Working remotely has imposed a new set of pressures, not the least of which is looking fully engaged and professional while working from home.
It’s tough to act businesslike when your dog is barking or your children are chasing each other around the house. But just because life has changed doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel and look like you’ve abandoned your professional identity. Doing so will make others take you less seriously.
Here are six ways to make sure when you work remotely that you don’t look like you’ve gone off the deep end:
1. Avoid distractions (when possible)
Given the helter-skelter environment we have when working from home, it’s easy to become distracted, scattered, and remote.
If you’re a parent to a young kid, or live with a bunch of roommates, it’s inevitable that you will sometimes be faced with distractions. That’s life. But do what you can to avoid getting distracted unnecessarily. I’ve heard people in virtual meetings say, “Oh, wait a minute, I’m just finishing my last bite of breakfast.” Or “Geez, I’ve got to get a haircut—I don’t think I look that great with long hair.”
Being distracted can also come across in little comments like “Where was I now?” These lapses are a clear giveaway that you’re giving too much of your mental attention to what’s happening in your home.
As tough as it sounds, edit out such fly-away comments. Think like the professional you are, and if you find yourself apologizing, or losing focus, stop and center yourself. When possible, eliminate distractions before the meeting starts.
2. Don’t talk about the tech
If you struggle with the technology you’re using, you’ll sound disconnected from your audience.
We’ve all heard people say “Can you hear me?” and “Can you see me?” But when we hear people agonizing over the technology, we become more conscious that these individuals are remote—far from being present to us. I recently heard someone say, “I don’t know how to get these slides up, this may take a while, sorry. I don’t think I’m looking good.” Yes, when we struggle with the tech, we don’t look that good.
If you’re not comfortable with the technology, practice in advance. Make your virtual conversations seamless by mastering whatever technology you’re using.
3. Don’t talk from a distance
If you place yourself far back from the camera you’ll look remote.
Just think about it: The farther back you are from the camera, the more of your living room or study or bedroom your audience will see. I remember on one video call the speaker was at her desk but the desk was far back in the room. So the impression was of this speaker being remote.
No one should focus on your room; they should focus on you. So sit close to the camera, and talk into it, making sure it is at eye level. Sit close enough that your gestures seem to reach out and nearly touch the viewer.
4. Don’t put yourself in a small box
If you put yourself in a small box on the Zoom screen you will look remote.
We’ve all seen speakers who surrender themselves to visuals. This happens in webinars, where the slides take over and the speaker appears in a small box, usually in the upper right-hand corner. This defines the speaker as a narrator and makes her appear remote and unreachable.
Instead, be the speaker, not the narrator. Come out from that little box whenever you can, and be front and center in the presentation. Sure, there are times when group meetings require everyone to be in a box. But if you’re leading the meeting, take center stage.
5. Don’t dress too casually
If you dress too casually you’ll come across as someone who looks like you’re no longer in the office.
Sure, if you’re Elon Musk, you can get away with wearing a T-shirt that says “Occupy Mars.” He’s earned that. But when working from home, don’t go to that meeting or video interview wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with your favorite sports star. As great as that might make you feel, it will make you look like you’re not really focused on work. That you’re not really professional.
If you want to look focused, wear what you used to wear to the office on casual Fridays—a shirt, a blouse, or a smart golf shirt. As for the clothing that doesn’t appear on camera—the same rule applies! Wear shoes—not your bedroom slippers. Dressing the part will help focus you on your professional task at hand.
And if you have a presentation, dress up a bit. Wear something that screams “I am a professional, and I take this meeting seriously.”
6. Don’t lose your joy
If you lose your vitality and sense of joy you’ll seem distant, unreachable.
It’s understandable that times are tough, and slogging it out with kids, remote work, and all the fears the pandemic brings is not easy. But don’t surrender your vibrancy. Don’t succumb to Zoom fatigue.
Great speakers never lose their expressiveness. They give their all to every audience. Their energy level remains high.
Being energized at meetings will give your voice power, and it will be well received by your colleagues and clients. Your virtual audience needs your energy, and they will feel closer to you if you share your strong and expressive voice.