Alright, listen up! Sure this BYOD/telecommute/working-from-home thing is sweet - it can save your company a bundle, get you into meetings you couldn’t otherwise touch with a stick, and save you a lot of travel time, but you have do your part too. Here’s the thing:
A lot of you have stuck your home office in the garage or wherever your spouse stores the shovels, and you sound like you're at the wrong end of a bus station. You roll out of bed one minute before the day’s first meeting, and with your poorly-aimed camera we’re treated to a glimpse of your Snoopy pajama bottoms (that clip-on tie doesn’t fool anybody) and some of the worst bed-hair ever committed to video. Some of you don't even have video, you call in with your muffled "cellphone voice" and let the wireless network shred every fifth word.
I’ll let you in on something. You're competing with everyone else on that meeting, and they sound like they’re right there in the room. They're dressed for business, and unlike you they don't just look like backlit silhouettes snipped from black paper by that whiskey-breath guy at the carnival. You need to engage with them, whether it’s to defend your budget request or to explain something simple, so you have to be as "here and now" as they are. Otherwise you’re just an unshaven shadow on the call. Unfair but true; if you don't fix that, your words won't be taken as seriously as theirs. So here are some tips to enhance your credibility, stay efficient - and when it comes to it, have a lot more fun with whatever you’re doing.
1. Build down from “being at work,” not up from “hungover in bed.”
Get yourself this basic attitude and sign up to it. You want them to perceive you as though you had actually gone to all the trouble they did. Plan for being on video, fully dressed in whatever you normally wear for business. If you decide to secretly slip on a pair of Batman slippers to boost your confidence, let it be the exception, not the rule.
2. Be as engaged as they are.
It’s easy to drop out of a conversation after a couple of crossed interruptions, but keep pitching. A lot of people talk less and less through a teleconference, sometimes burned out so completely they don't even inject their scathing trademark “as if!” at the end. But if you’re not saying anything as the discussion progresses, the others don't know you’re still there. Yet, you are THERE, right? So let ‘em know! If you have a question or comment, drop it in. If you can't find a space to talk for a few seconds, that's time to further shape your contribution and make it even more focused and brilliant. Speak up - not obnoxiously, but consistently: you're there because you're smart and the expert in something, so make sure your voice is heard. They need you.
3. Look as real as they do.
The days when “phoning it in” was good enough have passed. Everyone’s accustomed to video now, and expects that you’ll either be on video yourself, or have a darn good reason why not. Voices without video are the first voices forgotten.
4. Sound as real as they do.
Listen to the voices in the next teleconference you’re on. Notice how the guys who call through cellphones just don’t sound as solid and credible as the ones with real sound? Notice how you wonder whether they hung up, the moment they stop talking? I’m not going to get back into the whole HD Voice thing right now, but it’s a “thing” only because it’s true - there's a lot of importance in the human voice that's decapitated by any POTS network connection. If you’re on video you’re probably OK (all video has at least 7 kHz HD Voice these days), but if you're on voice-only, you'll want to call in on VoIP or some other HD-capable connection like Polycom's RealPresence Mobile/Desktop, or Skype for Business, to sound clear. HD Voice is the standard now, not plain old telephone sound. Don't be the only one in the meeting who sounds like they're calling from a 1930’s drugstore.
5. Light up.
When face to face, the human eye is astonishingly forgiving when it comes to uneven or weak lighting. Cameras, not so much. Look at how you appear on the video screen for a meeting and fix it. Bright window behind you? Throw a shade over it or change the camera’s direction. Strong shadows on your face, or it’s all dark? Stick a desk lamp on the table and turn it on. Frame yourself, too: be close enough that we see you clearly, and far enough that we get your full, engaged face and some perspective, not just a close-up of your sweaty forehead as you sag forward in despair.
6. Find which part of the shovel is the handle.
Some collaboration tools today can be pretty complex. Unfortunately, there’s no glory in confessing “I don’t know how to use this” to a live meeting of your peers who do. So while you can tell the vendor “this is too hard, you gotta fix it,” for now you have to learn how it works. Ask your own organization for training. Make a few test calls so you can try the thing out. It’s far better to ask a friend “do you see these slides” in a test call before engaging a prospective customer only to discover no, they don't. Extra benefit: others will see you as the expert, and they'll ask you to help them too. That's never a bad thing.
The point of teleworking is that you can get energized on a whole new level and contribute your talents to new places and new opportunities. So put that one-time effort into getting your telework setup tuned. You and everyone you work with will benefit for years.