I read an interesting article on the downside of online communications of all sorts over on IFLScience. As someone who has worked from home three or more days a week since 1997, I know that what the author refers to as Zoom Fatigue is real, and not just limited to Zoom. The takeaway for me is that if you are doing a non-trivial amount of Zooming, your setup is worth spending some effort on. Proper camera angle, lighting, background (visual and aural), and sound quality are all key points that help reduce Zoom Fatigue. It is also important to pay attention to the performance of your Internet connection. If your image and voice, or the images and voices of those with whom you communicate, are constantly breaking up, that is not going to facilitate effective communications.
Here are some tips that can help your video teleconferencing experience be a pleasurable one.
1 – Check it out ahead of time. Make sure your audio and video work, and so forth. If you wait till the last minute your experience may be suboptimal.
2 – Let others in your household know that you are in a video meeting. It has happened in the past that people have had family members be surprised when they accidentally wandered onto camera.
3 – Check out your lighting. Please don’t have all the light in your room be directly behind you. The meeting participants won’t see you, they’ll just see the halo :-) I myself have lights to each side that reflect off the walls (although, if you have walls that are painted green, the results may be below par :-)
4 – Check your camera angle. A low camera angle often gives other participants a less-than-flattering view of your countenance. You might want to place your laptop or monitor on a pile of books or reams of printer paper to get the camera high enough for the ideal view.
5 – Open the chat window. Most conferencing software has a chat facility. You can use it if there is an audio problem, or to ask questions.
6 – Be conscious of background noise. People clearing dishes or using a leaf blower or a TV in an adjacent room can be distracting. If that happens, the meeting host may mute your microphone. You can use the chat window to ask to be unmuted. You can mute your own mike if you wish, using the on-screen controls. If you are hosting a large meeting it may be best if your start all the participants with their microphones muted, and let them unmute when they need to speak.
7 – Experiment! I am a big fan of the “grid” view – it reminds me of the old Hollywood Squares program.
8 – If you are going to share your screen, make sure you look it over carefully ahead of time. There might be something on there that you don’t want the other meeting participants to see.
9 – Another tip for screen sharing. Some computers will pop up little message windows when you receive text or email messages, or when it is time for an appointment. You will want to turn those off. They are distracting at best and might be embarrassing to boot. On a Mac you can control them at Apple Menu > System Preferences > Notifications > Do Not Disturb . If you know how to do this on a Windows system, please leave a comment and I’ll add that to this item and give you credit.
10 – A headset can make your voice easier for others to understand and vice versa. If you have a headset, give it a try and see how you like it.
11 – Center your video window below your camera so that when you look at the other participants, it will appear to them that you are looking them in the eyes.
12 – Real time media streams like live video and audio are sensitive to other traffic on your Internet connection, so it may help if other users abstain from using the net during your conference. This can be particularly true if you have a relatively low-bandwidth connection such as 3G wireless or DSL.
13 – When you schedule new Zoom meetings, please make sure that the “Require Password” box is checked. There is an existing situation (called Zoom-bombing) where attackers are able to identify active public Zoom meetings (i.e. non-password-protected meetings) and join them uninvited, then deliberately disrupt the meetings in various ways, like playing loud music, shouting streams of invective and profanity, or displaying disturbing / pornographic images. This type of attack can be avoided if you use a password with the meeting.
14 – Remember that if one uses a free Zoom account to host a meeting with three or more participants, the meeting will be limited in length to 40 minutes. At the 40 minute mark it shuts down abruptly and without warning. So it might be best if these meetings are planned to be 35-ish minutes long, and that the host set a timer to warn them when the end is near.
15 – Do not share a link to a teleconference or classroom on an unrestricted publicly available social media post. Provide the link directly to specific people via email or text message.
16 – Unless your meeting requires screensharing by participants, change screensharing to “Host Only.”
17 – Make sure that you and your meeting participants are using the updated version of remote access/meeting software. In January and March 2020, Zoom updated their software, adding security and privacy bug fixes and features that you will want to have.
As time goes by you will become accustomed to the software and you’ll appreciate the convenience of this technology.