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Houston expert: How to make the most out of your virtual meeting

With virtual meetings on the rise in the age of coronavirus, there are plenty of things you can do to ensure your meetings go without a hitch. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Even in the pre-pandemic world, more employees were working remotely in America than ever before. Participating in virtual meetings is the norm, at least for now. The shift came rather abruptly. Millions of Americans had only a few days to make the transition. People are now working on laptops where before they worked on double-screen desktops. Home computers proved to be less convenient to work on since work computers have files and sites already organized for easy access. There are certain things that are more effectively communicated in person than through a screen.

But in 2020, there are myriad conferencing platforms that make it easier than ever to communicate virtually. From Skype and Zoom to Teams and Slack, there is no doubt that virtual work is more convenient than ever. Here are a few tips for how you can develop a personal and professional brand through virtual meetings.

Cast from a carpeted room

When you cast yourself from an empty room with tile or wood flooring, you might notice an echo in your audio. It can sound like you're in a cathedral. Carpeted rooms create much better audio quality. If you're not interested in having your whole room redone, lay down a nice carpet on your floor. This will significantly reduce the reverberation and create a sound that is full and intimate.

Opt for a neutral background

Instinctually, one might think that a shelf full of books, plants and photos might present a professional background. They'd be correct. However, in the interest of a virtual meeting, less is more. A neutral-colored wall such as gray or white would accentuate focus on you. It would keep the viewers' eyes from wandering. Trying to figure out what books you read, who that is in your photos, or judging you from your organizational method (or lack thereof).

Consider your lighting

A dimly lit room can convey a sense of, well, creepiness. Don't be creepy. You want to exude positivity. The best way to achieve this is through nice lighting. You want to make sure your desk has enough lighting on your face to bring out the clarity of it on screen. "I suggest using two LED lights at your desk with adjustable lighting on each side your computer camera. They should face toward you so you can adjust for daylight. Even a single lamp would help."

Use your computer over your phone

I know, this sounds like it should go without saying. But it needs to be said. There are too many people doing conference calls via phone. Your phone should be your absolute last resort in a situation where your computer is down and a meeting is absolutely urgent. Using a computer allows you to take notes and provides for a more stable picture. The audio and video quality is also leagues better on a computer.

Take a tech test

Sure, you can't completely get away with not having any technical issues. But what you can do is minimize the issues you're likely to have. Test your web conferencing program well before you are slated to log on. Be sure to grant all the appropriate permissions prior to logging on for the first time. This will save you tons of time as you continually log on every time afterward. Make sure the camera is set up correctly and that the audio works. If your microphone isn't hooked up to the program, connect it. The more testing you do with your web conferencing tech the less issues you'll have when it's finally time to virtually meet.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

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UH has found a way to instantly zap COVID-10. Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

While the world rushes to find a COVID-19 vaccine, scientists from the University of Houston have found a way to trap and kill the virus — instantly.

The team has designed a "catch and kill" air filter that can nullify the virus responsible for COVID-19. Researchers reported that tests at the Galveston National Laboratory found 99.8 percent of the novel SARS-CoV-2 — which causes COVID-19 — was killed in a single pass through the filter.

Zhifeng Ren, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, collaborated with Monzer Hourani, CEO of Medistar, a Houston-based medical real estate development firm, plus other researchers to design the filter, which is described in a paper published in Materials Today Physics.

Researchers were aware the virus can remain in the air for about three hours, which required a filter that could quickly remove it. The added pressure of businesses reopening created an urgency in controlling the spread of the virus in air conditioned spaces, according to UH.

Meanwhile, to scorch the virus — which can't survive above around 158 degrees Fahrenheit — researchers instilled a heated filter. By blasting the temperature to around 392 F, they were able to kill the virus almost instantly.

The filter also killed 99.9 percent of the anthrax spores, according to researchers.

A prototype was built by a local workshop and first tested at Ren's lab for the relationship between voltage/current and temperature; it then went to the Galveston lab to be tested for its ability to kill the virus. Ren says it satisfies the requirements for conventional heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

"This filter could be useful in airports and in airplanes, in office buildings, schools and cruise ships to stop the spread of COVID-19," said Ren, MD Anderson Chair Professor of Physics at UH and co-corresponding author for the paper, in a statement. "Its ability to help control the spread of the virus could be very useful for society."

Medistar executives are also proposing a desk-top model, capable of purifying the air in an office worker's immediate surroundings, Ren added.

Developers have called for a phased roll-out of the device, with a priority on "high-priority venues, where essential workers are at elevated risk of exposure — particularly schools, hospitals and health care facilities, as well as public transit environs such as airplanes."

The hope, developers add, is that the filter will protect frontline workers in essential industries and allow nonessential workers to return to public work spaces.

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