It’s becoming increasingly common for software developers and other IT professionals to work remotely. While the amount of remote work required may vary among different companies and across the field, I think it’s likely that the trend will continue. As enabling technologies improve, web-based video calling and shared-desktop applications will be ubiquitous, and both employers and remote workers will see increasing value and share positive experiences with remote work arrangements.
Technology alone, however, cannot take the place of our social skills – you know – those abilities we’re supposed to develop that help us get along with others. In this post, I’m going to focus on video conferencing technology, or rather, on how we use it. I’ll focus on some simple things you, as a remote worker, can do to improve how your audience views you. This can be critical, since your audience is often comprised of your coworkers, managers, or most importantly, your customers.
In my work group, software developers regularly communicate with customers using video conferencing software. We all know how to use the technology, but after just a few months of meeting with developers and customers on these conference calls, it’s clear that there are individual differences in how we use the technology. I felt that someone needed to broach the topic of being aware of your on-camera self. Yes, self-awareness is a thing, Google it.
If you’re the consultant, or a remote worker trying to impress a manager skeptical of the benefits of remote work arrangements, you need to know how extremely easy it is to set the wrong expectation or make a bad impression. Below are some things to think about – preferably before you get on one of those really long video conference calls.
First – for the love of all things good and right in the world, test your web cam!
Is your webcam image washed out or too dark? Are you in focus? Is the framing bad? Are you too close or too far away from the cam? You should be visible right there in the center of the image frame, not too close, and not too far away. If you can’t see yourself on the cam, then neither can your coworkers or customers. We all read emotional cues from the cam, so make sure your face is right there in plain sight sending out the kind of cues you want. You know, the ones that say you’re competent, and confident, and a great worker to keep around.
Second – Your Face Speaks Volumes
Speaking of cues, everyone on a call can tell if you think someone just said something astoundingly dumb, or something you don’t understand, or something with which you disagree. Be aware of how your face can betray you. Your efforts of projecting a sense of calm professionalism and competence can be utterly undone the instant it takes you to make a face that clearly says, “Yikes, for a C-Level executive, that was a fantastically stupid thing to say.” If you wouldn’t ever say something like that to a customer, then why would you let your face say it for you?
The heart of this is twofold: practicing self-awareness, and being respectful of other participants during a video call. Try to be vigilant about your apparent attitude on camera, but at the same time, remain calm, try to be helpful, kind, and by the way, say please and thank you. You might be an international expert and a Nobel laureate, but if you scoff at a customer’s comment on camera, you might not have that customer much longer.
Third – Never Touch Your Face
Just don’t. Since I’ve already broken the seal and suggested that you say please and thank you, maybe it’s also perfectly appropriate to remind you that picking anything on your face is gross. Doing it on cam is inexcusable.
Fourth – Maintain Your Interest in the Conversation
Yes, it’s a long conference call, and yes, you’ve had a long day. Nobody cares. Nothing says, “Please find someone else to do my job” more than your obvious disinterest. Conference calls are part of the job, so yawn off cam, and work at actively listening and participating in the conversation. That’s exactly what’s expected of you, so get to it.
Fifth – You Can Do It
It doesn’t take much to make a bad impression, but on the other hand, it’s just as easy to keep making a good one. Pay attention, listen, ask pertinent questions when needed. Ask others to speak up if and when you cannot hear them, and don’t interrupt your customer when he or she is talking. Participate as you would if you were right there in the same room with your customer. In other words, act like the professional you believe you are. Wait – you do believe you’re a professional, right? There, that settles it. Now, simply make sure that when you’re on camera, you appear to be a professional.