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For many of us, the first -- and, arguably, most essential -- element of working from home is staying connected to our teams. Today, millions of people are using video to make that possible.
That shift, however, has also turned our most private inner sanctums into our professional-facing workspaces. As a result, workers are seeking home video conferencing setup advice they can use to transform their home offices into professional streaming studios to help them improve how they look during video meetings.
The good news is you do not need to immediately spend thousands of dollars to redo your home office into a studio. YouTube has set the bar pretty low. We are used to seeing poor-quality video feeds from rooms with unmade beds in the background. But, if you follow a few simple tips, you can be miles ahead of the crowd. If you do choose to spend money on streaming gear, you can absolutely take it to the next level. With the proper preparation, even a basic setup will have you looking more professional and enable you to communicate more efficiently with your teams. Let's look at three areas to achieve a professional looking home video conferencing setup: gear, appearance and meeting occasion.
1. The right gear enhances home video quality
There is no real "required gear," as you often must make do with what you have. It is just a matter of what gear will most improve your home office video conferencing setup experience.
Video. A laptop webcam will do if that is your only option, but an external UBS webcam is usually superior in terms of video quality and should generally the first item on your home studio wish list.
Audio. The headset that came with your phone is probably sufficient, but buying a decent headset is something that bears investigating. If people are straining to hear you, it affects meetings and productivity. You may not hear the difference in sound quality yourself if you get a better microphone, but you will notice that video conference participants appear to understand you more easily when you are speaking.
Connectivity. Speaking of frustration, if your home office is connected by Wi-Fi, expect some irritation. Today's video products do an excellent job of connecting over Wi-Fi, but wireless connections still tend to be less reliable than wired ones. If you can put a router in your office space, it might save you a lot of headaches down the road.
Productivity. From a productivity standpoint, the strongest recommendation I can make is to have a second monitor. To be clear, I do not mean a second computer, with a second keyboard and other peripherals. I mean connecting a second monitor to your existing desktop or laptop computer. The second monitor works as an extension to your main display; files and other documents are dragged over as needed. This enables you to use one monitor for the meeting and the second to share the content you are working on. It can be confusing to have everything on a single screen.
Beyond those basics, there are a variety of other enhancements to examine, among them green screen backgrounds, fancy lighting, DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) cameras, acoustically treated walls and audio mixers. It can become an awfully expensive hobby that never ends. But none of that is really required, and a lot of it can even be done creatively and affordably.
2. Lighting, framing improve on-camera appearance
Taking a few minutes to consider how you appear on screen can make a world of difference in your home video conferencing setup. It seems like 99% of people just click that meeting link, turn on their cameras and see themselves on screen for the first time. Make a test call and go through the basics.
Lighting. Make sure lighting is in front of you and not behind so your face is illuminated and you're not just a shadow. Check your surroundings to ensure that whatever is behind you is appropriate and not distracting.
Framing. Take the time to frame yourself well on screen. You don't want that view looking up your nose, the one where half your head is cut off or where you appear down in the corner. If you fill the screen like a newsperson, you look like you know what you are doing.
Software. Speaking of knowing what you are doing, learn your software. Today's video software is not that tricky to learn, and it just looks a lot smoother if you can immediately share the screen, rather than fumble around for two minutes while you attempt to complete the task.
3. Make considerations for the meeting occasion
Not all meetings are the same. While the general tips above apply to almost any video meeting, there are some considerations you should make depending upon the purpose of the meeting.
Video background. Whether you are using a virtual background or not, it needs to be appropriate for the session. Over the last year, most of us learned the messy bedroom background is not a great look. Your baseline should be a professional home office setting, with enough personal items like books and trophies visible to appear interesting without distracting. If comfortable with a virtual background, you should consider customizing it for the meeting''s occasion. For a meeting with externals, utilizing some company branding is often a good idea. Something as simple as a logo over your shoulder helps to identify you in people's minds.
Microphone settings. The latest generation of USB microphones are supported by desktop apps, allowing you to modify the way you sound. For most meetings, you want to sound as natural and unmodified as possible, not weird, distorted or distracting. These apps can also help clean things up and reduce background noise while still maintaining a natural sound. For events like opening announcements in a large webinar or headlining a big online event, you may even want to add a bit of resonance to your voice, as a subtle bit of vocal treatment can help create the illusion of immersion for your audience.
Share screen. The ability to share screens is one of the most essential, and misused, feature of any video conferencing platform. People can easily ruin meetings if they don't consider the purpose of a screenshare. When you share screen, you generally make everyone's video feed into a thumbnail, or even hide it entirely, depending on which video app you are using. It is a tradeoff -- you can see the content, but you lose the people or at least the full-sized view of people.
Screenshares are only necessary when the meeting participants need to look at specific content. One extreme, but real-life, example is a host who shared a slide that just said "Welcome!!" and left it up for the entire meeting. For 30 minutes, instead of face-to-face discussions about the meeting topic, everyone was looking at the welcome slide and missing the full benefit of a video conference.
Gallery or speaker view. Many video platforms offer the gallery view -- the Brady Bunch view -- or a full-screen view of the current speaker. New or less technically savvy users have the option to leave it on the default setting for their video service, although it is worth taking a few seconds to customize your view. Sometimes, you might even want to change view during a meeting which can significantly improve a meeting experience. For example, if you are on gallery view with just one person talking, you are missing out by not having the speaker large on the screen so you can pick up all nonverbal communications. On the flip side, if you are on current speaker view during an active back and forth discussion, all the switching will get distracting, and you will miss people's reactions to the group discussion.
Bottom line, not all meetings are the same. While default settings will generally do the trick, taking the time to customize a few things based on the meeting's occasion can improve your results.
The last piece of advice is more about team setup than video setup, but make sure your team understands the new remote workflow. For many of us, in-room meetings have been replaced by video meetings; hallway chats swapped with team chat apps. Make sure that everyone is connected and is comfortable during those times you need to escalate a team chat to a video conference.
With just some basic gear and a few test calls, you and your team can be meeting from home and looking like pros over video. Just keep your nice "video attire" hanging up by the door and ready to go when meetings start. Finally, don't lock your pets out of the home office. Most folks like it when your dog or cat puts in a guest appearance.