How to video conference without people hating you

While video conferencing has been a real boon to productivity there are still lots of things that can go wrong during a conference video call.

There are some things that are just plain out of your control, but there are some things that you can control. So, after doing these for the past 15 years or so, here are some tips if you're just getting into remote work and want to do a better job. Of course I have been guilty of all of these. :D

Stuff to have

  • Get a Microphone - Other than my desk, chair, and good monitors, this is the number one upgrade you can do. Sound is one of those things that can immediately change the quality of your call. I use a Blue Yeti due to the simplicity of using USB audio, and having a hardware mute button. This way I know for sure I am muted when there's a blinking red light in my face. Learn to use your microphone. On my Yeti you speak across the microphone and it has settings for where to pick up the noise from. Adjust these so it sounds correct. Get a pop filter.

  • A Video Camera - Notice I put this second. I can get over a crappy image if the audio is good. The Logitech C-900 series has been my long go to standard for this. It also has dual noise cancelling microphones, which are great for backup (if you're on a trip), but I will always default to the dedicated microphone.

  • A decent set of headphones - Personal preference. I like open back ones for the home but pack a noise cancelling set for when I am on the road.

What about an integrated headset and microphone? This totally depends on the type. I tend to prefer the full sound of a real microphone but the boom mics on some of these headsets are quite good. If you have awesome heaphones already you can add a modmic to turn them into headsets. I find that even the most budget dedicated headsets sound better than earbud microphones.

Stuff to get rid of

  • Your shitty earbuds - Seriously. If you're going to be a remote worker invest in respecting your coworker's time. A full hour long design session with you holding up a junky earbud microphone up to your face is not awesome for anybody. They're fine if you want to use them for listening, but don't use the mic.

  • "But this iPhone was $1000, my earbud mic is fine." Nope. You sound like crap.

Garbage Habits we all hate

If you're just dialing in to listen then most of these won't apply to you, however ...

  • Always join on muted audio. If the platform you use doesn't do this by default find this setting and enable it.

  • If you don't have anything to say at that moment, MUTE. Even if you are just sitting there you're adding ambient noise to the meeting, and when it gets over 10 people this really, really, sucks. This is why I love having a physical mute button, you can always be sure at a glance without digging into settings. I've also used a USB switch pedal for mute with limited success.

  • Jumping in from a coffee shop, your work's cafeteria, or any other place where there's noise is not cool. And if you work in an open office all you're doing is broadcasting to everyone else in the room that your place of employment doesn't take developer productivity seriously.

  • "Oh I will use my external speakers and built in microphone and adjust the levels and it will sound fine." - No, it won't, you sound like a hot mess, put on your headset and use the microphone.

  • If you use your built-in microphone on your laptop and you start typing while you are talking EVERYBODY WILL HATE YOU.

  • If you're going to dial in from the back on an Uber or from a bus, and you have to talk or present, just don't come. Ask someone to run the meeting for you or reschedule. You're just wasting everyone's time if you think we want to hear you sprinting down a terminal to catch your flight.

  • And if you're that person sitting on the plane in the meeting and people have to hear whatever thing you're working on, they will hate you for the entire flight.

Treat video conferencing like you do everything else at work

We invest in our computers and our developer tools, think seriously about putting your video conferencing footprint in that namespace. There is a good chance no one will notice that you always sound good, but it's one of those background quality things that just makes everyone more productive. Besides, think of the money you've spent on your laptop and everything else to make you better at work, better audio gear is a good investment.

In the real world, sometimes you just have to travel and you find yourself stuck on a laptop on hotel wireless in a corner trying to your job, but I strive to make that situation the exception!


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