Trade Me and Xero alumnus Rowan Simpson is now an investor in tech companies including Vend and Timely, and chairman of Hoku Group, which combines private investment in early-stage companies with non-profit foundation work.

Working-from-home pioneer shares tips for bosses, serious fears for staff

Here he offers his top tips for better video-conferencing as tens of thousands of white-collar workers adapt to the "new normal" of working from home this week.

But before we get into that, the Herald also asked the veteran entrepreneur which video chat tool he prefers for keeping in touch with clients and colleagues from his remote home in the Tasman District at the tip of the South Island.


"Today I have Slack, Google Meet and Zoom calls scheduled. Last week and over the weekend also Microsoft Teams, FaceTime and WhatsApp. They are all good. The best tool is the one you have already installed and tested. I wouldn't recommend switching," Simpson said.

"If you're starting from scratch, then I'd recommend Zoom as that seems to have the smoothest setup for newbies."

Rowan Simpson:
Rowan Simpson: "Embrace distractions. Sometimes it's fun to stop and talk to people's kids or find out what the courier brought to the door. Don't be embarrassed to be human." Photo / Supplied

Now, over to you, Rowan:

First things first

Do you even need the call at all?

Or could you replace the meeting by sharing a presentation and having everybody comment on that in their own time? Working remotely effectively isn't about just replicating the things you'd normally do in an office - if you can't easily get everybody in the same room you may need to adapt.

But, assuming you do need to meet ...

Turn on your camera! A video call without video is just a bad phone call. If you have an unreliable internet connection you may need to revert to voice-only, but always start with video on.

Video call basics

One person per computer/device (as much as possible)


to make it easier for other participants to see who is talking and to pick up non-verbal signals, plus having each person on their own connection puts everybody on equal footing. Or, if that's not an option try to repeat any questions that are asked in the room for the benefit of those who are remote, as they may not be able to hear clearly from those further from the microphone.

Use headphones with a microphone, rather than your laptop's speaker, so you can hear everything that is said first time, and so you can sit further from the screen and still be heard without shouting (out of respect to others sharing your physical space who don't need to hear your call).

Mute when you're not talking to reduce the ambient noise and allow everybody else to hear what is being said - when your microphone is live be mindful of things like drumming your fingers on the table, typing loudly, eating (gross!) or putting down cups etc that can grab focus and be distracting to everybody else trying to listen. Put your phone on silent and turn off notifications (especially ones that ding).

Look at the camera when you are talking rather than at the picture of yourself on your screen - then it will seem like you're making eye contact. If your conferencing tool has 'gallery' view that's a good way to see all of the faces.

Use hand signals to communicate without interrupting when others are speaking - eg a thumbs-up for agree, or a handwave = hello/goodbye. Even simple nods and frowns are useful (most conferencing software will only let one person speak at once, so it's also useful to practise leaving micro-pauses when you finish speaking).

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Connect ahead of the scheduled meeting start time


to ensure any audio/video/internet gremlins are sorted out before you're holding people up - this is especially important if you're using a new conferencing tool for the first time - it's also a great opportunity for water cooler talk ahead of getting down to business.

Improve your internet connection. There are some easy things you can do that make a big difference - e.g. plug in directly to the router if you can, or if you are connecting via Wi Fi then try to position yourself nearby to your access point - Wi-Fi doesn't always travel well through multiple floors or brick walls etc. When connecting from home, check before the call that there isn't anything else hogging your internet bandwidth such as family members streaming video or computer games etc.

Last but not least…

Be patient. It takes a while to learn these habits, so the meta-etiquette is to always be ready to politely help others who are just working it all out.

Extra for experts

Adjust your style to be extra conscious that you're not talking over people

- if you are the chair you need to be much more active and even formal to allocate turns to speak, seek input/questions from everybody, and be clear about decisions (especially if the group meeting hasn't yet gotten into the habit of remote calls).


Learn how to put up your hand to speak if there are lots of participants you can use unmuting to signal to the chair of the meeting that you'd like to say something, or keep it simple and just putting your hand up.

Learn how to schedule a new meeting so others can join your call easily (ideally this should be one click for them).

Learn how to share your screen so that you can show presentations, documents or your desktop on the call, when you're presenting pre-prepared information.

Use a chat function to allow people listening to discuss what is being said without interrupting the speaker - if you do this nominate somebody to monitor the chat and raise any points that are relevant.

Install the video calling apps you use on your phone and/or learn how to tether your device so you can connect even when away from an internet connection (most conferencing software is good at downscaling video to lower resolution when you're on a slower connection).

Think about lighting in the room, so everybody can see you clearly - e.g. best not to sit in front of a bright window etc or you'll just be a silhouette - and dress appropriately for the screen size.


Embrace distractions when people are working at home - sometimes it's fun to stop and talk to people's kids or find out what the courier brought to the door, don't be embarrassed to be human.