When is it appropriate to turn into a potato? (And other important questions about video conferencing)
By now you may have heard the story of Lizet Ocampo, Department Head at non-profit People For the American Way. It’s a tale of challenges in the face of remote working, video conferencing mishaps, and the importance of laughter at times like these. Lizet accidentally turned herself into a potato on a video call with her team. Not being totally familiar with filters, she was unable to turn herself back into a human. The incident – shared on social media by one of her colleagues – quickly went viral. Probably not because it’s note-worthy. But because it’s so relatable.
In Lizet’s case, this was a technical mishap, but as those of us working remotely spend an increasing amount of time on video calls and conferences, let’s stop to ask ourselves this important question: when is it appropriate to turn into a potato?
It’s a question of boundaries. Lines between work life and home life. Between friends and colleagues. And colleagues who are friends. Team calls and client calls. The difficulty is, everything is blurred at the moment. By necessity, home life, work life and family life are overlapping in ways that we never imagined. However, we still need for our meetings to be productive and efficient. Which means, while it might seem like common sense, it could be useful to consider some simple guidance on how to get the most from video conferencing.
Here are three things I find helpful:
1. Have a chairperson. Whether it’s an important client discussion, or an informal team catch up, you want to get the most from the video conference – and you want to make sure everyone is heard and understood. Make sure you have a chairperson who is able to act as a host. Although it’s not an in-person meeting, it’s still appropriate to make introductions and check everyone is in attendance. Even if the call is informal in nature, let your chairperson’s demeanor set that relaxed tone, but you still need someone to be in charge of the multi-way communication. Also, make sure you know who the chairperson is in advance. Most importantly, make sure the chairperson knows.
2. Encourage dialogue. It’s easier to have discussions face-to-face. Face-to-face you can read people’s energy. You can interject more easily. It takes extra work and planning to encourage dialogue on video conference. First, consider the platform you’re using and how many people will be in the meeting. Will you be able to see everyone on screen? Microsoft Teams only allows you to see four people at once, which can add to conversation lags and disjointedness if the meeting is bigger. Let your chairperson encourage dialogue by asking opinions. In smaller meetings it can help to ask people directly by name, “Kate, what do you think?” Kate might struggle with the less organic nature of a video discussion, and that’s OK. Acknowledge that it is less natural, and that there might be a delay, or an echo, or a child crying in the background. It’s more important that everyone leaves the video conference feeling that they got what they needed from it.
3. Know the tone. This is perhaps where the all-important question re; potatoes comes into play. Is this a client meeting or a team catch up? Is it a meeting with your boss or your team mate who usually sits across from you? Is it a quick check-in or a pitch? You need to know the tone of the meeting and set things up accordingly. So ask yourself:
1. How is your lighting?
2. Does your background environment look free from clutter and the leftovers from your sandwich?
3. Are you wearing a top that could be misconstrued as pajamas? (Are you wearing pajamas?)
Most platforms offer backgrounds that can be used to mitigate the need to control your environment. This is a nice touch, particularly for client meetings. And, yes, most platforms also offer filters. Some with the power to turn you into a potato. I’m going to be firm here: it’s not best practice to appear as a potato in a serious business meeting. I would add, it’s not best practice in a time-sensitive status call, and nobody really wants to see you as a potato when they’re discussing their personal development or any sensitive issues. Why? Because it’s a distraction. And because these are conversations that require an indication of intent that you take them seriously and are showing respect to your fellow attendees. So in answer to the title question of this blog, when the reason to hold a video conference is to have clearer, more authentic communication between people, it’s not appropriate to turn into a potato.
That said, there is a time and a place when it’s entirely appropriate. Be a potato. Be a unicorn. Be whatever makes you smile. These are unusual times, and often unusually stressful. Much as you can try to keep them separate, the lines between work and life are blurred. So when you’re chatting casually to your team or having a virtual coffee break with a colleague, why not have a little fun?
Lizet Ocampo agrees. Speaking with Time Magazine (that’s how big this story got), she said her team works incredibly hard and – while she was unable to remove the potato filter – she also left it on because, “laughter is needed for many reasons.”
That’s a remote working rule to live by.
March was a particularly jam-packed month for us at Havas People, as a whole host of events dropped into our calendar across the globe. And with a multitude of events, comes the opportunity of gaining further, fresh insight into the changing world of work and technology.
Our team in the UK were delighted to experience UNLEASH for the first time, followed by the annual Changeboard Future Talent Conference, while our team in the US attended both Workhuman and HR Transform. Additionally, our Managing Partner Danni Brace flew out to Singapore to complete the final leg of the Havas NextGen course - a year-long leadership journey that brings together 50 of Havas’ high potential leaders from across the globe and challenges them to become more team-centric, strategic and future-focused.
So on reflection of our particularly busy end to Q1, we thought we’d pull together the top insights that got us inspired last month. So without further ado, let’s get into it.
Using technology to embrace humanity
At this year’s Changeboard Future Talent Conference, speakers talked through their methods of using technology to support the growth of their businesses. One speaker who impressed our team was Lucy Winkett, a Rector of St James’s Church. She was inspirational, engaging and funny. During her talk, one of the questions she asked the room to consider was “who are we at work?”. She encouraged everyone to think about who they think they are, and who others perceive them to be. She then spoke about the ways in which human interactions can make our work fairer and explored how technology can help us to build a future which embraces humanity, rather than isolating us.
So what exactly does it mean to embrace humanity? Albeit from different perspectives, both UNLEASH and Changeboard reinforced the fact that we are human beings not human doings. “Who we are” is not defined by our activities but by our beliefs. Not being robots is our gift, our USP. We are not machines. People are not to be optimized but to be experienced. Quite often, we don’t need personalized experiences, we just need personal experiences. Now that we have robots we have to retrain humans how to be humans, to embrace creativity, complexity and empathy – to become less like robots than ever before because we can never be better robots than robots. We need to reinvent the value chain with people being the differentiating factor, and so people working in HR/talent have a real opportunity to be the new meaning-makers.
Vulnerability is not a weakness
Across the globe in the United States, Workhuman keynote speaker Brene Brown built on this idea of ‘being human’ as she outlined how vulnerability is a vital piece of developing a strong workplace culture. “If you set up a culture within your organization where there’s no tolerance for vulnerability, no tolerance for failure - then there’s no room for innovation, productivity, or creativity” she said. When people are in an environment where they feel they can bring their whole selves to work, they feel more connected to their organization and a sense of belonging. This sense of belonging is vital to building successful teams and businesses. It also builds trust among employees, managers and leads to better work outputs.
Engaged employees drive business success
Moreover, at HR Transform we once again heard a spin on how employees are often the determining factor between successful companies and ones that never reach their full potential. Employee engagement is driving business through human capital. Successfully building an employer brand and engagement strategy aligns a company’s culture with its brand. This creates an authentic experience and allows you to easily train employees on brand purpose and what role they play in delivering on that brand. Investing in your people is the key to business success, and if you put a promise out there, it’s vital to ensure your people are ready to deliver on it.
And it seems the final module of NextGen did a pretty great job of raising awareness of all these factors across our wider Havas community.
The module focused on leading through a disruptive and ever-changing environment with a lens on the importance of building your organizational culture and talent to drive your strategy. One quote that particularly resonated with Danni came from Vishnu Mohan; ‘Customers will not love a brand until an employee loves it’ – and at that moment there were a few ‘aha’ moments across the group at the realization of why Havas People’s specialism existed within a comms group such as Havas. If you don’t invest in creating a positive employee experience why would you think your customers are going to have a positive experience themselves – your brand isn’t a thing in isolation it is the sum of every individual you employ – if they enjoy where they work your brand is more likely to succeed.
So what has attending these events taught us? It’s confirmed that building a culture that embraces the true essence of humanity - one that puts trust in people’s strengths and supports them with their flaws - allows them to make meaningful connections with the organizations they work for. And the result of this? Meaningful experiences for your customers too, and an inevitable improvement on your bottom line. Which is exactly why we do the work that we do, across the entire people agenda, here at Havas People.
I just joined the team here at Havas People, previously working in digital marketing for numerous brands and public figures. Coming to the world of employer marketing from a more mainstream background may seem like a big jump, but in reality there are numerous parallels and ways thinking like a marketer can help improve the employee experience, specifically in recruiting.
Here are my initial thoughts after just one week here with the team:
People first – Creating a positive, user-friendly experience during recruitment can go a long way. Job seekers can in some ways be looked at like customers. Treating a customer poorly or not responding leads to lost sales; the same can be said for job candidates. Any poor impression during the recruiting process can lead to them losing interest in the position or company, not only while job seeking, but long term. This can have huge repercussions if they tell friends, post on social media or post a review of their experience on websites like Glassdoor.
Everyone is a recruiter – Your employees are your best ambassadors and biggest advocates. If an employee is happy at your organization, they’ll talk about it. This creates a huge pool of potential talent waiting to be tapped into, simplifying recruiting processes. Building a strong brand and sense of community makes employees feel like they're a part of something special, increasing the chances they will recommend the organization to others.
Paid ads and targeting – For retail, social media paid ads move the needle, as organic posts are becoming more obsolete. The same can be true for job postings. Sponsored ads on websites like Linkedin, Indeed and even Facebook have many advantages over organic posts. They allow you to target by entering certain demographics and criteria you’re searching for, give your posting better positioning on the site, and allow for better tracking and reporting leading to an easier recruitment process.
Jo Schopper, Account Executive