Category AVI-SPL

How to Use Custom Virtual Backgrounds in Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams recently rolled out an option to use virtual backgrounds during virtual meetings. You’ll see several images you can add to your screen. Right now, you can’t add a custom image from the meeting screen, but there is a way to add personalized background options. 

Why use virtual backgrounds in Microsoft Teams?

While virtual backgrounds are fun to use, there are some practical benefits to hiding your home workspace too. Join me as I chat with a few of my team members who share why they use this tool.

How to hide your home workspace during virtual meetings

Watch the short video to see how to:

  • blur your background
  • use backgrounds supplied by Microsoft Teams
  • upload custom backgrounds
  • turn the virtual background off

Stay tuned until the end of the video. I share another tool I found online that enhances my virtual presence in every online meeting.

Jump to 2:40 to go directly to the how-to section.

If you need help setting up Microsoft Teams for your remote staff, contact us or call your local AVI-SPL office.

Time Management Tips For Remote Workers

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, teaching, and learning from home. Our Together We Can series offers helpful ideas and resources. Below is this week’s edition. Read all Together We Can posts.

Remember the good old days when working from home meant quiet, solitude, no interruptions, and serious focus time? When we could plow through what seemed like a week’s worth of work in a day? And get the house vacuumed, dinner made, and take a walk before the kids got home from school? Bliss.

It’s crazy that it was only a month ago. Now, working from home has taken on an entirely new dynamic. Lack of focus, plenty of distractions, the Groundhog Day effect, and general worry and anxiety. Many of us also now have little colleagues at home. Bored, antsy colleagues who need our attention and invade our workspace. All of a sudden, we’ve added in chef, teacher, art director, therapist, and negotiator to our regular jobs.

There are plenty of tips about good planning, structure, creativity, and flexibility that help us better manage our time and create environments that improve productivity and maintain family harmony. We share some helpful ideas below, and they all work well. Under normal circumstances.

But in our current new norm, following any one of these tips consistently is a challenge. Managing time is difficult right now because time itself is different right now. It’s like we’re slogging our way through quicksand, each day the same as yesterday. And sharing space with other family members is frustrating, perhaps even chaotic, when we’re mostly stuck in the house.

So, the best advice? Don’t aim for perfection. Or normalcy. It may not feel like it when you look at your Instagram feed, but we’re all struggling. We’re going to have good days, and we’re going to have not so good days. Every situation is unique, so pick one or two time management tips that will fit your current lifestyle. Take advantage of those moments of high productivity and when you just can’t focus, walk away. Like literally take a walk. Clean something. Play a game with your kids. Do push-ups. Just breathe and clear your head. It’s okay, we’ll get through this together.

Below are some ideas that may help you better manage your time and share your space while working from home.

Have a Conversation

If you haven’t already had a candid conversation with your manager, have one. Talk about your personal challenges and current work expectations, and then discuss creative and realistic solutions that will allow you to remain productive. This may mean some compromise on both your parts, including working non-traditional evening and weekend hours so you can spend time with your children during the day.

Be an early bird

Avoid the urge to sleep in. Set the alarm an hour or two earlier and get a jump on the day while the house is still quiet and before ‘school hours’ begin. If possible, let your kids sleep later than normal. Getting your most pressing projects completed in the early hours will make it easier for you to take a mid-morning break to help with schoolwork.

Commute to work

Start your day by walking around the block. It forces you out the front door, signaling to your brain that you are heading off to work. At the end of your workday, walk around the block again, but in the opposite direction. When you re-enter your home, you’ll feel like it’s the end of the day and time to ease into your normal evening routine. The fresh air and exercise is a bonus.

Create a schedule and a routine

Seems obvious, right? But setting and sticking to a schedule while working from home full time might be harder than you expected. Keep at it.  Just like your “commute,” a routine creates a start and stop time for your day, allows for breaks, and helps you reduce distractions and stress. It also helps with balancing work time and school time, as you may need to set aside complete blocks of time throughout the day to help with school work. And although they’ll deny it, your kids need routine too.

Make a list

Fight the urge to multi-task, which actually decreases productivity. Instead, at the end of each day, write down your five most important tasks for the next day and prioritize them. Then, when you start work in the morning, focus on the first task, and start crossing off your items. Try to stick to this and move any unfinished items to your next day’s list. This practice helps you to stop thinking about them, which will help you relax at the end of the day.

Set a timer

It’s easy to jump from task to task or stare mindlessly at the screen without accomplishing anything. It’s just as easy to walk away from your desk and get caught up in a personal project. Set a timer for 45 minutes for heads-down work and then reward yourself with a 15-minute break (or whatever schedule works best for you). Your focus will increase, you’ll feel less overwhelmed, and you’ll get a chance to rejuvenate. Our blog on Apps for Remote Work Productivity has some great suggestions for tools that will help you stay organized and on-task.

Turn off Wi-Fi. Hide your phone.

Seriously. It’s too easy to get distracted by emails, tweets, Facebook, and Instagram Posts, the latest COVID article, or your friend’s text messages. Obviously, you’ll need to get back online periodically to check in and connect, but if you manage your online time, your productivity will go through the roof.

Socialize

When you’re at the office, chatting with people happens naturally. When you’re working remotely, interactions with colleagues may be all work. Downtime is important, and social bonds improve productivity and well-being. So, it’s important to find the time – even if you have to schedule it – to keep personal relationships alive. Go for a walk and call a work friend, schedule a virtual lunch while your kids meet up over Minecraft. The quality and quantity of your work will improve if you make time to stay connected and have a little fun in the day.

Divide and conquer

If there are two adults in your home, divide the day into blocks so that each person has time to concentrate on work and time to help with schoolwork or play with the kids. If it’s just you at home and you need to oversee your children throughout the day, conquer your most critical projects when there is quiet time. Save tasks like answering emails for times when your children are playing or you’re watching TV and distractions are okay.

Define your workspace

Set up a dedicated workspace in your home to reduce distractions and maintain a work-life balance. Try to make this space off-limits to your kids unless there is an emergency or it’s a scheduled break time. Likewise, set up dedicated ‘school’ spaces and play spaces for your children. If they have a space of their own, they may be less likely to come into yours.

If you have to share a space, keep your area tidy and organized to maximize your effectiveness. Plan ahead and find ways to keep kids happily occupied when you are virtual meetings, allowing you to maintain a professional appearance – and your sanity.

Get with your manager asap if you still need tech to improve your remote work experience. Noise-canceling headphones are a great option to help you zone in, stay focused, and tune out playtime. Read our Ideas to Stay Positive and Productive blog for more inspiration on how to create an effective workspace.

And finally…

Resist the urge

Just because your computer is in the next room doesn’t mean you have to be on it. It’s 8:00 pm. Relax. Watch TV. Hang out with your family. Take a moment to celebrate your accomplishments for the day.

 

Work-From-Home Reality: Ideas to Stay Positive and Productive

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, collaborating, and leading from home. Our Together We Can series offers helpful ideas and resources. Below is this week’s edition. Read all Together We Can posts.

If you’re one of the millions of people working from home for several weeks, you may find that the reality of full-time remote work is less than ideal. I reached out to coworkers and friends to chat about the work-from-home reality that’s setting in. This week in our Together We Can series, I’m sharing remote work challenges along with ideas to upgrade your workspace and stay positive and productive.

Homemade standing desks

One office item you may be missing is your standing desk. If you don’t want to invest in a standing desk for your at-home workspace, simply improvise. A sturdy box or crate top put your laptop on is one DIY solution that takes no time at all. Your kitchen counter may do the job too. Try that option during non-mealtimes when this family space (hopefully) isn’t crowded.

Have a second workspace

After weeks of working from home, you may need a change of scenery during the day, a different space due to natural lighting changes in the afternoon, or a quieter area for important calls. Finding an alternate workspace can be challenging if you’re sharing space with spouses and children who are also doing work and classes at home. While you don’t want to spend the day in your bedroom, that space may be a short-term option for essential calls. A large closet works in a pinch too for those times when privacy is a must. Just remember to turn your camera off.

Change the lighting

The lighting in your home is softer than the fluorescent bulbs used in the office. The warmer light from your lamps and overhead lighting could be a welcome change. If, however, you find your workplace light makes you too relaxed and unable to concentrate, switch to bright white LED bulbs to help stay focused and alert. For reading-intensive tasks, add a desk lamp with different hues and brightness levels.

Upgrade your work-from-home equipment

Most of us have mobile phone earbuds that work for video meetings. If they are comfortable to wear all day and provide quality sound, you’re all set. If you’re like me, earbuds are less than ideal since they tend to fall out of your ears, and you never get the mic in the perfect spot. In addition to earbud woes, your laptop’s built-in webcam may not work well, or perhaps the desktop in your home office doesn’t even have a webcam.

Crestron Remote Executive Zoom Bundle
Crestron Remote Executive Zoom Bundle

Those are signs that you’re ready for a work-from-home equipment upgrade to fully participate in virtual meetings. Try a quality headset with an attached microphone. Also, if your shared workspace is less than quiet, noise-canceling headphones can help you stay focused. Now you can shop for remote-work bundles that make finding the right equipment fast and simple. Managers and executives may need a more complete remote collaboration package to lead their virtual teams.  AVI-SPL Quick-Shop bundles include various headsets, cameras, and webcams for each team member’s needs.

Try to limit distractions and interruptions

Based on my conversations, distractions and interruptions are the most common work-from-home challenges. Working at different times of the day can help. Lately, I’ve been receiving emails and Microsoft Teams notifications rather early and late in the day. I’m guessing those are from parents who are making the best out of working from home with children who need attention and help with digital classes during traditional work hours.

Flexing your work schedule could be beneficial for you too. Since few of us are commuting, that gives us a little more time to work with each day. Tackle emails and project tasks before little ones are awake, while they nap, or after their bedtime. That leaves you time in the middle of the day to supervise your children’s online classes.

Of course, you can’t avoid all midday meetings, and some uninvited guests could wander into the home office looking for a snack or help with homework. It’s not feasible to constantly keep your finger at the ready to turn off your video feed during an online meeting. A virtual background is a better solution. When your virtual background is displayed, coworkers won’t see little ones peaking into the meeting until your visitors get close to you. That gives you a much-needed few seconds to turn off your webcam.

Avoid the potato syndrome

Take time to learn the nuances of how your video conferencing software works. If you do use a virtual background or other fun meeting tools, make sure you know how to turn those enhancements off. Otherwise, you could get stuck as a potato for the remainder of your work-from-home tenure. MS Teams rolled out virtual backgrounds, and you can upload your own photos and videos to Zoom. Make sure the image you choose is work appropriate or ask if your team can provide a virtual background with the company logo.

Banish procrastination

Even though business casual is the norm, you are still at work and have goals to reach and projects to get done. To stay on track, set a schedule, and monitor your daily tasks. Use collaboration software such as MS Teams to keep track of projects and steps.

If your team doesn’t utilize a shared project application, add tasks to your calendar, or try the free versions of Asana or Monday. List your daily goals, and stick to them. It can be satisfying and motivating to mark your items “complete.” If your mobile phone is a temptation, try an app that blocks access to social media channels and games during specific hours of the day.

Take physical and emotional breaks

Taking a walk and getting fresh air can revitalize your body and mind during a long workday. Don’t wait until you can take these long breaks to get out of your chair, though. Try taking microbreaks throughout the day to stretch and rest your brain for a few seconds. Microbreaks are a healthy habit you can take back to the office with you too. If the stress of social distancing and isolation is affecting your positive mindset, try a meditation app.

Be patient with yourself and others

Finally, cut yourself and your teammates some slack. We’re all in the same work-from-home boat making the best of it. Expect to hear the occasional dog barking or see children coming into the room during virtual meetings. We may miss those lighter moments once we’re back at the office. It’s a stressful time, but we’re all working on getting through this together.

What does your work-from-home reality look like? Do you have any tips to share? Share your thoughts in the comments.

If you need assistance outfitting your remote workspace, you can chat with us while you shop our work-from-home catalog, or call us at 888-881-0812. Remember to visit our Together We Can page for weekly updates and work-from-home resources. Follow us on social too. #TogetherWeCan

Online Learning Update With Jay Bosch: COVID-19 and Beyond

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, teaching, and learning from home. Our Together We Can online learning series offers helpful ideas and resources. Below is this week’s edition. Read all Together We Can posts.

This week in our Together We Can online learning series, AVI-SPL’s Jay Bosch shares feedback from educators on coping with a full-time virtual class schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bosch explores how organizations deliver online learning now, common challenges, and future classroom design trends. 

During my interview with Bosch, he covered how teachers are working from home and how they have adjusted to using virtual classroom tools. Our conversation also touched on digital classes extending into summer sessions and the fall semester for some organizations.

Additionally, digital learning and online collaboration may become a permanent part of delivering an interactive student experience. It’s possible that the online learning expertise gained during the pandemic may influence the design of the classroom of the future. 

Online Learning Trends With Jay Bosch

Class of 2020 Virtual Commencement

Insights include Bosch’s thoughts on what commencement could look like for the class of 2020. Some colleges are postponing ceremonies, while others are looking to deliver a memorable experience through virtual commencement ceremonies. For schools that don’t have in-house staff to set up and provide a live streaming commencement broadcast, AVI-SPL’s video production arm VideoLink is ready to help.

Virtual 2020 summer sessions

Jay explores possible summer session trends where teachers will return to campus, but still deliver digital classes to remote students. He talked about AVI-SPL’s lecture capture carts, a bundled solution designed to be shipped and installed quickly. 

AVI-SPL lecture capture carts provide schools and universities with an easy-to-use lecture capture system. This technology enables you to record, share, and manage all your video content for classes through your existing lecture capture software, which integrates seamlessly with popular Learning Management Systems.

Online learning beyond COVID-19

Bosch noted that at some schools, administrators are discussing extending their digital class curriculum into the fall semester, or even building permanent classrooms designed to host virtual classes. Solutions like Barco’s weConnect Virtual Classrooms include interactive whiteboards and large video walls that display each student. Using the video wall, teachers can see when students raise their hands and maintain personal connections while delivering classes online. 

Until next week, check our Together We Can online learning page for more resources and weekly updates.

Follow AVI-SPL on LinkedIn and Twitter. #TogetherWeCan

Something to Celebrate! Virtual Commencement and Remote Job Search Tips

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, teaching, and learning from home. Our Together We Can online learning series offers helpful ideas and resources. Below is this week’s edition. Read all Together We Can posts.

During these uncertain times, it’s heartwarming to lift our spirits with something to celebrate. While college seniors canceled internships and parties, and face a challenging job search, they don’t have to miss out on graduation. You can help them celebrate one of life’s most memorable milestones by hosting a virtual commencement.

See details below on how to host this remote event, along with tips to help seniors start a virtual job search after graduation.

Host a class of 2020 virtual commencement

Even with in-person events prohibited right now, you can still recognize your class of 2020 graduates’ hard work and commitment. Instead of canceling the commencement ceremony, deliver a virtual event that creates memories that will last a lifetime. To prepare for a remote celebration, review the 5 Keys to a Successful Virtual Event.

When you’re ready to get started with your virtual event production, choose an on-site location or a studio equipped to satisfy social distancing requirements. You’ll need cameras and microphones along with streaming and broadcasting technology. You can include a mix of live and recorded video in your virtual event to recognize graduates and awards, then present your guest and valedictorian commencement speeches.

No worries if you don’t have the in-house staff and technology you need to host a virtual commencement. The teams at AVI-SPL and our video production and broadcast arm VideoLink are ready to help you deliver a memorable experience for your class of 2020 graduates.

Three ways to help graduates start a virtual job search

After celebrating their virtual commencement, graduates must get down to the business of finding a job.  Follow these tips to support their remote job search in these uncertain times:

Promote your job placement programs

graduation tassel celebrates virtual commencement

Remind graduates of any job placement assistance your school provides. Promote your programs on your website and social media channels. Reach out to graduating seniors who opted-in to receive text messages or contact them via social media direct messaging or email.

Help seniors connect with counselors

Make sure seniors know how to contact job placement counselors who are working from home. Provide different ways to get in touch with staff, including mobile business numbers for calls and texts, email, and video conferencing appointments.

Remote meetings will also help graduates prepare for the next step in their job search, the virtual interview.

Share virtual interview tips

While students will connect virtually with prospective employers, the same guidelines apply as if they were meeting in person. Students should also take a few extra steps to ensure remote interviews go smoothly. Share these notes with your graduating class:

  • Prepare for the interview by researching the company and reviewing the job description. Have a few questions ready to ask the interviewer.
  • Know which meeting platform the prospective employee uses for meetings and test your device a few days before the interview to address any technical glitches. Know how to share your screen or documents. The interviewer may ask you to share your resume, your website, or your portfolio of work.
  • On meeting day, join the session a few minutes early. Don’t be late!
  • Wear earphones with a microphone or a headset to stay focused on the meeting.
  • Avoid the video freeze! Ask family and roommates to limit streaming movies and music, so your interview isn’t interrupted or stopped by a shaky Internet connection.
  • Find a quiet place with good lighting. Don’t sit with bright light behind you to avoid showing up in silhouette to your interviewer.
  • Turn off all mobile phone sounds, including your ringer and notifications. If you’re not using your phone for the interview, turn it off to avoid distractions.
  • As with in-person interviews, dress your best. Wear a complete interview outfit even though you may not be seen from the waist down. Looking your best can boost your confidence.
  • Send a thank you message in the meeting chatbox, then follow up with a thank you email too. To show your continued interest in the job, include a question about the company or position in your email.

After virtual commencement, prepare for summer and fall semesters

online learning tools

As graduates move on to their next steps, your educators must prepare for summer school and next semester. While teachers are headed back to campus, they may still be presenting virtual classes to remote students. Outfit your classrooms with online learning technology that’s easy to install and use, such as bundled lecture capture carts and room solutions.

Contact us now or call your local AVI-SPL office to learn more about hosting a virtual event. Pass on my virtual job search tips to your graduating seniors.

Don’t forget to check our Together We Can page for more online learning resources and weekly updates.