How to be your best self on Zoom

Since Covid changed the way we work, Zoom fatigue has become a very real thing. If you've experienced this, know that you’re not alone.

And it's not just restricted to Zoom either, it's any video meeting tool.

But is it possible that people only hate video calls because, often, they're conducted badly? Or because we find it difficult to present our best and most professional selves online?

We're a totally remote team and have been for a while, so we've got a few tips for remote workers who might be struggling with video calls.

And ideas on how remote teams can help new starters feel welcome too, which naturally involves (yep, you've guessed it) video calls.

But first, let’s take a look at what constitutes a bad Zoom meeting before we go on to help you be your best self on camera.

Why is Zoom Fatigue a thing?

Studies conducted by researchers at Stanford University have found that Zoom fatigue exists because of a few key issues.

1. Staring at ourselves on camera is weird

Even if you’re a big fan of TikTok and Instagram, you probably don’t film yourself every waking moment of the day. And that’s why the occasional selfie is very different from seeing yourself reflected in a Zoom window all the time.

That weirdness might be tolerable if it weren’t for the fact that many people struggle with their body image and feel insecure about their appearance. So, if you’re already battling those concerns, staring at a digital depiction of your face isn’t likely to improve your day.

Plus, everybody has that moment when they see themselves in a check-out security camera or a passing mirror. You know the one— that moment where you do a double-take and go, “Oh my god, is that what I look like!”

Prolong that moment over the course of your entire work day and it’s easy to see how one might get enmeshed in a web of anxiety and insecurity that prevents you from being your best self online.

2. Digital socialisation doesn’t feel normal

At least not at first.

How you interact on Zoom and how you behave in real life are usually two very different things. In real life, you would never walk up to somebody and say, “Is this working…? Can you hear me? Can you see me okay? Okay, cool, let’s get started - oh no, wait, sorry, you’ve frozen again!”

These elements of a video call are often unavoidable but that doesn’t mean they feel natural. So, for extroverts who prefer the ease of in-person interaction, it can be difficult to cope with the nuanced differences of socialisation on Zoom.

3. Digital communication pushes our boundaries

It’s often beneficial to step outside of our comfort zone but Zoom meetings can challenge us in a different way. That’s because digital communication via video pushes our boundaries when it comes to personal space.

When you’re chatting with someone in person, it’s easy to know where the lines are. Everyone has their own bubble of personal space and we mutually respect that by standing close but not too close and making eye contact without staring someone down.

But on a video call, it’s tricky. Even on a laptop, the other person’s face appears larger than life and way too close to your own. It’s easy for each of you to feel as though your bubble of space is invaded. 

“The brain is particularly attentive to faces, and when we see large ones, we interpret them as being close. Our ‘fight or flight’ reflex responds”, Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab.

And for some people, doing that all day long can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.

How to nail your next video call

These are just a few of the most common difficulties that affect our professional lives online so it’s important to learn how we can address them.

Video calls may not be your favourite thing but remote working isn’t going anywhere (and certainly has its perks). 

Despite the Zoom fatigue and lack of camera confidence, 78% of Brits who work from home in some capacity say that they have a better work-life balance (according to the Office of National Statistics).

So, how can we be our best selves in this new working world? Let’s take a look at these top tips.

1. Make sure your tech is running smoothly

Eliminating tech issues from the outset is a great way to minimise your Zoom stress.

Video meetings are always trickier when your laptop freezes or your sound is fuzzy, so testing your equipment prior to a Zoom meeting - and troubleshooting any issues you discover - will help ensure your meeting goes off without a hitch.

So, make sure that your internet is appropriately speedy, that your audio quality is clear, and that your office area is free of clutter and distractions.

When you work from home, it’s easy to let the paperwork pile up or to let your quarterly report get jumbled up with your kids’ football kit, but these common distractions can really impact your mind, your office space, and your performance in meetings.

So, where possible, try to make your office area a clean and professional space -  even if you’re working from your basement.

2. Act like it’s just a normal meeting

How would you prepare for a face-to-face meeting in the office? You’d most likely put your best foot forward by wearing professional attire and generally presenting yourself as a calm and confident professional.

But when you’re on camera, it’s easy to lose sight of the goals you would otherwise keep in mind for an in-person meeting. It’s also easy to psych yourself out by focusing on the aspects of the meeting that are different rather than all the factors that remain the same.

But if you can tell yourself that this is just like any other meeting, it may be easier to downplay the differences and show up as your best and most confident self. For example, you can eliminate some Zoom awkwardness by preparing an agenda and keeping the meeting on track.

Smoothly gliding through your talking points can reduce those long stretches of awkward silence and poor eye contact. It will also send a signal to others that you’re confident and prepared to keep things moving, which may encourage them to get on board.

3. Practice normal office etiquette

This one should be a no-brainer but an online office does not eliminate the need for normal office etiquette. So, for example, make sure you’re not eating on the call, and don’t blatantly play Angry Birds on your phone.

And even if your co-workers can’t smell it through the screen, you probably shouldn’t microwave anything fish-related!

4. Laugh it off

Awkward moments will happen. Your WiFi might suddenly cut out, your face may suddenly freeze in time, or you'll accidentally talk over someone. Not every call will be slick and seamless and that's OK.

The best thing to do in that situation? Have a laugh, crack a joke - you're allowed! If you accidentally spoke over someone, apologise and let them continue before you go on to make your point. It's not the end of the world.

These top tips might not eliminate every awkward aspect of remote work but they can definitely help.

Conquering our own distractions and anxieties is half the battle, so if you can equip yourself with fast WiFi, a no-clutter zone, and an air of professional confidence, your Zoom game will improve!