Technically Speaking

Avoiding the pitfalls and distractions of teleworking, conference calls and video meetings

Technology has enabled us to conduct so many aspects of our jobs from home or afar. But, as illustrated by the March viral video of BBC interviewee professor Robert E. Kelly being hilariously interrupted by his children (and wife trying frantically to collect them live on air), no matter how great the technology, things can easily go awry. Whether placing a client call from home or on the go; trying to conduct a multi-person meeting via conference call; or when you have a Skype session on the horizon, there are a few things to keep in mind that will help keep things quiet, free from distraction and professional.

According to 2016 numbers from Global Workplace Analytics — which conducts research on how new ways of working impact people, the planet and company profits — approximately 20 to 25 percent of the workforce frequently teleworks, making or taking client calls or doing phone interviews from home or some other remote location.

For any type of remote call or video session, if you do only one of the things suggested here, control the environment. This means go to a quiet and secure location and lock the door. Keep pets and children otherwise occupied and, for the latter, supervised. Barking, meowing and rambunctious or fussy little ones make it difficult to hear, listen or otherwise concentrate — both for you and the other party. To be honest, one of my favorite places to take or make work calls is in my parked and locked car with the windows up. It’s quiet and completely free of distractions.

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For conference calls, first write down the call date and time, call number and PIN and keep it in an easy-to-find place (I recommend your planner or a note in your e-calendar). Next, call in early, introduce yourself and mute your phone unless you are speaking. Also, say your name each time you speak.

Simply say, “Melanie again …” and say what you need to say. Finally, as you would for any meeting, appoint a leader and follow an agenda.

When it comes to video or Skype interviews and meetings, do all of the above (retreat to a quiet and secure space) and consider what will be in view behind you. A plain wall is better than anything visually distracting. For example, if you are seated in front of a bookshelf, that’s great, but make sure it’s attractive, tidy and doesn’t have anything inappropriate on it. If your own home or office isn’t a possibility, think creatively. I once borrowed a friend’s home office for a job interview because I just moved and was still getting settled into my new space.

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Also, be sure to dress accordingly and keep your hands visible. Do not under any circumstances look at your phone. Put it in a drawer or otherwise out of ear and eyeshot. Don’t position yourself too close to or too far away from the web camera.

Finally, if your Skype handle isn’t professional, start a new account. Unless you are a gin rep or distributor or a bartender, ginmartinis4ever might not be the best bet.

With all of the above, always make reception or Wi-Fi quality a priority to avoid bad connections and dropped sessions. Last, but not least, speak a little more slowly than usual and allow pauses after you finish or begin speaking to account for any gaps on the other person’s end.  

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As with any meeting or interview, a little forethought, planning and preparation go a long way toward the appearance of professional poise and polish. If after all of that you still end up being ambushed by your children on live TV, take a page from Professor Kelly’s book: Confess everything, apologize and reschedule if possible. The entire world ended up charmed by the Kelly family, which means there’s hope for humanity, probably for you too.


Video Vanguard

Do’s and don’ts of a Skype interview

Video meetings and interviews are one of many tools in the technology toolkit that can work for and against us in the workplace. It’s still a relatively new medium for many of us, so keep in mind a few do’s and don’ts for flawless face time.


Practice with a friend or colleague

Find a quiet space free of distractions

Wear professional attire

Consider a pop of color to stand out, but limit it to a tie or scarf

Be enthusiastic with your voice and hand gestures, but not over-the-top

Position the camera close, but not too close and lean in a little bit

Put away your phone


Set up in a public space

Dress too casually or casual from the waist down (in case you have to reach for something)


Rely on your computer’s internal microphone and speakers — buy or borrow a headset

Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride and New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and managing editor of Louisiana Life and Acadiana Profile. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to

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