April 13, 2020

We’re all living that remote life. Here’s what Zoom users can learn from video game streamers about making meetings more interactive, engaging and organized.

Given the impact of Coronavirus, working from home has gone from a perk or a rarity (only 5% of American workers were remote previously) to a necessity for those who can. The transition is a boon for companies that built remote work into their culture and process from the beginning.

But for everyone else … well, let’s say it’s a work in progress. Jason Fried, co-founder of Basecamp and co-author of Remote: Office Not Required says working from home at this moment isn’t so much a transition as it is a scramble.” Basecamp has been remote for over 20 years, and even they recognize that this is a challenge.

But there’s one audience that’s fully acclimated to a world of work and producing remotely in front of screens: video game streamers. From stars like 23-year-old Pokimane to a casual player streaming to a handful of friends, video game streamers have already developed some best practices that you can incorporate into your new work-from-home routine.

What Equipment You Should Consider

Video game streaming platform Twitch offers a guide for aspiring streamers which gives tips and tricks for everything from etiquette to building a healthy following. One of the many helpful topics covered is equipment. The calculus is clear: to improve the quality of your viewers’ experience, investing in equipment is important. 

1. Built-in Webcams vs. Standalone Webcams

Getting a good webcam enhances the experience for your viewers. The quality is much better than what you’ll have on your laptop, generally speaking. For example, while reviewing the new MacBook line, WSJ’s Joanna Stern wrote: “Apple’s entry-level laptop is at its best ever—just don’t fire up that webcam.” By comparison, the iPhone 11 has a 12-megapixel selfie camera that boasts a wide-angle lens.

Nicer webcams also have features like low-light correction which will brighten your space, and autofocus which will give your surroundings a nice soft edge.

Need some suggestions? Twitch recommends Logitech’s Brio Ultra HD Webcam or the Logitech Pro Webcam C920 for beginning streamers. Webcams are tough to grab right now, but look for a camera that features high resolution at 720p or higher, autofocus capabilities, and that captures video with at least 30 frames per second (FPS.) 60 FPS is ideal, although you’ll see a significant jump in cost.

2. Bad Audio = A Bad Time. Improve Your Audio.

Focusing on incoming and outgoing sound quality is important as finding a good fit. The folks at Wirecutter put it simply: “If you’re using a headset for more than the occasional call, or for more than 20 minutes or so at a time, having one that’s comfortable to wear means you can focus on your call instead of constantly being distracted by your headset—possibly to the point of actual pain.”

At Twofivesix, we’re a partially distributed team. One of my first big investments was ensuring that everyone had a great USB headset with a boom mic close to their mouth. (We love the Wirecutter pick Jabra EVOLVE Link which is light and has great sound quality.) 

The difference was profound. My team sounds much more like themselves. There are no echoes and muting quickly to quiet your barking dog is much easier. We spend so much time as professionals thinking about how we sound when we present. Why not put that same level of attention to make yourself and others more active and relatable?

3. Enhance Lighting to Enhance Moods

Good lighting can make a huge difference in your remote-work setup. Check out this 20-second clip of Giannarass, who uses a nice collage of color-changing LED tiles in the background to add something special to their stream. This may not be your style, but given how much time we organize our spaces to live in, adding some creative touches are a nice flex in front of your co-workers.

Another great option is a ring light, which you can usually find on Amazon for less than $30. Not only can it bring out some of your best features, but it can improve overall video quality if going all-in on a webcam isn’t an option. 

If you’re not quite ready to invest in a ring light, try facing a window. It can drastically improve your lighting and video quality.

4. Frame Your Shot – What’s in the Background Matters!

While Zoom does offer backdrops to make your setting more exciting or exotic, there’s a better and simpler way to captivate your co-workers: create a compelling frame.

For the amateur video game streamer, the background isn’t tremendously important. But as any cinematographer or experienced streamer can tell you, composing a nice 16:9 shot can make a big difference. Take the streamer Tiddly, for example, whose background is usually the same with a few minor decorative changes here and there, and shows off her bubbly and carefree personality. 

This doesn’t mean that you’ll have to rearrange your entire living room. It does mean that you should set up a background that’s reflective of your personal style. Think of it as organizing or decorating your desk at work.

5. Choose the Best Angle to Replicate a Face-to-Face Meeting

One of the ways to best replicate the feeling of a face-to-face meeting is by selecting the right camera angle. First, make sure your laptop or webcam is level with your face and captures you from about the shoulders up unless you feel it is necessary to keep your hands in the video.  (Using a pile of books is a simple way to get eye-to-eye if you’re using a laptop.)

Next, make sure you have plenty of headroom above you so that you have plenty of space to move around in the frame. 

Remember: It’s Not Just About You

You might be saying, “People should be comfortable with whatever setup I have.” This is absolutely true, especially if your company doesn’t provide the resources for you to kit out your setup. Obviously, having perfect gear doesn’t guarantee that you’re an effective worker any more than having thousands of dollars in media production equipment makes you a good video game streamer. And maintaining the perfect setup isn’t possible for everyone at all times, particularly for people newly juggling work with child care.

It’s important to remember that adjusting your setup isn’t only about your comfort. It’s about presenting a professional, personable and captivating screen to your co-workers. They’re the ones who have to look at you! In the same way that maintaining your personal hygiene is a courtesy to others, spending time adjusting how you look on your screen is a courtesy to those you’re interacting with. Summon the Golden Rule: What would you prefer to spend your time looking at on Zoom or Google Meet?

Putting some thoughtfulness into your video conferences is important now that so many of us are working from home. It may not win you millions of followers on Twitch or Mixer, but it might win some compliments at your next Zoom happy hour.