Link to the rest at Zoom Blog

PG Agrees and Disagrees with the OP.

Agrees

  1. A good webcam is important
  2. Good lighting is important
  3. PG would add that a professional background (or a blurred background) is also important. Chaos behind a video call participant doesn’t convey a particularly professional image.
  4. PG would add that placing a webcam so others on the call are looking up a speaker’s nostrils with ceiling lights in the background is also not a good look.

Disagrees

Webcams

  1. While the Logitech Brio is an excellent webcam, it’s also an expensive webcam. When PG was writing this post, Amazon’s price was almost $300. Ever since the explosion in web conferencing that accompanied the pandemic lock-down, the prices for Logitech’s high-end video cameras have gone up and stayed up. Plus it may be difficult to find these webcams in stock. The same Logitech Brio webcam was $199.99 at Adorama when PG built the link, so high-end webcams are one product category where Amazon may not be your automatic place to go for best prices.
  2. The Logitech C920 HD Pro Webcam is on a lot of lists of best webcams for videoconferencing. When PG checked, it was out of stock on Amazon, but the link takes you to Adorama where the price was $89.99 when PG built the link. Another option, again out of stock at Amazon but offered by Adorama when PG built the link is the Logitech C922 Pro Full HD 1080p Stream Webcam listed at $114.99.
  3. Amazon lists a boatload of Logitech lookalike webcams, most manufactured in China by companies you may not have heard of before. (PG hasn’t) The products may be great or they may be terrible and it is close to impossible to determine quality by photos and product descriptions. Don’t be fooled by fake ratings that sing their praises. One technique that may help identify someone creating fake ratings (and often being paid directly or indirectly by the manufacturer for doing so) is to click on the icon identifying the reviewer to see how many reviews he/she has created. Quite often, knowledgeable tech types will write a lot of reviews about a variety of electronics products. Paid creators of fake reviews tend not to do so. On some occasions, grammar can be another red flag. If you’re relying on reviews, do a bit of forensic content analysis.
  4. Based upon his photography experience, PG is comfortable in saying that image quality can be a very subjective thing and opinions will vary from person to person. Images produced by webcam A may look great to Bob, but terrible to Phyllis. Remember also that what looks great on your laptop screen or your desktop monitor may (and probably will) look at least somewhat different on someone else’s laptop or monitor.
  5. The best way for borderline OCD personalities to deal with comparisons is to acquire two (or more) different webcams, and plug in one, then plug in the other to see which images you like the best (this technique works even better if you have two identical computer monitors and jump through the hoops to get images from Webcam A on one monitor and images from Webcam B on the other one. (No, PG is not certain about exactly how you would set this up but has been told it can be done.)
  6. PG suspects the person in the OP video was using a webcam her employer purchased for her and that she likely participates in Zoom conferences several times each day. The benefits of an excellent webcam may be different for her than they might be for an indie author who participates in a writing group Zoom session every month and videoconferences with Grandma or Granddaughter every few days.

Lighting

PG thinks good lighting is more important than good webcam quality for a lot of web conferences. The best webcam with fluorescent overhead light fixtures behind the individual will almost certainly result in a bad image.

Light from a window can be very nice if the window is in the right place and the sun is in the optimum position. If not, it won’t be so good.

The OP suggests using this light. PG hasn’t used the particular light recommended, but from the product photo, he’s pretty certain that it is a point light source. All the light comes from a single small point and hits the subject from a single direction. As a general proposition, you need more than one point light source, each positioned correctly, to get the best lighting for a person’s face.

PG suggests that, unless you have room to set up a photo studio, if you’re going to use a single light, a ring light is a much better choice. Here’s what one of those looks like.

There are a zillion different ring lights for sale on Amazon, varying in size and price. The idea is that light comes from all points on the ring, so they reduce or eliminate dark shadows like those that result from a single point light. (A teeny-tiny ring light may well be less-expensive but acts pretty much like a point light. A 10-12 inch diameter ring light will usually work well for a single individual.)

For webcam purposes, the ring light is placed in front of the person on the video call. Positioning the webcam in the middle of the ring light pointing at the subject generally results in nice lighting for a face.

For a videoconference, however, the most common practice is that, when a person is speaking, the other person (or people) is looking at the image of that person on their computer screen. Typically, the person speaking is looking directly at his/her webcam which gives the appearance that the speaker is looking each listener directly in the eye. Per meatspace face-to-face discussions (at least in many western nations) an attentive listener will also look back at the speaker on a fairly consistent basis.

A ringlight with a webcam mounted in the center certainly has the potential for obscuring the computer screen, so the illusion of face-to-face conversation suffers a bit. For this reason, it’s also a good idea to use a ringlight that allows you to vary the intensity of the light so you can adjust lighting for the best look for yourself while also allowing you to look through or near the ringlight at your screen.

PG says that if all this seems like a lot of trouble, he has had videoconferences of acceptable quality using an iPad and decent quality ambient light or a ringlight. For him, an iPhone screen is a bit too small for comfortable views of the face of the person on the other side of the call, but if you’re the principal speaker, that may not be important.

Sound

PG is aware that he has blathered on at great length about videoconferences, so he will be brief.

Almost any sort of corded microphone you can plug into your desktop or laptop will make you sound better than using a laptop’s built-in microphone. Desktops don’t usually include microphones, so an external mike will be necessary.

The woman in the OP recommended wireless headphones that utilized both ears combined with a noise-reduction/cancelling microphone either in the Airpods, which act a little like earplugs or integrated with headphones that covered both ears.

This could be very important in a busy (and noisy) open-space office in which the person might be using the same headset for telephone calls for several hours each day, but for an author sitting by herself in a comfortable writing space with (hopefully) not a lot of loud ambient sounds who may have one or two video conferences/calls per day, such a headphone/microphone set up might be expensive overkill.

10 thoughts on “New to Working from Home? Here Are Some Tips to Help You Meet Like a Pro”

  1. There are good low-tech solutions.

    I defer the camera recommendation to PG, but will say, that no matter what you select you are at the mercy of the cumulative bandwidth between you and your audience. In some cases, increasing your upload bandwidth is actually the best thing you can do to improve video quality, because Zoom (and others) will examine your throughput and adjust the quality accordingly. When the shutdown stuffed 4 remote workers into Casa Mich, the first thing we did was upgrade to a 1-gig plan.

    If you are using a laptop with a built-in camera, just make sure the camera is at your eye height, and look at it or the screen below it (rather than another monitor.) Some people I know use their laptop as a secondary monitor off to the side of their main working rig. The laptop camera should still be at about your eye height.

    If you have room, put a latticed japanese shoji screen behind you. These are 50-100 bucks at various places including home depot.

    NEVER set up with a window behind you unless you have absolutely no choice. If you don’t have enough ambient light, I would recommend almost any light (like a desk lamp) pointed AT the ceiling above you (best) or AT the wall behind your laptop / webcam setup. You want reflected light, not light-in-your-face. You are not on stage.

    I get great sound from an inexpensive pair of GoGroove durable earbuds that have a microphone at collarbone height. The earbuds themselves are unobtrusive. The important thing with a microphone is that it not be too far away from your mouth. A freestanding microphone or laptop microphone will pick up room echo dynamics.

    If you have a computer with no webcam, it is possible to take an old phone (or even a new phone) and hook it into your network as a network-attached webcam. I can’t speak for the quality, but for some it might be the difference between something and nothing.

    Unlike some clients, Zoom will run on older ipads and tablets. There might be something to be said for re-purposing such a device as a dedicated zoom client separate from your working computer. A gooseneck or easel tablet stand might be the thing that makes that work.

  2. One thing that the OP neglects is a serious problem.

    If you’re doing a business call, dress fully and neatly (and appropriate to the type of business). You really, really don’t want a judge criticizing you because you had no pants on, but did have fluffy slippers, do you? (No, that’s not just a sarcastic thought, it’s happened twice in Florida and made what passes for “national lawyer media” — remember, that’s just what made the media!) If your meeting is with a H’wood agent, a business suit may be overkill — but neatness and completeness still matter.

    Similarly, take a look at your surroundings carefully. Do not assume that all of the “blur the background” filters will work flawlessly (and for all you know, they’ll misbehave with your hair, if you have any hair). I’m not suggesting that “it needs to look like a Fortune 100 corner office,” just that it needs to not look like Joe’s garage (either a real garage or the Frank Zappa album, take your pick). If you’re going to need references available, have them already in reach.

    Finally, double-check your ambient noise levels. This isn’t for what bleeds past that $40 noise-cancelling mike, but for what will distract you at your end. (Unless you’re like me and wear over-the-ear monsters precisely so that nobody who comes in the room can overhear anything confidential by accident; I’ve been doing this sort of thing for two decades, when I had young boys running around the house chasing the dog…)

    In short, remember that the tech is the easy part for most people, especially these days. I’m old enough to have soldering scars from building computers back when “hacker” was a good thing. Even then, though, I wore pants.

    • Pants were important. So were shoes, though.
      Sandals? Contraindicated.
      Hot solder on top of tbe foot is…exquisitely painful.
      It was cheaper than buying a custom mechanical keyboard, though.

  3. On the lighting question, I’ve wondered if one of those flat panel lights sold as light therapy aids for SADS, or people who struggle to wake up early, would provide a sufficiently soft, ambient, diffuse light to fill in the shadows left by a bright point source like a desk lamp.

    • My inexpert suggestion would be to try it out and see how you look. Check with other people as well.

      You might compare ambient lighting with the flat panel light on your screen and with others in your evaluation.

    • I think those lights are full spectrum. At least they used to be. So, they are designed to mimic the rays of the sun. Normal indoor lighting doesn’t have that feature.

      Full spectrum used to be available in what looked and fitted like a regular fluorescent tube. They were easy to spot because the tub looked like someone had grabbed it at each end and twisted it.

  4. Avoid appearing on camera. This lets you conduct business from anywhere. And I acknowledge the type of business will affect all this. I’ve done this since way before the virus, and Hollywood Squares gets old quickly.

    I am particularly fond of the beach, garden, local Starbucks when it was open, patio table at a restaurant on the water, etc. An iPad lets you look at any screen shares of documents. $160 gets a good noise/wind cancelling earpiece, and lets you answer the phone anywhere.

  5. I started an interview podcast, and for the second episode landed a Logitech model at Staples. It’s not from the 930 series, it’s one step down, a C615. I’m very happy with that. My face I can’t do anything about.

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