It’s easy to confuse hearsay for fact when it comes to video conferences—so let’s clear the air around a few not-quite-true Zoom meeting fables.
Like everyone else, you’ve probably been doing a lot more video conferencing than usual since last spring. And when everyone is doing something, everyone has an opinion about how to do it right.
Some are folklore. Others have evolved into myths.
In either case, not all widely held beliefs about video conferencing are true. But for a tool this essential, it’s important to have an accurate understanding of video conferencing, the technology, and the way you and your coworkers interact with it.
So let’s bust a few myths, shall we?
1. Video Conferencing Eats Up Your Bandwidth
Zoom, Google Meet, and other video-conferencing platforms have a reputation of being resource hogs, thanks in part to dropped calls and frozen frames.
But the truth is, these platforms don’t really need that much bandwidth compared with the capabilities of modern connections. Example: For 720p video in a 1-on-1 video call, a resolution most modern laptop webcams utilize, Zoom lists its bandwidth requirements as 1.2 megabits up and down. This is well below the maximum throughput of your average cable modem and easily within the realm of capability of your average LTE or 5G mobile connection.
However, if you are on a call with a lot of people, things can add up: Group video calls require 2.6 megabits, and a gallery call can require up to 4 megabits. (One idea: Turn off the gallery mode if you have low bandwidth.) On paper, a low-end 25-megabit cable or ADSL connection should nonetheless suffice—and your home may have a connection many times faster than that.
The real connection challenge comes from external factors. Let’s say your kids are at home watching something on Netflix, or you’re downloading a large file. Maybe you have something streaming in the background on your laptop. Maybe your spouse is on a Zoom call in the other room. Or maybe you’re taking a Zoom call in a coffee shop with 15 other people using the same connection on their laptops and phones. It’s not so much the Zoom itself that eats up the bandwidth, but the fact that your video conference has competition.
Now add to this the variable of WiFi—which is good enough in many cases but is more susceptible to latency issues—and you have a lot of elements at play that have nothing to do with Zoom itself. (Zoom does offer some suggestions [PDF] for managing calls in a low-bandwidth setting, and Microsoft Teams offers a low-bandwidth mode.) Maybe the issue isn’t Zoom being bandwidth-hungry, but your apartment having thick walls that make it hard for wireless signals to pass through. One way to solve this, according to PC Magazine? If high consistency and low latency matters, plug in to the internet through an Ethernet cable—or work near your router, where the wireless connection will be strongest.
2. Going On Camera Helps You Connect With Others
As remote work continues to be normalized, some organizations are requiring workers to stay on camera in meetings—a controversial practice, and a driving factor behind “Zoom fatigue.” A recent CNN piece even described organizations where people received HR complaints because they chose to leave their cameras off.
It turns out that research supports the choice to stay off camera. A recent University of Arizona study analyzing more than 100 health-services employees found that having cameras on during meetings was a deterrent to engagement, especially for women, because it fatigued people—and that the solution was to allow employees to turn the cameras off.
“In reality, those who had cameras on were potentially participating less than those not using cameras,” lead researcher Allison Gabriel said in a press release. “This counters the conventional wisdom that cameras are required to be engaged in virtual meetings.”
Perhaps the connection only needs to be at a voice level, or even over Slack. If you must be on camera, read up on some tips to look your best during video conferencing.
3. Video Conferencing Levels the Playing Field
In theory, a format in which everyone is in the same room and there’s no head to a table or visual cue that one person is leading the discussion would help ensure everyone can participate equally.
But in a recent academic paper, “You’re on Mute: How the Shift From In-Person to Virtual Board Meetings Impacts Board Governance and Communication in Nonprofit Associations,” University of San Francisco master’s student Theresa Hurley writes about how virtual board meetings can enable one person to dominate the discussion—especially on a teleconferencing call, where there is no visual feedback. “Some people will be drowned out or not feel comfortable speaking up, others may dominate unless there is an adequate facilitator so it is very easy for some to not participate at all,” she wrote.
Adding video can help with this dynamic, but it needs to be carefully considered. “Board intragroup dynamics such as sense of teamwork, the process of discussing and debating ideas, power of each individual and how conflict is managed should be considered alongside board factors such as structure and composition as a fundamental factor underpinning effectiveness,” she wrote.
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