Congratulations. You’ve managed to (sorta) figure out this remote work thing. Your team is working from home, Zoom appears to be working and your company did not go down in flames.
But unfortunately – now you’re stuck in Zoom meeting hell. You’ve replaced your physical workspace for a non-stop video conference. Brutal.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
What is ‘asynchronous’ work?
You’ve seen the term before but largely ignored it. Why would you work differently – just because you’re not in the office?
Because of your Zoom hell – that’s why.
A key part of leveraging remote work is to enable folks to work on their own time. Their own schedules, their own locations, their own time zones. If you don’t do that – you force everyone to jump on unproductive Zooms together (and at odd times).
Instead – you need to adopt a culture where work can actually occur without you. Async.
The standard method to get to async is long-form written documents. These written documents serve as the base – then others add to it, comment, etc. This document then provides the framework that leads to a set of actions the team delivers.
Though the long-form document has its place in async – sometimes you need a richer medium. And if a picture is worth a thousand words – a video is worth a million.
With a quick video – you can better communicate verbal (and non-verbal) cues that are lacking from written documents. If done right – they are easy and highly effective.
We use quick async videos in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are from the managers to update their team on initiatives or overall priorities for the week, or sometimes they are from individuals to their managers for quick weekly goal updates, and sometimes they are between teammates to provide quick progress updates or ask questions.
In all scenarios – the videos are rich in content and help enhance teamwork within the organization. And unlike written docs – videos enhance the company culture by adding personalization and a ‘feeling’ of working closely together despite the miles of separation.
But to ensure you don’t swap your Zoom hell for video watching hell – here are 5 tips to do them right.
5 tips for better async video:
1. Use a simple recording app
Back in the day – recording and sharing videos was a huge pain. Often times you’d record on 1 device, transfer the file, encode it then attempt to send a huge file to someone.
All of these offer simple ways to hit 1 button, record and send.
2. Never longer than 3 minutes
If you think opening up your inbox in the morning and seeing 1000 new emails is brutal – try opening up a video and seeing that you’re being asked to watch 20 mins of a boring monologue. Literally – paint drying.
Despite the temptation to go longer – never EVER record these update videos for longer than 3 minutes. If you need more time than that – either breakup the video into multiple topics or simply provide the key points in the video and send additional written information.
Same deal with all the videos you get from your team. 3 mins max and enforce it.
3. Record once
Most people hate hearing & seeing themselves on video. So they continue to re-record the video over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.
Don’t do that. 1 take only. Ship your MVP (minimally viable product).
Remember that this is an internal video and probably only watched once. So don’t waste a ton of time recording it.
Only exception to this rule is if you violate the 3 min rule. Then take a second take to shorten it.
4. Show your screen & your face
Most recording software has 3 choices – record the screen, record webcam, record both screen and webcam. Pick the ‘both’ option.
If you only record the screen – your audience misses your non-verbal cues and the video lacks personality. If you only record the webcam – your audience lacks valuable visual information. Additionally, your audience ‘fatigues’ at staring at you for the entire 3 min monologue. Since the typical 2 person live conversation averages 2 mins per person per turn, your audience expects to ‘speak’ and the video gets annoying (just like a person who talks too much in person).
When you record the screen as primary (larger) and the webcam as secondary (smaller) – this ends up as the right balance. The video has content to read while listening to you – but still shows your facial gestures and non-verbal cues.
5. Send the link – not the file
Unfortunately, after recording these 3 min videos, they end up as huge files. Sending this file over email is typically rejected by your mail server and is a poor practice.
Cloud to the rescue.
Recording software companies have solved the large file problem by automatically uploading the video to their cloud storage then creating sharable links. Simply send that link to your team. They click on it and watch from any device.
Some recording apps (like Jumpshare and Loom) are native SaaS apps – and automatically display the video in their cloud interface. These work great also. You end up creating a personal YouTube-like channel of your videos and can measure views, length of viewer watch time, etc. And if you no longer want the video available – you can simply unshare it.
Managing remote teams is hard. You have to rethink the way you manage or you end up in Zoom hell. Bringing in asynchronous work is the key – and quick videos are an important tool for you and your team to master.
For additional information on how to record great videos – see these pieces:
Imagine the day. Travel has opened back up and you’re dusting off that passport. Dormant airline miles are being used. You’re now loving your company’s newly minted remote work policy. You can’t wait to work from exotic locations around the world.
You’ve also mastered a great Zoom setup at home. But can you reproduce it in a hotel?
The answer is yes.
But it takes a bit of education & planning.
Here are 5 steps for great video meetings while traveling:
Step 1: Choose a ‘video optimized’ location
It goes without saying – but most rooms are setup for activities to occur within the room. Not for people on the other end of a video conference. So determining where to setup your temporary remote office is the first major decision you have to make.
The good news is that hotel rooms often have desks in them. But having your unmade bed in the video behind you isn’t professional. And if you’re like me – a couple of screaming kids in the background doesn’t help either.
I recommend asking your hotel if they have a Board room. Many hotels will often let you use it for free if it’s not in use.
Below is a Board room at a hotel I stayed at during spring break. The room is nice – but picking the right location within the room is key.
The natural inclination is to pick a chair in the middle of the table, place your laptop down and be on your way. But that would be a poor choice and not leverage the assets of the room.
Another common mistake is to want the ‘pretty scene outside’ as the background and sit with the window behind you. As you can see from the picture below – the light coming from the window is too bright and your face will be dark/not visible in the camera.
Though counterintuitive – the best decision for this room is to pull the buffet table in front of the window and use that as your workspace. The natural light then shines on your face – and you get a great view during your meetings.
Step 2: Arrange the right camera orientation
Nothing makes your video image look worse than the wrong camera angle.
Look at the picture below. On the left – you have a professional video setup (newscaster) and on the right, you have a guest with an amateur video conferencing setup.
Though you’re unlikely to find a newsroom setup while you travel – you can easily recreate something close. The key is to ensure the camera on your laptop is at eye level and you sit far enough back to get most of your torso in the image. Here is a blog that dives into details about setting up the right camera orientation (How a stack of books can make your video conferencing 10x better).
To get your camera at eye level, you’ll often need to put the laptop on a stack of books or something else to raise it. For my hotel Board room above – I got lucky in that the buffet table was 7 inches taller than the Board room table. This brought the camera to near eye level (and a small adjustment of the chair height did the rest).
Step 3: Add depth to the background
Many people use virtual backgrounds nowadays (most poorly – but that’s a topic for another day). If you look closely at those images – you’ll notice that they make you appear as if you’re sitting in a large room. This adds ‘depth’ to the background to make it more interesting.
In the hotel room above – I moved the chair so that I was sitting parallel to the long side of the board room table. This made the table directly behind me and created the balanced ‘depth’ in my background.
See the picture below for what it looks like on video (and my head covered the ugly door). Ironically – folks on my Zoom calls thought it was a fake background. Success.
Step 4: Use a noise-cancelling microphone
Unlike doing video meetings at home – it’s hard to predict what random noises will come from the hotel hallway. And playing the mute/unmute game never works well.
So instead – use a noise-cancelling software like Krisp. There are a few software providers out there and they all work great to eliminate unwanted background noise while isolating your voice. I’ve even taken video meetings from noisy hotel lobbies – and participants in the video meeting couldn’t tell the difference.
Another benefit of using Krisp is that it removes the ‘large room’ echo. For big hotel rooms like the one above – this comes in handy.
Step 5: Bring a USB microphone
People often use AirPods or other bluetooth headsets with laptops. But the microphone audio quality of most of them are terrible (sorry Apple). For truly ‘podcast’ audio quality during meetings – I recommend a USB directional microphone for your laptop.
I use the Movo 1000 since it’s slim and fits into my laptop bag easily. It’s also USB powered so it doesn’t require a separate power cord to lose. And at $58 on Amazon – it’s an inexpensive way to have perfect audio.
It’s unclear exactly when travel will pickup again. But it is clear that a ton of folks will be working from random destinations when it does happen. And if you follow these simple 5 steps – you can work from any hotel room and still maintain a professional video setup.
And if you’re looking for more advanced lessons – see this article.
If you have any questions – please feel free to DM me on Twitter at @andytryba.
Remote work evangelists have a tendency to believe that the word ‘office’ is a four letter word. This is short-sided and ultimately harmful in making remote work mainstream.
Don’t get me wrong – remote work has a ton of advantages that I love (infinite talent, global, async deep work, etc) – but it also has a bunch of disadvantages. These current disadvantages – such as employees not feeling ‘connected’ to their team, lack of impromptu collaboration, feeling of isolation and manager’s lack of trust are items we should address head-on and find ways to fix.
Fortunately – technology is on our side and the emergence of ‘virtual worlds’ will help overcome many of these current issues.
Virtual worlds? You mean like Second Life?
Well – sorta…
These multi-player games create connection and enable folks – that are thousands of miles apart – to ‘feel’ like they are on the same team and working together.
In a work setting – we definitely want that same type of connection and collaboration (less the tanks and ammo perhaps). There is a big difference between communication and connection (as I write about in this article) – and these virtual worlds can help make these connections reality.
Now – I’m not saying you should run your company off of Fortnite – but there are a lot of great virtual office programs. We use a program called Sococo (and loved it so much we bought the company).
Here is a quick 3 minute video of how we use a virtual world to bring together our remote teams.
If anyone is also currently using remote worlds to run your company – love to hear your experiences! You can reach me on Twitter – @andytryba