(BPT) - Whether working from home for the first time, helping kids navigate the new madness of Zoom classes, or simply trying to connect online with relatives, our newfound pandemic-driven remote lifestyles are creating a completely new relationship between ourselves, our homes and our technology. Regardless of your current work/home situation, we can all be better virtual remote citizens to ensure a less stressful, more fruitful experience. Here are five ways to ensure you are creating a virtual space that works for everyone.
#1: Practice proper Zoom etiquette
Regardless of our mood behind the scenes, it's still important for all of us to follow best practices to convey responsibility and professionalism to coworkers, customers or classmates during virtual get-togethers. A great start is to be sure to mute your microphone when you're not speaking to avoid adding background noise to a group meeting. This may sound obvious, but it's something we often forget, and it's a great basic skill to teach your kids as well.
Another step to consider is investing in a ring light to brighten your appearance and present the best possible you on camera. These lights are low-cost strips of LEDs that provide flattering light that brings you out of the shadows. They can even give you a healthy glow.
Eating meals while in Zoom meetings is also not recommended, even if a meeting is scheduled over lunch. Let's face it, nobody wants to see that. Even in something casual like a virtual parents meetup, understand that it's not the time to eat a full meal. This, along with other multitasking, makes for poor attentiveness in potentially critical meetings or classes. When you focus on one activity at a time, you'll be more engaged in the conversation and retain information better.
#2: Set up your home for success
With our homes now doubling as our office, school or business headquarters, making personal investments in technology can make our home and work lives more productive. This can start with something as simple as purchasing a dedicated, low-cost Chromebook for your kids, or taking a look at your overall home network. For instance, many people struggle with serious bandwidth issues throughout the day with kids and parents dropping from online classes and meetings due to less-than-ideal Zoom connections. One way to solve this is to look into alternative internet providers, specifically those based on fiber infrastructure. This can boost internet speed to several hundred megabits per second and put an end to connection problems.
Additionally, for those of you dealing with spotty Wi-Fi, now is the time to take advantage of Wi-Fi monitoring products that typically come with your internet service. These apps let you manage your bandwidth more effectively, check your connection speed and analyze the overall state of your Wi-Fi network. A spotty internet connection can lead to challenges not just within your daily life, but also for the IT professionals at your job, school or data center. Drops in connection to certain systems could lead to outages, which, according to a recent LogicMonitor survey, can be costly to an organization and are avoidable over half of the time.
#3: Take security into your hands
As computers become even more of a central hub for both our professional and personal lives, everyone must be vigilant and take care of that home like they would any other. Be vigilant about what you're downloading and the tools you're using and monitor what is happening on your system, because an IT team or teacher won't be there to fix it for you if it breaks. For example, think twice before downloading that cool Zoom background or filter; it could end up crashing your system, damaging your camera or worse. Without immediate assistance from an IT team or other professional, you could miss an important meeting, that final exam or the big pitch your small business has been waiting for.
Also keep in mind that when you're working from home, it's a lot easier for your kids to innocently jump on your computer and possibly delete an important file. Make sure your computer defaults to a lock screen when idle, so no one else can access your work.
#4: Set boundaries and show respect
As 2020 shatters the boundaries between the office and home, many of us find ourselves working constantly and answering emails into the wee hours of the night. Many students' usually regimented schedules have been thrown out the window. In this new era, it is crucial to evaluate your work-life balance. Take a hard look at your daily routine. Every time your work-life balance skews too far towards the work side, compensate by doing something for yourself during office or school hours. It could be something small like participating in a call or meeting while simultaneously taking a walk around your neighborhood, or letting your child play their favorite video game for 20 minutes. This can help everyone feel less overworked, leading to a more positive mindset throughout the rest of the day.
It's also critical to show respect for others. If you need something from a coworker or educator, think twice before blithely making an unannounced video call or making a surprise request after hours. We have no idea what situations people are handling at home. Maybe they are dealing with an unruly child of their own who refuses to attend online classes; maybe they have contractors arriving at the door at the precise moment you call unannounced. We all need to be a bit more flexible and empathetic this year. Understand that sometimes you'll have to wait a bit to get an answer, and think about using asynchronous communication channels such as email that give people more time to offer a response.
#5: Cut others some slack
No matter the position at your company, or the role in your household, it's very important to understand how the pandemic is affecting your peers, family and their emotions. For instance, some people love working and learning from home and are feeling positive and motivated during this time. Others, however, are struggling on all fronts and can't wait to get back to the office or school. As stress levels rise, it's vital for everyone to be more responsive and understanding.
Now is the time to push a little less hard. Maybe, if you are a leader at your company, that means giving everybody a Friday afternoon off, or a Zoom-free day each week. Maybe if you're a stay-at-home parent, that just means a dessert break.
In the end, all of us are trying to do our best. So if you hear a dog barking or kid screaming in the background of your call, or if someone's connection is bad and they keep cutting out, instead of getting frustrated, act first with empathy. A simple act of kindness can go a long way to helping you become a better remote citizen, while ensuring a positive and productive experience for everyone you engage with.