Do’s and Don’ts of Staying Connected in the Time of Physical Distancing

Nina Kjellson, general partner, Canaan Partners

“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” –Willa Cather

Faced with the harsh realities of COVID-19 and mandatory isolation, we are increasingly challenged to learn new ways of reaching out and connecting with each other. Effective videoconferencing is becoming a critical skill for weathering these times.

For better or worse, videoconferencing has long been a part of my work and personal life. As a partner in a bi-coastal firm with investments and colleagues across the country and globe, it’s been essential for weekly partner meetings and board meetings, company pitches and even speaking engagements. And with beloved family scattered from Vermont to Helsinki, I’ve logged countless hours of virtual hugs via FaceTime and WhatsApp. I’m very glad to share a few practical videoconferencing dos and don’ts.

Don’t Wing It

A little preparation goes a long way for making virtual meetings smooth and successful. Whether you’re the host or a participant, take time before your virtual meeting to make sure you have all of the information and technology you need. If it’s your first time on the meeting platform (Zoom, RingCentral, BlueJeans, Skype, etc), download the app to at least one device and create an app-specific account, if necessary, and log on and test it out. Familiarize yourself with different views, how to share content and how to use the chat function if there is one. (Mid-call is not the time to discover virtual backgrounds or to upload your vacation shot and fiddle with orientation). Check out your lighting. It is nice when people can see you well. (There are gadgets for enhancing your video “look.” I’ll let you search for those yourself on Amazon).

If you’re the host or meeting sponsor, it’s now more important than ever to create an agenda and distribute it to participants before your meeting. If you’re a participant, familiarize yourself with the agenda and do the pre-meeting homework. Plan to log-on two to three minutes early. Be ready to roll when the meeting starts. Note on calendaring: Most apps have a calendaring feature that enables easy one-click log on for participants. If you are using Outlook or Google Calendar or other to schedule, try to make logging on as simple as humanly possible for participants: a link and a simple thread with meeting ID and password as back-up.

Do Embrace Your Role

In a virtual setting, leaders must lead. As the host, your job is to be on in video, introduce yourself, outline the agenda, and establish expectations for participation. You might say: Please use the chat window to send me your questions. Kindly mute yourself when you are not speaking. If you need to move around during the call, please turn off your camera to minimize distractions. If you’re a participant, be a good follower. Lean into the conversation (literally) so your attention can be felt by others. Follow the format provided by the call host and mind your airtime. In the Videocon, body language can be harder to read so the louder voice often stands out above the softer voice. Help include each other and follow up with the quieter participants to make sure folks are heard. If you have real-time feedback about the virtual experience, save it for after the call but do share.

Don’t Go it Alone

If you’re the host, assign someone on your team ahead of time to be the technology or content troubleshooter if people have issues during the call. Assign someone else to take notes or alert you if you’ve accidentally muted yourself. Ask a participant to help manage the time.

Do Expect Hiccups and Assume Best Intentions

Embrace the real life in WFH circumstances. Interruptions (kid with a question, barking dog, grocery delivery) are to be expected. Be patient. These things usually resolve quickly and provide a window into our whole selves as we cope as best we can. Technical glitches also happen. Videoconferencing platforms are experiencing a deluge of traffic. The videoconferencing learning curve can be steep, even for the brightest minds. Many people are functioning at 50-75% of their normal capacity due to stress and life/work situations. Bad news is coming in unpredictable waves. All of these things can impact your virtual meeting experience. Be ready to gracefully reschedule if needed.

Do Stay Positive and Reach Out

This relates to good videoconferencing and everything else we are so desperately trying to accomplish right now. In a virtual meeting space, your tone matters. Your kindness echoes. Reach out to other participants after your videoconference to appreciate their contributions and make an added connection. Make new, impromptu, and informal opportunities to meet virtually with colleagues, friends, and family just because you can.

From my past week, I can attest that videoconferencing lends itself to happy hours, workouts, shared meals, community organizing, tutoring, and various group reunions, including an alumni reunion of “Luke Timmerman Drags 27 Biotechies up Mt. Kilimanjaro 2019.”

Wherever you are, I’m sending you virtual hugs and a thousand wishes for safe passage through the storm, plus this small reminder of beautiful things that I captured a few days ago.



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