Earning

5 best practices for using Zoom from someone who did daily video meetings for 2.5 years

Twenty/20

Co-workers, classmates, families, and friends have discovered video-conferencing in recent weeks as social distancing in the U.S. has disrupted daily life.

That's resulted in a surge in demand for platforms like Zoom, Houseparty, Hangouts Meet, Skype, Microsoft Team, and others. In the week of March 26 to April 1, Zoom was the most downloaded app in the U.S. with 3.2 million new users, according to Statista. Zoom saw its daily number of meeting participants hit 200 million in March, up from 10 million in December, the company said on April 1.

As the platform's popularity has risen, so have concerns about privacy and security. Consumer advocates have criticized Zoom for issues including unwelcome intrusions and for sharing data with Facebook, and three states are now investigating potential privacy violations. In a statement on its website to customers on April 1, Zoom's CEO Eric Yuan said the company will prioritize fixing privacy and security flaws in the next 90 days.

At a previous job, I actively used Zoom for about 2.5 years. The program became a daily fixture in my workdays. Here are five Zoom do's and don't's I learned from using it regularly.

Do: Add a password to your meetings

The popularity of Zoom has created a new problem: Video conference invaders who post racist or offensive material after gaining access to other people's chats. This behavior has resulted in a new term: zoombombing.

This wasn't a problem I encountered when using the application but there were times that an uninvited co-worker accidentally joined the wrong meeting because of an errant link. To prevent innocuous or more obnoxious disruptions, create a password and share the meeting information only with the participants you want to attend. Don't post it publicly or share it with others.

Try enabling the "waiting room" feature Zoom offers. This requires any would-be guests to wait for your approval before joining the call.

Finally, you can lock a meeting while it's underway and remove participants, if necessary.

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Don't: Try to get a huge group together

You've likely seen the "Brady Bunch"-style pictures of group Zoom meetings. That's one of the appeals of Zoom when compared with an app like FaceTime: You can gather a group and see everyone all at once.

But that doesn't necessarily mean you should. In my experience, more participants actually means less conversation. That seems to be the case for a few different reasons: People may feel less comfortable speaking in front of a virtual audience; there aren't the same social cues of an in-person meeting; and there's the risk of multiple people talking at the same time.

A large Zoom meeting can make sense for people who are teaching a class or presenting information. Otherwise, be mindful of how many people you're including. There often are slight lags in audio when using video-conferencing services, which can result in a lot of tiresome exchanges like, "Sorry, go ahead. No, you go ahead. OK, I'll go. Oh, sorry."

If you're looking to Zoom as a tool for brainstorming or a good conversation, in my experience it's best to limit the group size to about six or fewer participants. That way you can easily see each other and know who's talking and makes it easier to get the visual cues of when it is, or isn't, your turn to talk. 

Do: Turn off your microphone

Loud sighs, yawns, chewing, typing, cursing, background noises of barking dogs and crying kids — it's all there for your meeting participants to hear if you don't turn off your microphone. So change your settings to ensure your microphone defaults as off and then keep it turned off until you're ready to talk.

As someone recently joked on Twitter: "Not muting your microphone is the new 'reply all.'" 

Don't: Forget your camera is on

For video-conferencing newbies, one of the most intimidating aspects is being on-camera. I can relate: The first time I used Zoom was to interview for that job, and it was a nearly five-hour interview process.

Whether you can or should turn your camera off will depend on the meeting size and your expected level of participation. If there are more than 20 participants, for example, you can more likely turn it off as the need to see each person is less important. In smaller meetings, however, it's best to have your camera turned on.

That means you need to be aware of a few things: What's in the background of your video, what you're doing while on-camera, and yes, annoyingly, how you look. Before you use Zoom for the first time, check the backdrop to make sure there's nothing there you don't want your boss to see and, especially if this is a professional meeting, be aware of your appearance.

You can take advantage of other people's lack of preparation, too: Long and boring meetings can be good times to, well, zoom in on different people's shots to see what's in the background. 

Loud sighs, yawns, chewing, typing, cursing, background noises of barking dogs and crying kids — it's all there for your meeting participants to hear if you don't turn off your microphone.

While much of this can be fun — especially when a pet or kid interrupts a meeting — it can be easy to forget you're on camera if you're not heavily participating, and that can be dangerous. I've seen people fall asleep, take the Zoom call along for a distracting (and probably unsafe) car ride, and harshly scold their kids.

And, as I learned myself, apparently making a salad during a meeting is a bit distracting to other attendees.

I've heard stories about managers scrutinizing their employees' facial features during meetings to see if employees appear engaged or annoyed, so remember to keep your game face on.

Finally, the reflection of your screen in your glasses can give away a wealth of information. Be careful if you're not actually tuned in to the meeting and are instead browsing the web or using Slack, because other people at the meeting may be able to tell.

Do: Use filters and virtual backgrounds, but sparingly

If you have a messy backdrop or just don't want people judging those books on your bookshelf, Zoom does offer some fun and customizable backdrops. Just be aware that they can affect your connectivity.

Some good news for those who are camera shy: Zoom has a feature to touch up your appearance with a softer focus that can smooth your skin's appearance for a bit of an airbrushed look.

There are other filters that you can experiment with, too: You can even turn yourself into a potato, as one woman recently went viral for doing. Before you experiment, make sure you read the room to decide if that's the appropriate "look" for your meeting.

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