The world of work changed overnight. Boundaries between work and family have been redefined as we cohabitate under shelter-in-place mandates around the country. And many organizations, of course, have been forced to embrace the idea of remote employees and how that shapes their culture moving forward.

This process doesn’t have to be a frustration — it can be an opportunity to learn how to take full advantage of video chat platforms like Zoom, Skype, or others.

In order for these digital tools to really work for your organization, we first recommend choosing a platform and sticking with it. This way, you can get familiar with the features and establish norms to make it more effective. 

To help you adopt this new reality with grace and style, here are 11 quick best practices to create great video chats:

1) MAKE IT A HUMAN INTERACTION

Whether you are one-on-one or in a collective setting, don’t forget to start with some kind of “check-in.” Begin with an inquiry that gets everyone present and connected such as “What’s one word that describes how you are feeling right now?” or “What has been your best moment today?” Starting with a simple inquiry like this will help everyone feel more connected to each another. 

2) CREATE A POSITIVE FRAME

What we experience is a direct reflection of the language we choose to use. For instance, I have stopped using the term “social distancing” and started using “physical distancing” instead, as it’s quite possible to stay socially-connected while being physically distanced. Imagine how many things you can do now within this new framework! Putting thought into how you frame your virtual interactions will positively shape the experience. 

3) USE YOUR VIDEO CAMERA

We know people often want to shut their cameras off, but communication is not just sound, it’s visual, so we encourage everyone to be on video. Many platforms even have ways to help you with virtual backgrounds if you think your room is messy or the dog keeps nudging you. 

We also know that lighting can also be a challenge, so make sure you have adequate light so you don’t show up like a silhouette — the most helpful trick is to face a window (avoid backlight).

4) KNOW YOUR AUDIO

My audio works best through my computer, but I have had to use the “phone audio” setting for meetings as well. And don’t forget to have headphones ready. They are useful if there are audio issues, loud background noises, or for privacy.

5) RECORD THE MEETING

Recordings keep perfectly accurate notes, of course, and you can share it with others. Many platforms give you the ability to trim the video as well if you want to just provide the “meat” of the meeting to extended team members.

6) EVERYONE CHECK YOUR NAME

Typically, your name will shows up somewhere near your video — everyone should check it and make sure it’s correct. Also, if people are dialing in via phone it can make it hard for people to know who’s talking, but on some platforms (like Zoom), the call Host can actually assign a name to phone numbers, as well.

7) MAKE IT INTERACTIVE

Use features like screen share in combination with Google Docs to collaborate in real-time. Some platforms have the ability to create polls in advance of your meeting, so you can take the pulse of the group on what you are talking about. In Zoom, you can also create Breakout Rooms to do small group discussions when you have a larger group.

8) PASS THE BATON

When you have more than a few people, you can use a simple technique we call “pass the baton” to keep the conversation moving, avoid “dead air,” and get broader participation. It’s simple: when one person is done talking, they just call on the next person who will go next!

9) TAKE BREAKS & AVOID SCREEN FATIGUE

Don’t jam up your calendar with back-to-back online meetings. It can be tempting to jump from one meeting to another. You may find it even easier to get to meetings on time, but everyone needs breaks, as well as solo time to think. Also build in movement and outside time. We may be sheltered, but we all need a Nature Fix.

10) HAVE INFORMAL CHATS, TOO

You can also use your chosen virtual platform for more informal activities, such as quick huddles, water-cooler-like check-ins, communal lunch gatherings, happy hour cocktails, birthday parties, and even games. We all need to connect on a human level… and not just talk about work all the time.

11) DON’T FORGET THE “CHECK-OUT”

This is a learning experience for all of us. Leave some space at the end of your meeting to gather ideas and reflect on the meeting to improve it for next time. How did the meeting go, what went well, and what would make it even better next time?

In my world of coaching, team development, and organizational development, there’s opportunity to use video chat platforms to do almost everything I did in person before COVID-19. I know we will be happy when physical distancing is no longer necessary, but I hope we can use some of what we’ll learn about keeping teams productive while being apart and sustain it into the future.

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Adrienne Seal is an executive coach and organization development consultant, workshop facilitator, speaker and founder of Spirit Tree Consulting. She is known for using evidence-based methods to support leaders as they create inclusive, equitable organizations with emotional intelligence, energy intelligence and cultural intelligence.

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