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Best practices for creating an effective home working environment – Part 2

Room Lighting

Lighting is important for not only your meetings but also your personal wellbeing. If at all possible, you should position yourself in the room, with the window in front of you. This will illuminate your face, which is a really good thing during video calls; meeting participants will recognise who you are. Please do not sit with a window behind you.

All cameras will be affected by any light coming into the window behind you. The camera iris will close as it tries to accommodate varying levels of light behind you. If the sun is shining brightly behind you, you may well end up appearing, to remote video meeting participants, as a black silhouette. They will not be able to see your face and will have no idea who you are.

With the window to one side of you, it’s possible that half your face will be in shadow and the other half in light, so you may have to close curtains or blinds and you may need to experiment to achieve the best results.

As the seasons change, you may need to use room lighting or desk lamps to get more light on to your face. Be careful if you have bright room lighting immediately behind you, in a similar way to sunlight, the camera iris may close and you may be silhouetted.

We have seen the use of LED lighting rings attached to monitors which can light up your face.

Home Office Camera

Most people start with the camera integrated into their laptop. Newer integrated laptop cameras can be OK but generally speaking laptop cameras do not let a lot of light into the camera’s sensor. This means that you may end up sending a darker image than is ideal.

Given the opportunity and the space on the home office desk, many people will opt to use a second monitor. Sometimes, employers will allow employees to take their work monitor home. Having only a laptop, means that you have to do absolutely everything on your laptop. Having a second monitor allows you to run video conferences on the second monitor which is normally much bigger than a laptop screen; turning your second monitor into what might be considered a dedicated video conferencing ‘system’.

The use of a second monitor means that it is easier to see the business applications you are running and your video conference calls will be far better when displayed on a larger monitor.

There are a wide range of camera’s available for use by home workers – and once again, you get what you pay for. As mentioned above, most video conferencing platforms support calls up to 720p, there is little to be gained by choosing cameras which support much higher resolutions – unless of course you plan to re-deploy the camera in a meeting room, once we re-open our offices. Because you are only around 80 cm from your screen so there is nothing to be gained by choosing a camera with a very wide field of view.

We see some cameras today which have been designed for use in huddle rooms / small meeting rooms. Typically these have 100 – 120 degree fields of view. If you use such cameras in your home office, the camera is designed to display everything within that field of view. In this case, you may end up sending into the video call, areas of your home office which you would prefer not to be seen, although to be fair, it will be possible to use the cameras pan tilt and zoom functionality to focus on you, rather than everything around you.

Web cameras with our without integrated microphones, supporting 720p or 1080p resolutions and with fields of view between 60 degrees and 75 degrees are good for home workers.

Room Audio

Good video is important but good audio is vital. If you have video and audio, you can hold a meeting. If you have only video but no audio, your only pictures!

Try to make sure that the room is audio friendly – avoid rooms with lots of hard surfaces – try to add soft furnishings / carpets / plants / pictures on the wall – so that if you are not using headphones, sound doesn’t bounce around the room.

Laptop microphones and speakers are not ideal for audio and video calls. Audio pick-up is limited and most laptop speakers are designed for background music at best.

If you are involved in an important meeting, you need to make absolutely sure that:

  • Whatever you say can be easily heard by other meeting participants
  • You can easily hear precisely what other meeting participants are saying.

Remember that meetings can sometimes go on for a long period of time, so you need to make sure that the microphone and speakers you use are comfortable to use and that they deliver the very best quality experience – otherwise you may end up with a headache as your brain tries to work hard and compensate for poor audio.

I’m sure many of us have experienced conference calls when you simply cannot understand every word which is being said. Your brain tries its best to fill in the blanks – resulting in perhaps you miss some vital information – so audio is absolutely vital.

Headphones

Headphones are one solution and as always, you get what you pay for.

Headphones are good when you need to have privacy during an audio or video conferencing call.Using the same earphones as you use with your mobile phone is not likely to deliver you the best experience.

We can advise on a wide range of headsets from a wide range of manufacturers. There are a wide range of different styles of headset – in ear, on ear, monaural (one earpiece) or binaural (two earpieces), wired and wireless.We can arrange headset demonstrations, so your IT guys can decide the best headset for you to use. Not everyone likes wearing a headset, particularly if they need to be worn for a long period – although some are designed for extended use.

Comfortable headphones will deliver a very good experience. You can be comfortable that no one in your home can hear what far end participants are saying to you. Headsets will also limit the potential for extraneous noise from your home office being delivered into the call.

Speakerphones

Over the last two or three years, the development of rechargeable Lithium Ion batteries and improvements in blue tooth technology have meant that personal speakerphones are becoming more and more popular.

Most speakerphones connect using USB although some offer blue tooth connectivity. To be fair, most are pretty good. Speakerphones are ideal when you do not have to worry about anyone overhearing what you and other participants are saying during your video conferences. Speakerphones sit on your home office desk and offer an excellent pick up range, so you can hear and be heard up to around a metre or three from the speakerphone. Typically they have a mute button if required

Often these type of speakerphones are good enough for use in small offices / executive offices, so they can be redeployed when we get back to ‘normal’.

Fired Up Technologies can advise on a wide range of these small speakerphone devices and they are really quite cost effective.

The Video Conferencing Platform

There are an ever increasing number of video conferencing platforms available.

Teams, Skype for Business, Zoom, LifeSize, GoToMeeting, Pexip and Hangouts to name just a few.And whilst most of our meetings will utilise the platform chosen by the organisation for which we work, there may well be circumstances where we will need to speak to clients or suppliers using different platforms. So we may need to make sure that the hardware we chose today can be used with different platforms tomorrow.

Fired Up Technologies can advise on a range of video conferencing devices, some of which can be used different video conferencing platforms on the same device.

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