Bridget Leathley, thesaferchoice.co.uk is a freelance health and safety consultant, she is a Chartered member of IOSH as well as a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society.
Bridget provides risk management support in facilities, retail and office environments. She delivers face-to-face safety training including IOSH and bespoke courses, and contributes to e-learning courses through evaluations and design work. She has been writing for health and safety publications since 1996.
All over the world, people are video calling. Colleagues are collaborating using Microsoft Teams for video conferencing, and grandparents with iPads are using FaceTime. Meanwhile schools, universities and professional training organisations have moved to virtual classrooms, and Zoom has become a household name with up to 200 million people a day joining Zoom calls.
Alongside the growth of the Zoom app, existing messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Google Meet (previously Hangouts) have seen a growth in their use for video calls. From January to April 2020 there was a 25-fold increase in the number of Meet sessions. WhatsApp increased its capacity for video calling to allow eight people on a call, and Facebook expanded the video features on Messenger and the live-streaming features on Facebook and Instagram.
Some tools are better than others for collaboration, with document sharing, breakout rooms and interactive whiteboards, but what all these communication apps all have in common is the use of a camera to supplement a voice call.
Before March this year I was using many of these channels for their screen sharing capabilities, but in most cases people shared documents, not video. But people now want to spend time connecting, not just exchanging information. Video-on has become the norm. How then can you get the best from a video call?
Before the call, sit in front of your laptop or PC and open the camera app. Most camera apps will let you record a video, so you can watch yourself talking to see how it looks. Consider the following points:
Is your screen the correct height?
If you have set your computer screen to the optimum position for working ergonomically you will have to adjust it for a video call. The standard advice is to have the top of your screen at or just below eye level, but in that position people will be looking up your nose, and even the leanest people can appear to have more than one chin. For a more flattering view raise your screen so that your webcam is above your eyeline. Aim for a position where your eyeline is two-thirds of the way up on your screen.
If you use a laptop, you need a laptop stand for your desk which can be adjusted easily, quickly and by small amounts. My previous laptop stand had broadly spaced notches, so I had the choice of having people look down at my head or up my nose. If I tried adjusting my chair it became uncomfortable to take notes at the same time! My Nexstand allows me to fine tune the height of my screen perfectly.
Are you the right distance from the screen?
Too close to the screen and every freckle and hair will be magnified to monstrous proportions and even the most mild-manner participant can look aggressive. At the other extreme, I’ve seen a wide view of someone’s kitchen, with a collection of used coffee cups more prominent than the person I want to talk to.
You want a slight gap above your head, with a view of your upper chest, shoulders and face in the centre of the screen. Try adjusting the angle of your screen as well as the distance to get the right framing.
Do you need to adjust the lighting?
If you work side-on to a window or other light source, one side of your face will be in shadow and the other over-bright. If the light source is behind you, the camera will focus on the bright window and you will be a dark silhouette in front of it. However even if you are lucky enough to work facing a window, be aware of what happens to the lighting at different times of the day.
My office is great for the first couple of hours of the day, but from mid-morning onwards on a bright day I look like a ghost. I’ve tried shutting the curtains, but then I look like a hermit. Walk around your workspace to find the best lighting at different times of day. Once you’ve found the best lighting, you’ll need to make the necessary height adjustments. A light and portable laptop stand such as Nexstand will make it easier to move to the best lighting, whether you’re working from home or back in a workplace. If you spend a lot of time on video calls, try and do some of them standing. That will mean more height adjustments, but you’ll notice the benefits for your wellbeing.
Take the call
Just as you need to take breaks when using your computer for other work, you’ll need breaks during video calls. If you’re in charge, schedule a short comfort break for people to stand up and stretch every 40 minutes or so. Listen on mute, and when it’s your turn, speak clearly and slowly. And if you want other people to feel that you are engaging, don’t look at their image, but look directly into that webcam!