Video conferencing is the digital version of the face-to-face meeting. This means you actually see the other people’s faces while attending (and showing yours). You will send and receive audio and video to and from everybody else.
In TightOps, meetings are not the first option. We do prefer asynchronous communication channels and writing things up, with consideration. Therefore:
Meetings should be avoided.
To understand why “Meetings are toxic”, you may want to read the chapter with the same title in ‘Rework’ by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.
To have productive meetings, read about the “Modern Meeting Standard” in Al Pimpatelli’s good and short book ‘Read this before our next meeting’.
Screen sharing is an essential part of successful online meetings. A shared screen makes it so much easier to get everybody on the same track and engaged.
Sharing your screen is an excellent way to present ideas, demonstrate something you are working on, or just getting some help with an issue you are having (troubleshooting).
The Etiquette of Video Conferencing
There are a few aspects in which Video Conferencing differs from classic face-to-face meetings. And, there are some more technical aspects to consider.
Use a Headset
Using a headset 1 benefits everybody on the call / video conference:
- removes accidental noise transmission when typing
- improves separation between sound input (mic) and output (headphones)
- microphone is closer to your mouth than the built-in computer mic
Avoid using your internal mic and speakers whenever possible. It add reverbs and reduces intelligibility.
Minimize Background Noise
In order to be understood and to understand the people you are talking to, minimize all kinds of background noise you can control.
Mute When Not Speaking
Muting yourself when not speaking is not only polite, it helps others on the call with listening and clearly understandnig the person currently speaking. Muting when not speaking is what most people with experience recommend. I agree that is usually a good approach.
However, if you are having calls with your team on a regula basis and everyone has appropriate good hardware, you may want to not mute. As Matt Mullenweg recommnends in Don’t Mute, Get a Better Headset.
Having mics open removes friction and reduces the reaction time it takes to unmute and speak. It is certainly the more natural-feeling way to speak with someone.
Tools for Video Conferencing
There is a plethora of tools for video conferencing and screen sharing.
Here’s a list of appplications in no particular order:
- Google Meet
- Jitsi Meet (open source, no account required)
- Talky (no account required)
Choose a Tool That Fits Your Needs and Context
There are two routes to go: If you are already using a team chat app like Slack etc., you can test their built-in solutions for calls and conferences.
Some tools require everybody on the call to have downloaded and installed an app (i.e. Skype) or participants need to be signed in to an account (i.e. Google Meet), some don’t.
Privacy & Security
Many tools offer free as well as premium plans (for professional or enterprise use). Privacy and security should be considered. Here’s some basic information on what to look for and what to avoid.
Zoom has established itself, almost becoming synonymous with professinal video conferencing. It is a very solid app, available for desktop and mobile. Connectivity is very consistent. As Zoom has become highly popular during the 2020 Covid-19 crisis, many issues around how it handles security, privacy and data protection have surfaced. At the time of this update (April 2020) Zoom is working to remedy its issues, but many companies and organizations have banned the use of Zoom.
Jitsi Meet, current tagline:
More secure, more flexible, and completely free video conferencing
Jitsi has been getting a lot of love due to the high demand during the 2020 Covid-19 crisis. It is free to use and open source. Certainly worth giving it a try.
Talky’s tag line is
Anonymous. Peer‑to‑peer. No plugins, signup, or payment required.
We really like talky. It’s super simple: You just go to their website and create a room (a URL to share with your teammates).
As the tag line states, it is anonymous, uses peer-to-peer technology, and WebRTC. It’s basically built on open-source software.
Master Your Tool
Not being able to proficiently operate the tools your are using is simply unprofessional and annoying.
If you have no experience with a particular tool your team is using, invest the time and research to master the basic functionality before you are on the call with everybody else. Wasting other people’s time is not an option.
- Test everything. Never assume "it’s just going to work", or that you will figure it out once you start actually using it.
- Be curious. Go through most, if not all, of the settings, buttons and menu items to get a good grasp of what the tool at hand is capable of.
- Use Google. There are plenty of resources out there (this site being one example).
A “headset” doesn’t need to be a clunky pair of headphones with an attached microphone (we are neither flying airplanes nor are we professional gamers). Just use your smartphone’s headphones – that’s as much of a headset you will need. ↩