|To keep employees healthy during a pandemic, companies are forced to minimize contact during the commute and at work. / Photo by Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock|
To keep employees healthy during a pandemic, companies are forced to minimize contact during the commute and at work. This means teleworking for many office workers. Remote work, though, can be a challenge, especially if several members of the family are also trying to study or work together. With workplaces and homes merged into one, the boundaries between the professional and personal lives are also starting to erode and awkward situations follow.
If you are like one of the people who transformed overnight from an office worker into a telecommuter, you may have taken a few video calls with your colleagues who answered in odd places, such as their closet or bathroom, just to avoid their kids. Some colleagues may just completely surrender such boundaries and allow their kids and pets to be a part of the online meeting. The scene is heartwarming and cute but it could also prolong the meeting or disrupt it altogether. How then do you make online video meetings less awkward for you and your colleagues?
Test your webcam, microphone, and internet speeds
Brian X. Chen of The New York Times said a little preparation can go a long way to make video calls more comfortable. This can be done by testing your set up. There’s no point in having a video call if one can’t hear or see their colleague. The least you can do is a test run, to ensure that the call will sound and look good with minimal technical glitches. Test your webcam first and adjust your camera angle and indoor lighting so your face will be properly lit. Be mindful also of your background and remove things that you wouldn’t normally want your colleagues to see, such as dirty laundry and your liquor collection. These things should be out of your camera frame.
The next step is to make sure that you sound good during the video call by testing your microphone. The built-in microphone on the laptop may sound poor so you can choose to use an external microphone. You may also do a video call with your friend first and ask him or her how you sound. Form there, adjust accordingly if necessary.
Conduct an internet speed test. Since many people are also staying in their homes and are connecting to the internet at the same time, the service or bandwidth may be slowing down in neighborhoods. You can visit speedtest.net to know your internet speed. If the result is below 20 megabits per second, there’s a high possibility that you will have audio delays and your video will look pixelated.
|Video-chatting apps like Google Hangouts and Zoom will allow you to mute the microphone before attending the online meeting. / Photo by fizkes via Shutterstock|
Mute your microphone if it’s a group meeting
Before joining a group meeting, mute your microphone by default to avoid sounds like screaming kids and barking dogs interfering with the call. Video-chatting apps like Google Hangouts and Zoom will allow you to mute the microphone before attending the online meeting. The person leading the meeting should be the only one with a turned-on microphone. When it’s your turn to speak, simply click the unmute button.
Our families are important but it doesn’t mean your colleagues would want to see our pets on your keyboards, your kids throwing their toys, or your partner wearing only their bathrobe. This is why it’s important to draw boundaries when taking the video call. You may choose to shut the door for the meantime when you are on a video call. If you don’t have a home office, just point your camera on a blank wall and away from common areas.
Respect people’s attention and time
Businesses may be tempted to ask people to join back-to-back meetings in offices but it doesn’t apply in remote work. Software company Basecamp’s founder Jason Fried said there is no need to replicate office meetings into video conferences. He emphasized respecting other people’s attention, time, and space and give them room while they are doing work remotely. This is because asking a colleague to attend the virtual meeting requires more preparation than you think. Aside from setting up their tech, they may have to ask someone to take care of their kids or make other arrangements.
Remote work: statistics
In the US, about 4.7 million employees or 3.4% of the total workforce worked from home at least half the week before the pandemic. In 2016, the percentage of people who worked at home by industry were as follows: professional, scientific, and technical services (12%), health care and social assistance (4%), finance and insurance (9%), manufacturing (3%), educational services (3%), retail trade (3%), public administration (4%), administrative and support and waste management and remediation services (6^), information (10%), other services except for public administration (5%), wholesale trade (7%), construction (3%), retail estate and rental leasing (8%), accommodation and food services (2%), transportation and warehousing (3%), arts, entertainment, and recreation (3%), agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting (6%), mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction (2%), utilities (3%), and management of companies and enterprises (5%). This is according to the telecommuting research platform Global Workplace Analytics.
Job types of remote workers
Video conferencing tech company Owl Labs surveyed 1,202 full-time workers in the US between the ages of 22 and 65. They found that 32% or 754 of them work remotely at any frequency and 38% or 457 of them work on-site. The remote workers by job level are 35% individual contributors, 32% team managers, 13% directors, 3% VPs, 3% SVP/EVPs, 5% founder/C-level, and 9% consultants. Among the respondents they surveyed, the departments that were most represented by remote workers were facilities/operations/information technology (18%), customer support/service/success (14%), Sales (13%), Administrative (11%), Human Resources/People Ops (7%), and product/engineering (7%).
When the Owl Labs research team asked their respondents how the ability to work remotely impacts their happiness at work and their loyalty to their company, 84% of the remote workers said the setup made them happier compared to the 81% of on-site workers. Also, 84% of remote workers agree with the statement that working remotely would make them feel more trusted at work compared to 79% of the one-site workers. However, these statistics for happiness, loyalty, and retention may not be the same in the current situation where ongoing global lockdown has forced firms to embrace their staff working remotely. They may have reduced productivity, focus, satisfaction, and engagement. In short, remote work works best if it is by choice and not during a pandemic.