In light of widespread COVID-19 related self-isolation recommendations and active restrictions in some areas, many workforces are now having to adjust to a remote-first environment. In the coming weeks and months, online collaboration and virtual coworking will become the new normal. As a remote-first organization, we put together some best practices we’ve learned over the years.

Remote presenting can be challenging for a number of reasons. People have a higher tendency to multitask, technology introduces issues, and humans use a significant number of non-verbal cues when we communicate. These challenges lead to less effective communication of concepts when we speak and may strain our ability to listen effectively and make our teammates and clients feel heard. Here are a few quick ways to improve this:

1. Be a Trailblazer with Video

At Skookum, we leverage Google Meet or Zoom which supports video chat. Often, participants will take cues from others who join first. If you turn your video on, others will follow and it makes it easy to make up for some of the lost nonverbal cues and will help form connections. Not every call needs to be via video, but it’ll help when you’re presenting. Be sure to test your setup beforehand and have the plugins downloaded before a call starts. Other options are GoToMeeting, BlueJeans or others.

2. Be Prepared

Practice with your team before the meeting and assign roles. Make one person the facilitator, who should direct questions to the appropriate person during Q&A and hand the speaking roles to other team members.

3. Be Direct & Control the Flow (Use Names)

When presenting in a room, it’s easy to know when someone has something to say or wants to ask a question. We cue each other with body language and it’s easier to know when someone is finished speaking. When we’re remote, we’re both trying to prepare a response/question and not speak over everyone else. You can avoid both the long silences (which are okay), the talking over one another, and other ways of inadvertently making people feel left out by controlling the flow of the conversation. Try to hand the mic to the next person if you’re leading a conversation or, if you’ve been handed the mic, give it back to the leader. This works well in live presentations as well, but is especially important in remote ones. I mentally think about this as Passing the Ball vs. Throwing a Ball. An example might look like this.

Approach QualityExampleReasons
Poor Handoff“That wraps up our presentation on why Journey Maps are awesome. Any Questions?”This is a very open ended question - I don’t specifically hand the ball to anyone or tell what type of questions I’d like.
Better Handoff“That wraps up our presentation on why Journey Maps are awesome. Any Questions? You first Glenn!”I pass the ball to Glenn, but I don’t give him much notice that he’s going to be asked to comment next and now he might feel put on the spot.
Best Handoff“Glenn, as we wrap up I’m going to turn it to you for questions. I know you’ve had questions in the past on how awesome journey maps are, is there anything I didn’t cover today?”I give Glenn time to prepare by mentioning his name in the beginning of my sentence and I narrow the focus of the question to set him up for success instead of putting him on the spot.

As an added benefit to this approach, using names has power; click here to learn more.

4. Speak to the Technology

If you can’t be on video where you’re making eye contact, speak to the technology like it’s a person. This is especially true when using a VoiP phone, where it’s easy to look away or multi-task. This allows you to continue engaging as if you’re in the room with someone and helps you project your voice properly.

5. Clear Your Screen

If you’re going to be screensharing, be sure you only share what you want. Instead of selecting Share Screen (which is the default in most applications) choose only the window you want. This way, if you switch to taking notes during the meeting, it won’t distract anyone.

Close all unnecessary tabs, windows and applications so it doesn’t distract others during the presentation and you don’t get alerts. I keep notifications for calendar / email / Slack turned off, but Slack has a very easy Do Not Disturb mode. Keep only the documents open you need on the window because having multiple tabs means people are going to read them and be interested in them. If you need to open something from email or share, pause or stop screen sharing before you bring up another application.

6. Set the Stage

Since we’re going to be working remote for a time, try to find a consistent place to take client calls that doesn’t have an overwhelming background or sun glare. Try to find a place where there won’t be people in the background or distractions happening, and make sure there isn’t a TV on. When you’re on video, put the call wherever your webcam is so it looks like you’re making eye contact.

7. Smile, or whatever works for you

Smile and use the same body language you normally would while you are on the phone. Smiling changes the tone of your voice and can help engage whoever is on the other end of the line. Here are a few articles with additional information.

8. Limit Multitasking & Distractions

Try to restrict your multitasking by limiting the temptation. If you’re on video close down Slack, email, etc. and maximize the video conference. Take notes on paper instead of in the web where you might be tempted to go check something else. When on calls, I’ve found that pacing or walking can help me stay focused on the conversation by removing the temptation of the computer. If you’re multitasking for an entire call, you may not need to join the meeting at all. You’re likely going to be sharing your environment with partners, roommates, children or animals, as well. While the cat in the lap can be very cute on internal meetings and pet video conferencing is highly recommended, try to work out agreements on when you need quiet time during important calls ahead of time.

9. Be Inclusive

This goes back to managing the flow. Do a check-in with everyone on your team or client team. Ask each person by name if they have questions or perspectives and give everyone a chance to share.

10. Manage Back to Backs

The best way to manage back-to-back video meetings is to not schedule them. If you do, try to schedule meetings for 55 or 25 minutes to give yourself time to prepare for the next meeting. This way you can test connections, enter passwords and troubleshoot any issues. If you have no issues, I recommend coffee or water during the break.

As a remote-first company, we’re here for you in a time that may seem uncertain. If you need help developing your remote workflow, understanding your customers’ needs in light of what may be a new way of communicating with them, or otherwise adjusting to a more remote work environment, get in touch.