I was speaking with my colleague Kylie the other day (over lunch, naturally—we’re PR professionals, not animals) and we got onto the subject of office space. She runs a small business. I run a small business. Space is expensive, and increasingly irrelevant. Clients want results, not overhead costs.
We started talking about the rise of shared office spaces, the increase in home offices, and the decline of the “in-person client meeting.” From where I sit (my dining room table, despite an entire room dedicated as a home office) this is a double-edged sword.
Kylie reminded me that clients used to love to take field trips to their PR agencies’ offices. There was, however, an unspoken rule: we’d grab some Starbucks muffins (and cut them in half, depending on how big the retainer was), serve coffee, and they could tell their bosses they were at a one-hour off-site meeting for three hours. Those days are done. Now we eat lunch at our desks (and dining room tables!) and avoid the telephone.
When it comes to office space, I’ve done it all. I’ve rented shared-services offices (the “office within an office”). I have rented dedicated office space (the “please sign this two-year lease” office). That said, the most effective office space I’ve ever used is in my home, a cute two-bedroom apartment downtown Vancouver.
Every single work day is now jam-packed with video calls. All day, every day.
Non-video conference calls are officially dead. So is voicemail. You heard it here first. Video killed the email star.
Here’s what I learned:
1. They can see you. Take a shower, and put some pants on.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re working from home it’s tempting to set your alarm ten minutes before your first call of the day and hide your screen while you guzzle coffee and get caught up to the agenda. Don’t do this.
Your home office is an office. Treat it as such. When I sit down for my first call of the day, I’m showered, I’m dressed for work, and I’ve reviewed the agenda and know the subject matter.
It may be six in the morning on the West Coast, but your clients can see you. If you’re anything like me, that means throwing a blazer on top of your cute t-shirt.
2. For God’s sake, don’t be late.
I cannot stress this enough. If you haven’t dialed in at least one minute before the meeting starts, you’re late. The meeting starts at 8:59, not 9:00. And that nagging suspicion that everyone on the call is talking about you when you’re not there? They are definitely talking about you.
Showing up five minutes late to a conference call isn’t just five minutes late. You’re also spending five minutes of everyone else’s time.
Two people on the call? You’ve wasted 10 minutes.
Nine people on the call? That’s 45 minutes of your clients’ time.
Do the math. How many salary dollars are you actually spending? Yikes.
3. Stage the room, test your lighting, and tell your family.
Optics matter. This sounds shallow, but what you see is what you get… so get good.
If you’re going to save overhead by not renting office space, your home needs to look professional. No one wants to see your laundry in the background of a call. No one wants to see your freshly-showered partner walking around in a towel.
If you’re sitting at a table or desk, your laptop’s camera is not your friend. You should always be looking upwards at the camera, unless you want your audience staring at your chin from below (I do not). Stack some books. Get a stand-up desk. Move a lamp if you need better lighting.
Take a look at your background. Stay away from the windows (the light will drown out your face entirely). Make sure participants can see your face clearly. Most importantly, put something interesting behind you. For me, a bookshelf works well. Others enjoy a decorative plant, or freshly cut flowers. Find what works for you, and fill your boots.
Finally, set some ground rules with family/friends/roommates. Your clients probably don’t want to hear the rumblings of a coffee machine churning out espresso while you’re delivering a crisis communications report.
4. Mute, mute, mute—and pay attention.
The mute button is an underused resource. If you’re not talking, you need to be muted.
That said, it’s easy to tune out or get distracted if you’re not the one speaking. Avoid this temptation. There is nothing more embarrassing than someone asking a direct question while you’ve moved onto checking your Instagram feed.
Put your phone on silent, and don’t play with it. People can tell who has tuned out. Don’t tune out.
5. Make. Sure. You. Have. An. Excellent. WiFi. Connection. At. All. Times.
I travel a lot. My clients are accustomed to seeing me in airport lounges and [well-staged] hotel rooms.
I don’t travel anywhere without a WiFi connection that can sustain a video call. Period.
There’s nothing worse than your client Slacking you to say “can you jump on this call?” and then not being able to understand what you’re contributing.
Your Internet connection is your responsibility. Sloppy WiFi is sloppy work.
6. Look at the camera.
This seems simple, but I’m consistently amazed by how often people screw this up.
Don’t look at the screen when you’re talking—everyone on the call sees you looking downwards, which does not inspire confidence.
Instead, look directly into the camera while you’re talking. The other call participants will see you speaking directly to them.
Video is here to stay, and it’s a visual medium.
Act like you’re in the room. Because you are.
Paul Nixey is a communications consultant with more than 20 years’ experience in public relations, marketing, content management, and crisis communications. He has a robust collection of blazers hanging next to his laptop.