Business Call: Successful Online Communication

From home office to “Zoom fatigue” – business communication has undergone rapid changes, and video conferencing has become part of everyday life. But the quality often leaves a lot to be desired. There’s optimization potential in more than just the technology.

Photo: Shutterstock - Kate Kultsevych

Video conferencing is part of everyday working life. Photo: Shutterstock – Kate Kultsevych

“Can you hear me now?” the German Chancellor expressed the feelings of many citizens at home and abroad, when, with a searching look close to the camera, she finally found the “on” button for the microphone. This happened at the WHO video conference in April 2020. Everyone who goes through the daily routine of video conferencing in their home office is familiar with this situation. Since the pandemic has demanded physical distance from people all over the world, they have been moving closer together on screen. Whether via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Webex Meetings – thanks to corona, video conferences have become part of the new daily professional life, with all its advantages and disadvantages.

No more business trips, no more chats with colleagues in the break room, but also no more waiting in traffic jams during rush hour. At breathtaking speed, companies made home office and mobile work possible for their employees, something that many works councils have been fighting for unsuccessfully for years. Employers are realizing that space and travel costs can be reduced, but the technical infrastructure must be expanded. What really falls by the wayside is the “human factor”. And after a few months of sometimes excessive screen usage, this factor becomes apparent in many small things, all of which may lead to what can be summed up as “Zoom fatigue”. Even the most brilliant screen and the most beautiful digital avatar cannot replace personal encounters, because a decisive part of communication is non-verbal. But video conferencing continues to determine everyday professional life – what can make it more bearable?

Stabile Internet Connection and Good Image Quality

“Great importance is attached to a stable Internet connection and good image quality, but most people underestimate the importance of sound quality,” says Michel Doermer, board member of the Federal Association for Media Training in Germany. He makes the case for microphones that don’t have to be expensive but make listening easier. After all, those who are easy to hear, find it easier to assert their arguments. But when shaky Internet connections are combined with poor sound quality, the conditions for “Zoom fatigue” are met. Simultaneous interpreters are suffering in the extreme, as an example from Canada shows. In Canada, the rate of sick leave in April 2020 rose rapidly among interpreters who simultaneously translate bilingual parliamentary debates via video conferencing. One of them is Carmen Figueroa Sotelo, who says: “We depend on seeing the speaker’s lips, the body language. Often the screen freezes and there’s a lot of feedback noise because the parliamentarians are connected with poor equipment from their home offices. This makes our work much more difficult and quickly leads to exhaustion and even acoustic shocks.”

Mobile Work or Home Office?

“Home office” refers to the permanent workplace at home, to which, in many countries, occupational safety and health regulations apply. This is not the case with “mobile work”. The focus lies on the work order, which can be fulfilled outside the company; whether at home or in a cafe is left up to the employee.

“It’s all about reducing disruptive factors”

But even if the technology works, there is still much room for improvement, according to the media trainer’s perspective. “It’s all about reducing disruptive factors,” explains Doermer: the indoor palm tree in the background, the small-patterned t-shirt, the shadow on the face. All this inevitably encourages you to think about the person, less about what they’re saying. These quality factors need to be brought to the forefront. But if you attentively follow video interviews on television, you will see: Even high-ranking board members of large companies aren’t afraid of having their face recorded by a laptop camera from a worm’s-eye view. “There’s no great demand among our association members for video conference training,” Doermer notes accordingly. The motto seems to be “video call – anyone can do it”. This also leads to video calls being held when a quick phone conference would be more effective. For some topics, it’s enough to pick up the phone. If presentations are necessary, video conferencing makes sense. The rule of thumb could be that delicate issues require physical presence. And if it has to be a video conference, the rule should be: shorter meetings, more breaks, high-quality technology. So that really everyone gets a chance to speak – and to be heard.

How to make your video conference a success

Before the meeting:

  • Equipment: test Internet connection, video, and microphone, and familiarize yourself with the app’s tools: hand-raise function, chat function, screen sharing, group rooms, uploading and sharing files, etc.
  • A calm image background reduces additional information
  • Send a meeting agenda in advance
  • Choose appropriate clothing

 

During the video call:

  • Close all other programs
  • Put away your phone and focus on the video conference
  • No reading or writing mails and messages on the side
  • Stick to the rules: click the hand-raise icon, don’t interrupt
  • Rest your eyes from time to time – look into the distance
  • Use breaks to move around

 

After the meeting:

  • Provide all participants with a document containing the meeting’s key points
  • For subsequent exchanges, alternate video calls with phone calls or email conversation: choose the appropriate form of communication for every occasion

 

From the company’s perspective:

  • Train employees on how to use the video conferencing tool
  • Check or provide the necessary technology for mobile work / home office
  • Define rules of conduct

Three questions for communications expert André Wigger

André Wigger, Managing Director, Hill+Knowlton Strategies GmbH Germany, Frankfurt.

André Wigger, Managing Director, Hill+Knowlton Strategies. Photo: H+K

André Wigger, Managing Director, Hill+Knowlton Strategies GmbH Germany, Frankfurt. H+K is an international public relations company with over 80 offices worldwide.

 

What is your personal experience with international video conferencing?

Wigger: My experience is very good. As an international organization, it brings us closer together, which was a very nice experience, especially during lockdown. For me, video conferencing is as natural today as phone calls used to be, with the great advantage that I can now see my conversation partners. And today’s simple handling of a video conference leads to a more frequent exchange. Nevertheless, I miss the personal meetings with international colleagues.

 

Do misunderstandings arise faster – and how do you deal with them?

The danger certainly exists, since one can’t perceive the facial expressions of conversation partners, especially in a conference with several participants. It eliminates that red flag that points out misunderstandings. It’s important that you’re aware of this and actively ask, if necessary. In this respect, however, international video conferences are no different from local ones.

 

What do you have to keep in mind for conferences with participants from several countries?

Since the audio quality in video conferences is often mediocre and the majority of participants usually aren’t speaking their native language, international video conferences are much more strenuous than video conferences in the native language. Experience shows that the ability to concentrate decreases rapidly after one hour. International video conferences in particular should either be timed accordingly or integrate regular breaks.

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