Tandem Solutions has operated as a virtual company for almost 20 years. Our team members are scattered across many states and have all had to adapt to working virtually. In an effort to support clients moving to virtual work environments, this series of articles will share a number of important insights we have learned over the past two decades of building a virtual workforce.
Creating Your Personal Online Brand
Video meetings are becoming commonplace with virtual workforces. As you start conducting more and more business online via video calls, it’s important to think about how you “show up” to these meetings. Working virtually provides us with an opportunity to think about how we can shape our personal brand and the image we project to the world. Appearance, environment, and behavior are three important aspects of this online brand.
The norms for appearance in business have changed significantly over the last 30 or 40 years. When I first started working back in the mid-80’s men wore suits every day and women ALWAYS wore dresses or skirts. We’ve come a long way since then, fueled in part by the dot com boom that ushered in more casual office environments.
As more and more people work from home, we may be at yet another inflection point on acceptable business attire. However, how we decide to show up at a meeting, online or otherwise, is the first impression of our personal brand. I’m not suggesting that everyone working from home should start wearing suits, but the brand you want to represent is definitely something to consider. Here are a few things to think about:
- Does my appearance effectively represent my profession and position in my organization?
- Does my appearance help inspire confidence and trust from others, particularly my employees and customers?
- If my CEO or a big customer “Zoom-bombed” my meeting and showed up unannounced, would I feel like I needed to turn off my camera?
In the non-virtual work world, meetings happen in conference rooms, on job sites, or in someone’s office. Regardless of where they are, the environment is usually not something we have much influence over. When we work from home, however, the environment adds to the brand that we project. In a previous post, I mentioned the importance of setting up a dedicated space for work. In addition to having somewhere you can focus, you might also want to think about what shows up behind you before you turn on your webcam.
First and foremost, make sure the space is picked up and organized. You may not have many location options, depending on the size of your house or apartment, but you can have a big impact on the image you project just by having a tidy environment. For example, if your “desk” is your kitchen table, you might want to think twice about letting the dishes pile up in the sink during the day.
Zoom and other video conferencing applications provide the option to project a virtual background. This can be a great feature if you choose the right picture. However, some of the stock images of outer space or beach scenes may not be the best choice unless you’re an astronaut or dive instructor. Our office administrator recently started working from home. Since her husband is also home and they only have one home office, she has been working in a corner of her bedroom. To help ensure her surroundings reflected her level of professionalism, she started using a background picture from our offices as her virtual background. This has a powerful effect in our daily team meetings: she’s showing us that she’s at work and ready to go. It’s s a true reflection of her attitude and focus.
In addition to the background, it’s important to think about the lighting. As a general rule, the light projecting on your face should be brighter than the light behind you: It’s generally always best to face a window if you can. If you have a window in the background, pull the shades to dim the light. With the right lighting, fellow meeting participants will be able to see your expressions, and pick up on your non-verbal cues much more effectively.
Finally, we must remember that our behavior is an important component of our online presence. Think of three important elements here: show up on time, mute liberally, and don’t forget the camera.
By this point, most have probably experienced the challenge of someone getting onto a call and not being able to work the technology. This is the first aspect of behavior you can control: showing up on time. I have many clients who dial in to meetings early (some even do a dry run a day ahead of time) to ensure they know how to drive the software. I know their fellow participants always appreciate their efforts and it really helps make meeting flow more smoothly.
Once the meeting starts, it’s important to remember the “mute” button is your friend. Most video conference software only allows one speaker at a time. If you’re not muted, the software may confuse your background noise for the speaker. The result is that participants can’t hear or understand the actual speaker. The protocol here is clear and simple: if you’re not speaking, keep it muted!
Lastly don’t forget about the camera. I’ve heard horror stories in the last week or two about people being caught on video vacuuming, dozing off, or getting up to exercise during meetings. Remember that projecting the right image is something you have to do from the start to the finish of every online meeting.
It’s also important to remember that the camera represents the eyes of your fellow participants. The equivalent of making eye contact isn’t looking at the person on your screen, but rather looking at the camera. I make it a point to try to look straight at the camera lens regularly, especially when I’m talking, to communicate that I’m engaged with my fellow meeting participants. Think about the difference this might make in terms of projecting confidence and making a connection when you speak.
After decades of technical development and advancement, it looks like video conferencing is starting to become more commonplace. I’m hopeful that these three aspects of online presence give us all something to consider as we explore this new way to engage with each other and project a powerful personal brand. See you online!