Cynthia Vincent, Master Virtual Training Instructor at BIZ Group shares the dos and don’ts of video calling and how to adapt to the new business environment.
We are living through a time of change. As the world continues to adapt to the COVID-19 situation, it has become clear that this is not going to be a short-lived crisis. Even as lockdowns and restrictions start to ease, many of us will continue adapting to a smart way of working and living. These changes for many of us have been difficult, but we have come to appreciate some of the luxuries we have today. When it comes to business, video calling platforms such as Zoom, have literally saved companies. Adapting to digital platforms has allowed many businesses around the world to continue many of their day-to-day running’s. Some may think that it has allowed global corporations to become closer, as they move onto virtual meetings that allow for more regular interaction with colleagues.
But the transition to the digital way of working isn’t always an easy one. There are many challenges that have and are being faced by businesses as they continue to navigate the new normal. And when it comes to virtually working many of us are still learning – should I have my camera on? What if my kids come running in? The rules of etiquette in the workplace are essentially being rewritten. Bring in Cynthia Vincent and Biz Group. Biz Group provides business and leadership coaching as well as team-building events to companies in the Middle East bringing together teams and allowing them to feel motivated and move forward positively. Unfortunately, the traditional methods of bringing teams together are obsolete in the current climate so it was crucial to adapt their learning solutions to digital platforms.
As a leadership coach and consultant Cynthia Vincent’s role has changed drastically since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. Her usual role relied on personal interaction with individuals and businesses in order to train and develop in professional soft skills. When the crisis hit Cynthia was quick to adapt, transforming her skills and applying them to a virtual environment, in order to offer clients a service that was relevant and meaningful in today’s working environment. Here we discover with Cynthia some of the dos and don’ts of video calling and how businesses and individuals can quickly adapt to the new normal.
What can you tell us about your role as a virtual training instructor?
For more than 15 years I have worked as a classroom-based instructor and facilitator delivering Leadership, Communications and Soft Skills Professional courses. The harsh reality of COVID-19 changed that overnight. My professional survival demanded a quick pivot to delivering all learning virtually. Fortunately, I had attended a Virtual Instructor Training course several years ago on a whim. At the time I thought it would be a ‘nice to have’ feather to add to my cap. Fast forward to March 2020 and that turned out to be a VERY valuable feather! The first priority was to design and deliver a Virtual Train the Trainer course for our team of consultants so that they could make the transition to online delivery. Next, began the lengthy process of converting all of our Face to Face training programs to a virtual format or in the case of our Global IP Products, learning the Virtual content.
Since April I have been delivering training sessions exclusively via Zoom. There has been much to learn along the way but overall it’s been a great experience and we have received excellent feedback from the participants who have attended our virtual courses. Participant engagement is fundamental to the way we deliver the courses. We invest a lot of effort into our virtual delivery skills so that we ensure participants are happy and willing to give us their attention throughout the session.
What can businesses be doing to keep their employees motivated and connected during this time?
Regular check-ins are essential to keep employees motivated and connected. These check-ins on platforms such as Zoom or Teams can be one-to-one, as a whole team or even on an organisation level. Check-ins should be focused on connecting, clarifying goals and progress on KPIs, celebrating success and addressing challenges using collective intelligence.
It’s also important to empower people to tackle challenges to important issues. Giving ownership and then recognising achievements gives employees a sense of purpose knowing that they have made an impactful contribution to the team.
How are some businesses getting it right and what mistakes have you seen?
Jeff Bezos wrote in his April 2017 letter to Amazon shareholders: “Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases you’re probably being slow” I think this idea very much applies to our current reality.
- Businesses need to act with urgency coming up with targeted products and services that solve problems for their clients. None of us can be 100% or even 90% sure about the choices and actions we need to take to survive this crisis. But analysis paralysis wastes valuable time. Businesses simply can’t afford to not take action; salaries need to be paid, the bills keep coming and market share will go to the early responders.
- The best organisations create safety for experimentation so that employees are comfortable trying things that have never been done before. A culture of fear squashes innovation. And innovation is exactly what is needed today. But with innovation and experimentation, there will inevitably be mistakes and failed ideas. A culture of safety will mean that people feel comfortable sharing their mistakes so that the entire team can learn from them ensuring that processes can be improved and similar problems can be avoided in the future.
- Finally, we all have to learn, learn, learn. Most people agree that the post-COVID-19 world will be dramatically different from the past. Businesses need to help their employees learn the new skills needed to succeed in the future.
What can you tell us about some of the courses you’re running to assist in effectively communicating and working virtually?
One of our most popular courses is Think on your Feet®, a course that develops and practices the skills needed for spontaneous communication – face to face or virtually – so that you speak with clarity, brevity and impact. We also offer a course through our partnership with The Ken Blanchard Companies® called Leading Virtually that addresses the skills needed to lead virtual teams.
Finally, another course we offer from The Ken Blanchard Companies is Building Trust which unpacks this very important component of leadership – particularly in times like these when we are disconnected and concerned with what the future holds.
What is something positive that will come from this situation?
Speaking for myself, this experience has taught me to not take opportunities to connect with my colleagues for granted. It has made me more empathetic – not everyone is coping well with the dramatic changes in our lives professionally and personally. We have all been there for each other and this has brought us closer. Finally, we have all enhanced our skillset and moving forward will be able to seamlessly switch between in-person or virtual ways of working together.
How do you see the workplace changing for good once all of this is over?
This experience has taught us to work in a leaner more cost-efficient manner. Future efficiencies will be used to invest in making the business stronger and more resilient.
Necessity meant that we all had to be more adaptable and not tie ourselves strictly to our job description. I hope this flexible mindset continues once life gets back to the new normal.
How has Biz Group adapted digitally to the current crisis?
Rapid response agility has been the key to our successful digital transformation and more importantly a team of talented and committed employees who have been living one of our core values – Believe Anything is Possible every day of the week. I won’t lie, we didn’t have the solution to this crisis perfectly mapped out from the start. But we acted quickly, pulled the team together, assessed capability, identified subject matter experts, invested in technology platforms and threw ourselves into a flurry of learning, adapting and project planning.
To begin with, we fast-tracked learning on the digital platforms needed to effectively do our jobs such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom by running multiple short learning sessions on those platforms. The next step was to maximise our engagement with the many team collaboration tools available. Finally, we have taken advantage of the ways these tools can enhance human connection; we have a morning huddle every day on Zoom and have regular Zoom social gatherings on Thursdays either at lunch or after work.
The learning curve over the past two months has been steep but with a huge effort from everyone, we can now confidently say that we are ready and able to respond digitally to the unprecedented circumstances we have found ourselves in.
What can you tell us about the three pillars of Content, Credibility and Connection?
An easy way to get every video call right is to master the 3 pillars of Content, Credibility and Connection.
- Make sure you are clear about the agenda or purpose of the call and stick to that topic as much as possible.
- Use the tools of the platform to maximise the contribution of all participants, hands up, chat box, ticks and crosses allow everyone to contribute
- When you contribute, make sure your comments are user-friendly (Unique, Succinct, Evidence-Based, Relevant). Most of us have short attention spans in the virtual world. Keep your comments brief, clear and to the point.
- Assign a Scribe to capture follow-up actions and post the document to a common platform or email to the attendees.
- Be prepared to contribute and add value to the discussion.
- . Looking professional and pulled together is part of establishing credibility. It’s not a beauty contest but rather a pleasing and professional look that matters.
- Remain calm in the face of technical disobedience. If things go wrong, do your best to remedy the situation and if needed reschedule the call.
- Laptops are preferable to phones for most situations and do your best to consider the environment around you. The best background is neutral and professional with good lighting.
- Enable your camera. Cameras are the next best thing to in-person connection. It’s very difficult to build rapport and read between the lines when all you have to go on is a blank computer screen. And when using your camera, make sure that you are positioned in the middle of the frame and when speaking look directly into the camera (as opposed to staring at your screen)
- Organise a daily huddle. 15-20 minutes for the team to connect is gold dust to keeping everyone engaged and aligned.
- Make small talk when people log in to the meeting, build rapport, break the ice and show interest in their lives outside of work.
- Lighten up and remember to smile. Your body language will influence the mood of the group and a bit of humour from time to time is a great way to connect.
A few things to perhaps consider when working with video calls:
Microphone – unless you are in a noisy environment keep it off mute so that you can seamlessly join in the conversation. Headsets are an asset because not only do they improve your sound quality but they also reduce background noise.
Clothing – I think formal work attire (ties and jackets) looks a bit odd at the moment. Few of us would wear a jacket and tie at home so everyone will know that you just put it on for the call. That said, I think wearing a t-shirt or pyjama top to the office video call is too far in the other extreme. A smart-casual look should be sufficient. Pro-tip: avoid busy patterns, solid colours look best on camera. And make sure they don’t see your pyjama bottoms if you stand up during the call!
Camera – for the average employee, built-in laptop cameras are sufficient. But if you want to look professional you can’t beat the quality of a good external webcam – Logitech has some affordable high-quality cameras and even the simplest models do a great job.
Background – In an ideal world you would have a simple, tidy background but not all of us have the luxury of dedicated office space when working from home. Many of the video call platforms offer virtual backgrounds or at least the option to blur your background. If using a virtual background stick with a neutral, professional background rather than ‘working from the beach’ unless it’s an informal call. Warning: be aware that background bloopers can also involve family members moving from the shower to dressing rooms!
Lighting – The best lighting solution is turning your laptop so that you face a window. If that isn’t possible make sure that you are not sitting with a window behind you and a simple desk light facing you can work wonders.
Make-up – Unless you are the main event, makeup should be optional. My best advice is to turn your camera on before the call and make your own judgement. If you have always worn makeup to work, however, not doing so might signal that you are a little bit ‘too relaxed’ or have rolled out of bed just in time for the call.
What about kids/dogs?
Let me start by saying that I think we have all become more tolerant of these kinds of distractions. In particular, parents with young children are facing incredible challenges in working from home. If possible, schedule your calls at a time when you know kids will be occupied or when you have someone at home to help. If the kids are old enough, set some rules around times when interruptions are allowed and when they aren’t. That may be a post-it note on the door or a hand signal when they approach.
As far as pets are concerned, if you can put them in another room that would be best. On the other hand, if locking them away sends them into a barking frenzy then perhaps allowing them to rest nearby is the best solution.
If all else fails and the interruptions happen don’t take it too seriously. If needed, switch off your camera and microphone, sort it out and return to the call as quickly as possible. And, when it happens to someone else, a little bit of empathy and understanding will go a long way.
Should we arrive on time?
While you are familiarizing yourself with the technology I recommend signing on about ten minutes before the call. Once you are more experienced with the platforms, five minutes early is great … it gives you time to chat and connect with your colleagues. Exactly on time can be risky if you face any tech problems but should be acceptable if you connect seamlessly. Arriving late in person or virtually is never a good idea. The best practice is for the host to start on time out of respect to those who made it a point to be on time. Arriving late means that you will potentially interrupt the flow or at the very least miss the key opening messages. And most importantly, always being the latecomer doesn’t speak well for your personal brand.
How do we know when to speak?
When on a call of up to four people I think it’s fine to have microphones on and to naturally jump in as you see fit. This may mean that you occasionally talk over each other, but with small groups it is manageable. If you are hosting a call, demonstrate a bit of authority making sure that everyone has a voice and politely managing those who are overcontributing. If you are on a call with more than five participants it’s useful to use the tools available on many platforms such as the chat box and the hands up. This does, however, require that the host or a co-host keeps their eyes on those feedback panels to manage the contributions.
What time should we schedule calls for?
It depends on individual preferences and other commitments. Generally speaking, most people have more mental bandwidth for clear thinking in mid to late mornings.
It’s also important to take into consideration cultural holidays and religious rituals (such as Ramadan) as well as time zone considerations when working globally. If you are part of a global team then it’s a good idea to schedule regular meetings on a time rotation so that one group doesn’t always have either the very late or very early time to deal with.
If you’re interested to find out more about how you can tackle the challenges of working from home and leading virtually with confidence, contact Biz Group on 04 146 2400 or visit www.learningwithbiz.com