WFH: it’s time to get your technology up to speed

In the early days of lockdown, allowances were made for people working from home. But, five months in, there's really no longer an excuse for not having a professional quality internet and work-from-home setup.

It may require improvization and smoke and mirrors, but everyone should have their WFH strategy nailed by now.
It may require improvization and smoke and mirrors, but everyone should have their WFH strategy nailed by now.

Walmart has apparently been selling lots of clothing for the top halves of humans during the lockdown - but the bottom has fallen out of the market for the other half, so to speak.

As you can see by the pictures accompanying this blog, our WFH lives have given our colleagues, customers, clients and contacts an insight into all of our personal lives. But, like we’ve always suspected about newsreaders in TV studios, there is often an element of smoke and mirrors involved too. Before you ask, yes, I am wearing shorts.

This was particularly brought into focus for me yesterday when I was doing some filming for the first ever PRWeek Virtual Awards, which take place next Thursday from 4:00-6:30pm ET, followed by interviewing our 2020 Communicator of the Year Michael Phelps for a segment that will run during the awards ceremony.

As you can see above, you have to maintain an element of formality above the waist when you are on camera, but when the weather outside is over 90 degrees and the air conditioning and fans have to be switched off so as not to interrupt your nice clean audio, a pair of shorts and slippers are the order of the day under the desk.

We’ve all had to improvise and adjust to our own personal locations and life situations and PRWeek has been documenting these setups through our Lockdown Life, Coffee Break, Around the (Home) Office and The PR Week podcast content segments.

For example, this week’s Coffee Break guest, SVP and global CCO of Walgreens Boots Alliance’s Aaron Radelet, is part of a handful of team members who have been coming into the company’s Deerfield, IL office most days.

Whereas our podcast guest Vanessa Wakeman, CEO of The Wakeman Agency, is pretty much done with her agency’s office. With the help of her landlord, she has reduced the firm’s space in a building near Grand Central Station back to an absolute minimum and told her 10-strong team they never have to return to a physical office environment.

While we have had to cover the inevitable negative news stories that go with an unprecedented health crisis and subsequent recession such as this, PRWeek has also tried to represent the amazing ingenuity and creativity PR professionals have demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’re providing human interest stories about your WFH situations and fun habits acquired during lockdown, such as the widespread acquisition of chickens as additions to the family and new-found talents for TikTok dances.

On a serious work note, however, I do believe we’ve all had long enough now to acquire a base level of effectiveness as regards internet connectivity, Zoom backgrounds and honing our presenting games during this WFH period. Everyone is working in communications and marketing after all.

Allowances were rightly made in the early stages of coronavirus in March and April, but we should all have now spent the few dollars it costs to acquire Ethernet cables, adaptors and microphones to enable us to be seen and heard properly. And we should all be looking into our computer camera rather than submitting to the natural tendency to look at the people on screen we are speaking to.

Whether it’s our regular Zoom/Microsoft Teams/Google Meet calls or more formal external presentations and broadcasts, a certain level of expertise should now be standard among communications pros and journalists.

It may take a level of scrappy innovation and boots and braces to achieve these standards, such as elevating your laptop on a file of heavy books to get it to the right level for a stand-up delivery. Or using a make-up mirror to light your scene horizontally or from below without causing shadows or jarring reflections that come with ceiling lighting.

If you’re part of a formal content panel or fireside chat, it is not OK to phone it in from your local Starbucks. Find a quiet place in your home and set up your presenting station there. Even if you have limited space, you can at least customize it temporarily.

If you’re trying to memorize large tracts of text for a presentation I have tried those free teleprompter apps, but they tended to make me look (even more) shifty as my eyes darted from camera to prompter and I worried more about the speed of scrolling text rather than what I was actually supposed to be saying. But they might work for others.

Try a couple of run-throughs off camera to get comfortable with your material. And record it in bite-sized chunks that can be edited together later if it is a prerecorded segment.

If you’re lucky enough to be staying in a lovely second home up in the Hamptons or next to the ocean, just be aware of the optics you’re giving off if you choose a glamorous backdrop, and maybe choose a more subdued space in your property.

If you do have a sumptuous home rammed full of expensive furniture, antiques and decorations, then maybe the spartan spare guest bedroom is a better place to do your recording than the main living space you spent thousands of dollars on.

Remember many of the people you’re presenting to are surviving in a studio apartment in the inner city, or struggling to balance work duties with homeschooling three kids in a house that wasn’t designed for 24/7 permanent occupation over a number of months.

On that last note, I'm not for a moment downplaying the challenges of operating effectively while also homeschoolong and looking after kids. As my colleague Diana Bradley outlined in this week's analysis, the extra stress and demands of this dynamic are considerable and there is contunuing uncertainty about when it is all going to end.

So, yes, a child may walk in on the scene of your important presentation, the dog may run in front of the camera or the doorbell may ring mid-sentence with that important wine delivery (that happened to me during a PRWeek Connect virtual event early in lockdown), but those incidents can usually be passed off with humor and people understand.

However, there’s really no excuse now for not having your base level of technology set up and operating smoothly.

If you need more advice, I heartily recommend the virtual discussion we did recently with Doug Simon, which provides you with lots of tips and tricks. You can sign up to access it here.

Continued good luck out there and please stay safe. I look forward to engaging with you all at the big PRWeek Awards event next week.

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