The UX of Conference Calls
One of my favorite aspects of remote culture at a digital product agency is embracing the reality that successful communication and collaboration have to be intentionally cultivated — something that collocated teams oftentimes assume comes for free just from existing in the same building.
At DockYard, much like brick and mortar shops, we acknowledge that face-to-face feedback, connection, and community are top-priority values that are woven into even the most seemingly minor interactions. At the end of the day, we believe the best way to do strategic and creative work is by empathizing with the experiences of one another the same way we care about our users — these simple but significant behaviors listed below are a great start to putting your teammates’ needs, goals, and comfort first.
Be on Time
This is the keystone of professional etiquette. If your call starts late, you run the risk of either not covering the planned discussion topics or of running over. These both inevitably require follow-ups, and both somewhat arrogantly assume that your partners — and your coworkers — are open to your work habits consuming more time than they’re prepared to give.
Be Somewhere Stable
Sounds like a no brainer, but you would be shocked at how many otherwise solid presentations and conversations I’ve seen undercut by background noise in open floorplans and coffee shops. Check your calendar at the beginning of the day, and if you have any calls where you are expected to be an active contributor, plan to get somewhere quiet well in advance and stay put.
Have an Agenda
Nothing says gelled like a team that can run a call together. Whoever is responsible for leading must, without exception, document the agenda points, link all resources, and share these materials with invitees in advance. Then it is the responsibility of every attendee to show up prepared and to stay on topic. If a call does not come with an agenda, ask for one. If someone strays off topic, nudge them back on track.
Leave Your Camera On
We advocate for an 80/20 rule on camera use. This prioritizes face-to-face discussion, helps folks learn one another’s physical cues, and shows partners that you are fully present and interested in making a connection — but also admits that not everyone working from home feels they and their offices are “camera ready” all the time.
Talk to the Green Dot
If you are having a 1-on-1 or a small group discussion, some advice I once received that I love to share is to look at the “green dot” that signals that your camera is on. This helps mimic the eye contact felt in real-life scenarios, and can also help mitigate against the camera anxiety we all feel from time to time, especially if you know you’re larger than life on a conference room’s mega screen.
On first-time calls with a new partner, or in large groups that don’t often collaborate, always identify yourself and your role on the team. “Hey, this is Sarah” is fine, but “Hey, this is Sarah, the technical lead on this project” is not only collegial, it lets your audience frame the type of information you will likely provide and need from the call.
Count to Three
Even with your camera on, and full attention on the conversation, it is still extremely difficult not to accidentally interrupt or speak over someone. As a general rule, try to count to two or three before contributing after someone else has spoken. Or better yet, use your call’s chat feature to raise your (emoji) hand rather than talk over someone — a practice our UXD team has embraced.
Ask an open question and ye shall receive deafening silence. Open questions look like you don’t know how to direct a clear inquiry, and you put others in the room at risk of appearing checked out just because they don’t know if or how they should respond. If you want a competent and complete answer, you have to ask for specifics from people by name — not the group.
Turn Off Notifications
Not only are they distracting to you, and a potential gaffe if you’re screensharing — they are very loud for everyone else. I’m looking at you, iMessage. Just turn them off, no additional explanation needed.
Consciously Reject Distraction
Saved the most challenging for last. This means no Slack, no email, no mobile devices, no work product. Mirror the respectful behavior expected in traditional conference rooms, and accept the challenge to pay full attention and dedicate your whole mind to the people sitting right in front you — they will know they are your top priority and appreciate the courtesy.
DockYard is a digital product agency offering exceptional strategy, design, full stack engineering, web app development, custom software, Ember.js, Elixir, and Phoenix services, consulting, and training. With a nationwide staff, we’ve got consultants in key markets across the U.S., including Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, New York, and Boston.