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Connecting with empathy and poise: A guide to being behind the webcam

We’re entering week four of working remotely as a company. Our normally bustling office is empty, and we’re all learning to make offices out of our homes and maintain homes inside our new makeshift offices. It’s the “new normal,” but there’s nothing normal about it. This isn’t your standard teleworking break from the office. Coworkers and clients with kids are balancing parenting, teaching, and working, and all of us are learning to make changes to our standard routines.

One part of the new routine that’s going to be sticking around for a while: video conferencing.

Like most companies, we’re no strangers to video conferencing. But as the primary means of communication, and in the midst of a global pandemic? That’s new to us—and to our clients. With that framing in mind, we developed a guide to connecting with empathy and poise while video conferencing with clients and colleagues. Read on to learn more.

  1. Set the stage. Make sure the spot where you choose to set up shop has good lighting, ideally natural lighting. And don’t forget about your background. You may have tuned out the chaos behind you, but your audience will notice. The odd child or pet making it into the frame is fun and charming. Kids fighting, dogs barking, and chaos everywhere for 30 minutes or more? Not so charming.
  2. Look into the camera. It can be tempting to try to multitask on video conference calls, but it’s important that you give your audience 100% of your attention. You may not think it’s noticeable when you check your tabs on another monitor or start replying back to an email, but we promise you it is.
  3. Read the room. Getting your message across can be a little trickier when you’re not face to face, but it’s imperative that you are able to empathize with the people on the other side of the screen. Keep your conversations concise, but human. Connect with your audience on a personal level; don’t just run through your slides. And don’t forget to thank your audience for their time. Everyone is stuck at home, and time is even more precious than usual right now. Make sure your colleagues and clients know that their time is valued.
  4. Practice! The occasional tech mishap is going to happen, but a little prep goes a long way in preventing communication issues. If you’re using a platform that’s new to you, test it out on a coffee catch-up or happy hour call first. If that’s not possible, at least take a few minutes to watch a tutorial or play around with the platform before the call to familiarize yourself. If you’re sharing your screen during the call, have your document ready to go in its own window. Put your computer on “do not disturb” to minimize distracting pings. If it’s a complicated deck or important meeting, consider having a colleague run the deck and handle dial-ins for you.
  5. Get the right tools. Use corded headphones, or better yet, no headphones if you know there won’t be any background noise. Bluetooth is great until it cuts out in the middle of your presentation. If your background is too dark, consider investing in a ring light. Make sure your computer is charged and the charger is accessible. Having the right tools nearby can make a world of difference in how you come across on screen.

Whether you’re talking with clients, colleagues, or even just catching up with your friends and family—the most important thing is to connect with empathy. Virtual communication can feel a step removed from in-person conversations, and it can be easy to tune out. In order to keep things moving and make the most of this time, we need to treat every video call as if you’re sitting in the same room as your audience. Give your colleagues and clients the respect they deserve, and your relationships and your own outlook on the situation will only improve.

For more insight on making the most of the “new normal”, check out Centerline’s COO Tami Gaythwaite’s tips for working remotely in the midst of the pandemic.