Video Conferencing Etiquette According to the "Esquire Guy"

Blog Post created by jgaudin on Dec 19, 2011

A fun and interesting, tongue-in-cheek article asking is there proper etiquette for videoconferencing?  In the first paragraph the author cites video conferencing as less effective then a phone call and I have to disagree here.  Yes, video conferencing is new and maybe there's a difference between "video conferencing" and "Telepresence", or maybe there isn't.  I view it as the same and I call it Telepresence or more commonly "TP".  The greatest difference I see between a phone conference and Telepresence is the eye-contact.  How many times have we been on a conference call when an important question is asked; after a long, pregnant pause the person the question was directed to suddenly says "I was on mute, can you repeat the question?". ?  Now, being on mute means we didn't hear the answer and it should be repeated, it had nothing to do with that person not hearing the question.  Most likely that person was on mute while doing something else and missed the question.  Eye contact, whether virtual over a camera or in person across a table keeps focus and ensures people are paying attention.


We tend to not place great value on technology until we have that "a-ha!" moment.  I remember clearly that moment for Telepresence.  I was in a room with a three screen Telepresence and in this case I was part of a multi-part conference call among San Jose, California, Boxborough, Massachusetts, Richardson, Texas and Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.  That's a pretty good mix and we almost managed to have four US time zones covered during this call.  At some point during the call, somebody's phone rang out loud.  And simultaneously we all looked at the phone.  The person who's phone rang looked toward it, I looked toward it, as did the other two participants.  When (from my perspective) 3 out of 4 members of the call were on video and all looked toward the phone as if we were sitting at the same table, I realized there was something to this Telepresence thing and it does change the experience of how we communicate.


I did notice some omissions from the etiquette list for videoconferencing that I wanted to note:

  • Treat every Telepresence call as if it's an in-room meeting.  This means muting mobile devices and limiting multi-tasking- just because somebody can't directly look at your screen, doesn't mean they can't tell that you're typing or reading e-mail.
  • Be prepared to shuffle seats.  With a three screen Telepresence unit everybody can't sit in the middle, which is our natural tendency.  When everybody is sitting in the middle only one screen is used and the person talking is (no pun intended) front and center while the others are hidden.  By shuffling seats to the outside all participants may be viewed at the same time.
  • Use video.  There's the option to not enable video on your device, but the only way to change the workplace culture to be more video open, is to set the example of use and that use will spread.  People resist the use of video because they don't feel comfortable with their surroundings, their look or because they're multi-tasking.  Overcoming these barriers will lead to greater participation and greater collaboration effectiveness.
  • Be aware of lighting, particularly if making a Telepresence call from home.  If you have a light or window behind you, you will appear as a key witness against the mob who doesn't want their identity revealed.  Have the light in front of you, but out of view of the camera.
  • Shut down those IM clients and if possible alerts when sharing your desktop on a video call.  Far to often I've seen some more then personal IMs or e-mail subject headers display on the desktop of somebody sharing.  Video is not only participants seeing you, but if you're leading the discussion they may also be seeing your desktop.


Just the other day I had a Telepresence call with the French.  It was 9:00AM for me and 6:00PM for them and not a single cigarette was lit, but they did enjoy a coffee while talking to me and I find that completely acceptable for a Telepresence call.  Made me wish for a Teleportation call so I could have shared in that coffee.


Video conferencing or Telepresence may seem a bit gimmicky, but it changes the experience and does so in a positive way.  Once the general sense of newness wears off and Telepresence becomes the way business conferences are done, you become frustrated by not having the option of video.  I participate in several Telepresence, video-enabled WebEx and video-enabled phone calls a week and I certainly feel the difference when I'm not on video, I feel less connected and less involved and afterwards less aware of the content and results of the meeting.  What are your thoughts?  Is Telepresence and video from the boardroom to the laptop to the phone just a gimmick or is there something to it?  What are your video experiences?