Have a Video Conference App? How to Set Your Workplace Up for Success

From "Star Trek" to "The Jetsons" to those wristband holo-communicators the Power Rangers used, popular media has long been infatuated with video conferencing. However, the shows and movies of yesteryear didn't do a great job exploring the etiquette behind successfully using a video conference app. Mr. Spacely never chided George for using video conferencing to chat with an important sprocket-buying client from a cluttered office, and we never saw Picard using a lint roller on his Starfleet uniform before hailing from the bridge.

A woman sits in a home office on a video call.
Make sure to limit visible and audible distractions when using a video conference app.

Things are a little different in the real world. The rise of video conference apps has brought with it a new set of rules — not to mention spoken and unspoken etiquette — many of which center on the environment you're calling in from. Whether you primarily call from your desktop or frequently employ a video conferencing app on your phone or tablet, here are a few things to consider as you set up your conferencing area:

Test Your Call Before It's Important

Your video conferencing hardware and software are easily the most important parts of your calling space. Microphones, cameras, phones, tablets, PCs, and even the video conference app itself are all potential gotchas — you definitely don't want to have to reschedule a call when your camera fails two minutes before showtime. If you're setting up a new conferencing area, make sure all the equipment works before the fact. And if you're not, still make frequent testing part of your routine once a month or so at a minimum and a few days ahead of super-important calls.

Get Your Lighting on Lock

Per Fast Company, overhead lighting is the pits if you're interested in looking good during video calls. Instead, the site says to follow the (other) rule of threes: two natural light sources behind your camera, to the left and right, then another behind you. If you're primarily a mobile video caller, this effect may be harder to achieve. Even then, pay attention to how the lighting makes you look by making some test calls and experimenting.

Spouses and Roommates and Kids, Oh My!

Other people — particularly those who might walk through in their pajamas or a T-shirt proclaiming their love of pizza — are just as big a no-no on a video call as they would be in a real office setting. If you're calling from home, be sure to have a chat with your co-dwellers about the importance of steering clear of your calling area. If you're at the office, always carry out calls behind a closed door.

Ambient Noise Is the Enemy

Similarly, conversations in the next room or even kids playing quietly are almost certainly audible to your calling partners. The same thing goes for your cubicle mate's atrocious talk radio and Mike across the office's inane chatter about what he bought at the grocery store last week — how can one person's voice carry so darn far? Whatever your ambient noise challenges, make sure you squelch them, or even better, find a place where they're inaudible.

The Background Is Bigger Than You Think

Is frantically cleaning your calling area a key part of your pre-conference ritual? If so, make sure you give the camera a wide berth. More of the area may be visible than you think, and the last thing you want are piles of papers and assorted boxes cluttering up the edge of your co-worker's or client's screen. To repeat, a test call can work wonders here, as can a directed effort to keep clutter fully behind the camera's eye.

Mind Your Mobile Environment

On the topic of backgrounds people don't want to see, here are a few more: a crowded bus. Your bedroom, with the (made or unmade) bed directly behind you. Your car, particularly when it's in motion. In other words, a video conference app can definitely help manage an on-the-go lifestyle, but try to find a suitable environment for your calls all the same.

To some degree, a bland background is preferable when using a video conference app. Even if you don't want to go full-on boring, make sure there's nothing too visually grabbing about your background. That trippy wall painting, your beloved mug collection, and other patterned, colorful accouterments can pull your co-callers' eyes away from you, which can be a real problem in sales, marketing, and other calls where people should be paying attention to you. While they aren't technically part of the background, the same can be said for excessively flashy jewelry or clothing. In most cases, muted, solid colors are preferable to bright colors or patterns.

Now that you have these tips, you're ready to make the most of your video conference app.

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