virtual work

What's the Frequency, Kenneth?

frequency

Reducing Audio Feedback Across the Global Pond

As many global teams know all too well, staying on the same wavelength in video conferencing—despite all of our modern technologies—can remain a herculean effort. In a world getting increasingly smaller, a bad virtual connection reminds us of the distance that still remains between us. For teams working against great cultural and geographical distances a good audio connection can make the difference between teams working effectively together or simply wasting each others’ time.

In a recent Bridging Distance consultation with a globally distributed team we encountered typical feedback troubles.

Our first transatlantic meeting with this organization consisted of virtual attendees in Cambridge, Massachusetts; northern Massachusetts; New Jersey; and Paris, France. As the meeting opened in Cambridge, the attendees a mere hour away were greeted with static, feedback, and white noise, though the attendees in Paris heard them with crystal clarity. Although Cambridge, Massachusetts, considers itself to have a real European flair, this did nothing to facilitate communication with the actual Europeans. What happened? More importantly, what steps need to be taken so that everyone can participate fully?

The following are three tips to ensure communication clarity across distance

mute button

 1.  The Mute Button is Your Friend.

Use it.  When not speaking, mute your computer (especially if you are taking notes, as the even quiet clicking of a keyboard is amplified and broadcast to everyone).  Muting is often overlooked as “too basic” to make a difference, but even if you think you are in a quiet location, ambient noise can be the death knell to a productive virtual meeting.  Just be sure to unmute your microphone before speaking.

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2.  Wear Headphones (Not Just Earbuds!)

Headphones with microphones will reduce feedback, such as a Bluetooth or even the headphones that are included with the iPhone.

the screamEchoes are deadly.

With headphones, not only will you be able to hear your co-participants but they will be able to hear you!

If there is more than one person physically with you during the conference you may want to invest in a Polycom Calling Kit, or similar device.

The Polycom computer calling kit enables the phone to work with the Polycom PVX desktop video conferencing application, serving as the microphone and speaker for desktop video calls. Polycom Calling Kits will heighten the level of professionalism and take your business to the next level.

Polycom also makes a more cost-effective speaker and microphone device to plug into your computer. They are each optimized for different software and computer configurations, so be careful to purchase the correct one for your needs.

While Polycom may be the gold standard, the Yamaha PJP-20UR Web Conference Microphone Speaker is an example of a plug and play echo-cancelling device that seems simpler to use than the PolyCom devices.

3.  Limit Computers / Audio Sources to One Per Room.

business-woman-in-office-with-computer-talks-on-headsetThough it may be tempting to crowd around one screen when you have multiple people at one location, having more than one computer in a room increases feedback as the microphones pick up what other team members are saying. This is especially important if you do not have headphones and do not mute your computer, thus disregarding our previous expert advice.

While the difficulties may seem daunting and at times frustrating, audio and video conferencing is worth the effort.  Being able to see and hear each other clearly across great distances will lead to a greater sense of community and better collaboration across the board and across the world.

Question for readers: Have any advice or Pet Peeves when it comes to audio / video conferencing?

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Building Trust Virtually

Electronic Body Language refers to how our actions and habits in communications technology shape how others perceive us.

In yesterday’s workplace, people figured us out (and we them) as we worked side-by-side.  Someone’s crossed arms, tone of voice, smirk or smile, communicated volumes.  In absence of visual body language, how do all these “unwritten”, but essential, communications get across?

Truth is, often quite often they don’t.

Why is this important?  These unspoken communications are crucial for the trust relationships that we create and develop.

Trust has always been central to every successful team, to every relationship we have in our careers – with co-workers, managers, employees, customers, suppliers, etc.

In today’s virtual work environment, trust can be a little trickier to establish and interpret.  We make trust judgments based on people’s email habits – how quickly they respond, their “tone”, if they give us the information that we need, or the help that we requested.  And these same people make the same kinds of judgements about us in return.

So, what habits can we develop to help project trustworthiness and help us to be more successful and satisfied at work?

Before you can change your habits, or develop new ones, you need to be fully aware of your current habits and the level of trustworthiness you project now.

You can do this by asking yourself these questions:

  • What did I read into each email (tone, humor, frustration, urgency, etc.)?
  • How much of each email message did I read?
  • Note if you were on the “to” or “cc” list — do you know why you were placed there?
  • Flag any messages in which there was a “reply all” that you feel should’ve just come to you or vice versa.
  • How long did it take different people to respond to my email messages?
  • How often did I have to rephrase my question, request, or comment?
  • How often were my email messages misunderstood?

Depending on your answers, it might be time to develop a personal and/or team email protocol that will improve the chances that the other person will interpret your message as intended, without falsely ascribing things that aren’t there or ignoring things that are.

Be aware of who really needs to be on the email, and for whom this is merely a courtesy or information-only. Find out if non-essential people even want to be on the distribution list for similar emails in the future. Our research shows that people spend between 20-30 minutes a day deleting or thinking about deleting email they don’t need.

Lastly, make sure email is the more effective way to convey the message, not merely the most efficient or convenient.

Thank you for reading!