While most employees at Empire West Plastics in Graton are tech savvy, the company put on training sessions for an expanded version of Slack and then Zoom. To make sure information was understood by all, people were trained in how to send informative follow-up emails.
“We have to be a lot more clear with each other than we would have had to have been. We are doing detailed follow-up emails so everyone understands the same course of direction,” Sonya Yonash, CFO and vice president of the company, said.
The 10 a.m. staff meetings are now via telephone. Yonash admits a lot can be missed when the 35 employees are not all in the same room. It’s not possible to read people to know if they understand what is being talked about. That is why the detailed emails have become necessary; so there is no miscommunication.
“If we feel we need to see people, we do a Zoom call, but we try to keep it to a fairly small group so there is no talking over each other and the meeting doesn’t go on and on,” she said.
Slack meetings at the plastics company are reserved more for one-on-one interaction.
Things to think about
Camera angles, extraneous noise, backgrounds, lighting—they all can make a difference. Some of this is intuitive, for others it needs to be taught.
“We have provided our sales team with resources and training on how to lead more engaging presentations. This can include everything from camera position, your background, how you are seated, how to address essentially a blank audience. This is where we most feel the impact of Zoom meetings. How to still convey a sales message and presentation in an impactful way,” Peterson at Carneros Resort said.
If the camera angle is too low, people may see your nose hair; if it’s too high they might be looking down your top. It’s best to look directly at the camera, not at the other people, yourself or something on your desk. Looking into the camera and not at the other people on the screen will give the appearance of making eye contact with everyone.
What’s in the background can say more than you want to. While it might be interesting to inadvertently share what’s on your bookshelf, you might want to take a look at the titles.
And photos, well, those too can be more revealing than ones you would ordinarily have on your office desk. Unmade beds, underwear on the floor, messy closets—they all reveal more than you probably meant to.
“On Microsoft Teams and Zoom and other platforms you can change your background. Some use it all the time and some don’t bother with it,” Davila with Hess said. “Most are smart enough to not be showing themselves at the pool. While everyone would be jealous, I don’t think it would be appreciated.”
The mute button can save you from an embarrassing moment. Extraneous sounds come through tiny computer microphones. Things like the dishwasher running, or the dryer buzzing can be loud to others. A sneeze or cough can sound amplified.
“If a kid or husband needs you or someone is the at door, put it on mute,” Webster with the San Rafael chamber advises. “You can’t help the neighbor’s lawn mower or if the cat walks across the keyboard, but some things you can, and you need to pay attention and be as professional as possible.”
The Sonoma Valley chamber has a policy that meetings are set up so everyone is muted from the get-go. “It saves a lot of confusion and difficulty at the start,” CEO Mark Bodenhamer said. The raise your hand and chat features are ways for people to be engaged.
“The other thing I’ve found that is incredibly important is to have a preset agenda and to stick to that because people have the ability to check out,” Bodenhamer said. “You don’t have the ability to read a room and feel the energy going up and down. Anything you can do to add structure ahead of time is better, especially a year in when everyone has Zoom fatigue.”
For the 145 employees at Hess not every meeting is strictly about work. At Halloween they dressed up, the winery has had virtual meetings that were essentially bring your pet to work day, and other employee recognition events.
“We have done parties and trivia games to have a little bit of fun,” Davila said.