A Signature Item

I bought my lobster coffee cup from a local shop in Stonington a few years ago. I got it because it screams “Maine!” — with a noticeable Maine accent, I might add — and I thought it would be a fun, kitschy way to enjoy my coffee in the morning.

Of course, that was before anyone dreamed of global pandemics, months of working remotely, and routine video conferences with people in faraway places. But it turned out that the lobster coffee cup served a useful purpose in the crazy world of 2020. It became a kind of signature item that was the subject of pre-video conference comment as we waited for other people to join calls, and later it reminded people that I was still up in Maine. Some people have a carefully curated bookshelf or wall of kid art, others have their menu of fake backdrops, and I’ve had my lobster coffee cup.

But now that we’re heading back to the Midwest, I must bid farewell to the lobster cup. it would be jarring to insert such a Maine-specific item into the German Village video conference setting. So I must say so long, lobster cup! You’ve served me well, and I’ll look forward to taking hearty, hopefully post-pandemic gulps from you next year.

Video Etiquette 101

Video conferences have become such a big part of the work day during this coronavirus pandemic period.  For me, at least, video calls emerged abruptly, and went from a once-in-a-while thing to a routine, several times a day occurrence.  And now, nobody seems to use regular phone calls anymore.

video-conferencing-01-as-rt-200327_hpmain_16x9t_608But the thing about video calls is that they don’t seem to have a standard, accepted etiquette yet.  Their sudden burst onto the daily work scene means we’re still thrashing around and trying to figure out how to behave.  As a result, you wonder how you are supposed to deal with certain issues that are presented by videoconferences.  With people having heightened sensitivity during this whole weird period we are in, you don’t want to unwittingly be rude, crude, and socially unacceptable, or otherwise give offense.   And muddling through doesn’t seem like a really wise, viable option.

For example, when you get a video call, do you always answer with your video enabled?  Is it considered rude or a kind of affront not to do so?  What if the person who calls turns out not to have their video enabled?  Should you immediately conform to the video-enabling practices of the caller, or is the act of disabling, with no apparent technical reason for doing so, itself considered impolite?  And if you don’t have the video enabled, is the well-mannered course to explain why — or is that just wasting people’s time?

The fact that these video conferences are occurring from people’s homes adds another layer of potential faux pas to the mix.  Is it acceptable to ask where the person you are talking to is, or comment on the background, or is that considered really intrusive?  If kids, spouses, or pets appear in the picture, are you supposed to comment, or act like you haven’t seen them?  If someone is totally backlit and you can’t see their face, do you say something or hold your tongue?  Is it considered appropriate to ask somebody to move to a different location or adjust their screen so that their face is more visible, or is that unforgivably untoward?

Where is the modern-day Emily Post, ready to instruct us on the dos and don’ts of the new situations that are being created by technological advancements?  It sure would be helpful to have somebody give us some instruction on this stuff.

 

 

Close Talkers (Video Conference Version)

I’d say that I have participated in more video conference calls over the past three weeks than in the rest of my extended work life, combined.  And, as I participate in the calls, I realize I’ve got a lot to figure out.  Other people do, too.

forehead man wrinkles before and afterRecently I was on a multi-party video call with one of those split screen set-ups.  One of the participants was positioned too close to his camera.  His oversized eyes and forehead, positioned in the upper left corner of my computer screen, loomed over the other talking heads like he was Gulliver among the Lilliputians.  It made me think that, if there was a Seinfeld about life during the coronavirus pandemic, one episode probably would be about close video conference talkers.  (And I expect that, in the COVID-19 Seinfeld world, Kramer would undoubtedly violate all social distancing requirements and still barge into Jerry’s apartment to eat his cereal.)

The gigantic forehead incident made me realize that I need to think carefully about my  video conference presence.  Am I too close to the little glowing dot at the top of my computer screen, or too far away?  Is your video conference head supposed to pretty much fill the screen, or is the proper dimension three-quarters of the screen, or one half?

And the position of the head is important, too — especially for the older guys like me.  If your head is tilted forward, you’re giving the unfortunate viewer a huge dose of your forehead, receding hairline, and thinning scalp.  If you lean back, on the other hand, you’re forcing the viewer to focus on the multiple chins and the vibrating neck wattles.  Either way, it’s not exactly a pretty picture.

There’s also the issue of what kind of attitude you’re projecting with your video position.  If you’re leaning in, you look earnest and engaged, but also perhaps hard of hearing.  If you lean back, your look “cooler,” but maybe uninterested.  And if you’re somebody who uses his hands to accentuate the point you are making, as I do, how can you be sure that the screen is capturing those carefully calibrated gestures?

It’s all pretty confusing for the novice video conferencer who doesn’t want to assume the Gulliver position in the upcoming conference calls.  It makes me think that the picture element adds a really significant dimension to the communication that requires you to give some careful thought to these issues before the calls start, and position yourself accordingly — and deliberately.