3 Things to Remember about Video Conferencng from Home

Happy Young Asian Woman Using Stock Footage Video (100 ...

For the record, I am a Luddite.

I missed the start of the computer generation because as a devotee and part of the vanguard of the baby boomer generation, I was well…booming. Then, in 2003, with 5 children under 12 I was forcibly returned to the teaching workforce upon the collapse of my first marriage and, in the time I’d been away, those nice ladies in the front office of schools had stopped typing all examination papers; the internet was there and I was nowhere!

I remember taking out Dummies Guides to various aspects of the cyber world from the library, cramming at night over borrowed literature from my cousin’s training courses and spending hard-won rands on a series of Saturday morning lessons in a warehouse near Kenilworth Centre to upskill myself on what the difference between hardware and software was. When I say I had no idea how to turn on a computer even, I am not joking – who knew that box on the floor also needed to be switched on, to get the screen thingie to light up!

Those days are long gone fortunately, and I am a veteran of years of 21-page literature examinations typed up with both of my own two fingers and for a good 10 years I no longer do things twice – longhand and electronic. I am actually pretty fast, even if I am a trifle heavy handed and loud on the keyboard (a leftover from the era of typewriters!)

So now that the electronic age has advanced to online learning and remote teaching during lockdown, the age of teleconferencing has really taken off. In my profession, it has been useful to be able to continue my day with some semblance of normalcy which involves countless meetings with staff and other stakeholders in my busy school community.

But it comes with some challenges.

  1. Time and teleconferencing wait for no (wo)man

You cannot be sloppy with other people’s time. This is true of any meeting of course, but it requires the speed of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and the flexibility of a pole-dancer to race down the stairs; empty the washing machine and hang up a load of washing; worry that the back neighbour’s home grown dagga seems to be lasting a long time and the odour may permeate my clean sheets; spring over the mop left out by the adolescent slave; shimmy over the kitchen island to pour the just-boiled water into my favourite tea mug; pause momentarily to smile at the maestro’s hilarious music teaching style, as he informs a piano pupil to avoid using the thumb – ‘humans are more civilized,’ and leg it back upstairs in time to click ‘Join the meeting.’

There is no efficient PA-Paula giving me a wrist-tap reminder of time through my glass door (whoever decided to give the head’s office glass doors, I do not know, but that’s a thought for another time) or delay a visitor with a ‘she’ll be with you in a minute,’ when I’ve nipped into the loo quickly. I have to keep my own time. And I’m not that good at it. It’s exhausting.

  1. Make sure you’ve made your bed 

‘If you wanna change the world, start by making your bed,’ – US Navy Admiral William Raven 

I work in my bedroom, and my bed is visible in the background, if I am not sitting with my back to the window, so I’d better not look as if I am working from the tousled boudoir of a brothel while I discuss finances with my bursar. (The Tretchikoffs on the red wall are decadent enough).

Our school’s organization works on Microsoft Teams though, and the video settings have this nifty button for altering your background so you can appear to be calling from a beach, a Parisienne loft, outer space or in a Minecraft game. The trick is to change the setting before others see you though, so…. see point 1.

I’m also more sensitive to whether the evidence of my crunchie tin raid is still showing in my teeth, because the camera reveals all they say. Then again, you only have to look good above the desk. No one can see your fluffy slippers or ski pants and tackies beneath the table. The alternative is to keep your video off. But as is often the case, I am chairing the meeting, so I have to make a fleeting appearance at least.

By the way, if you want to save your data, turn off the video as much as you can. That also prevents bad connections making you look like a modern Picasso (who’s the Luddite now?!)

It also allows you to sneak out to the ladies’ room if a meeting is dragging, but beware that you don’t get called on for comment just at that moment… one can always blame a poor connection of suppose, which has me wondering now…

  1. Mute your mike if you’re not speaking 

“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”
― G. K. Chesterton

 Many people are clever enough to wear earphones when on a call so they can listen carefully to what is being said in the meeting. This is an excellent plan if you look good in earphones.

However, many don’t realise that passing traffic outside; the husband/wife/child/dog/parrot/vacuum cleaner/rumbling stomach can be heard in the background and you don’t notice because you have your recording artist look going. Don’t get me wrong, the attention-deficit extrovert in me is always happy to say hello to a bored toddler or be amused that even the high-ups have pets, but it can be disconcerting to be in a meeting and trying to listen to what a manager is saying when we can also hear his spouse’s work-from-home calls at the same time.

As with video, poor connectivity can result in annoying feedback (the sound kind; advice from collaborators is (almost) always welcome) and even staccato type robo-voice. It can be hard when you are the only one affected, but if someone has been smart enough to press ‘record’ at the beginning of the meeting you can listen later at your leisure. In fact, if you drifted off because you spotted an accursed lockdown violator strolling too close to another similar social deviant down the road outside your window, or because you lost track of a technical conversation, it’s very handy to listen to the meeting recording. I don’t recommend it if you have been doing most of the talking – you will the realise that a) you are boring; b) my goodness how nasal you sound, c) you say ‘um’ too much or d) all of the above.

As we enter Season 2 of the Lockdown Series, I am already sick of hearing expressions like ‘the new normal’ and ‘when the dust from this crisis settles.’ (My life can never be described as ‘normal’ – perish the thought – and the ‘dust settling’ is just so clichéd).

But we shall emerge from our Sleeping Beauty castles eventually – out through the wild grass (uncut for weeks because garden services are not essential services) relieved that the wavy fronds can hide the fact that we haven’t shaved our legs for a while, and then we shall have to get back to the office (after we find the razor of course).

Many wax lyrical about how much will be changed and that this period will have launched a new way of doing things, and I do believe that more companies will consider trusting employees to work from home; schools may contemplate a timetable which allows a grade to work from home once a week or other such innovations which will benefit the planet and our travel times in traffic, but I, for one, will enjoy having real meetings with actual people not hologrammed humans.

I suppose I am still a Luddite after all.

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