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How to Make Your Zoom Set-up Rock
Before March of this year, you may have never used Zoom in your life. By now, you have probably logged quite a few hours on this service or other video conferencing services, as it has become the communication tool of choice for many during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As many employees are still working from home, now is the perfect time to brush up on some basics to make your Zoom set-up fit your needs. Not working from home? These tips can still go a long way making every video call a little bit better.
Lose the Silly Backgrounds
You have probably spent time playing with the different background options Zoom offers, ranging from a lovely mountain scene to a still from a recent Godzilla flick. While these certainly add some fun to your conference call, they aren’t always the best choice. For starters, they are distracting: It’s difficult to discuss a budget report while you are watching a coworker sitting in Jurassic Park. The backgrounds also cause visual glitches on the screen, meaning that if you are using visual aids, they may not come across to those watching your screen if you are also using one of the fake backgrounds.
Find the Right Background
So if you can’t use the fun backgrounds, what should you use? This really depends on the purpose of your call, but for professional calls, try to find the least distracting background in your house or office. A blank, light-colored wall looks best, but if your desk is in front of an organized bookshelf or decorative wall hanging, that works, too. The key is to keep your background space as clean and organized as possible, both to minimize distractions and present a professional image during your call.
This may seem obvious, but if you are on a professional call – or even if you are chatting with a buddy – what you wear is more obvious than you think. Even if only your top half is visible, you will inevitably get up to grab a file, or to refresh your drink, and wind up sharing a lot more personal information than you intended, like your love for Ninja Turtles pajama pants. It’s just for an hour, so put on your slacks and look the part for the job.
Go Towards the Light
Good lighting is a key part of a successful Zoom call. For the best lighting, use a light source that is close to your face, like a lamp. You can also use natural light from a window, and even increase your screen brightness to add to the visible light around you. Avoid sitting with your back to a window or any other light source, unless you are trying to conceal your identity and only show your silhouette.
Dress for a Meeting
Sure, you may be at home, but if you are jumping on a Zoom call for your job, act like the meeting is in person. This means combing your hair, dressing as you would for the office, and double-checking to make sure you haven’t buttoned your shirt incorrectly. Dressing in a solid color is your best bet, though it’s better to stay away from solid white or solid black shirts, because they can cause you to look distorted on the camera.
Find Your Sound
A Zoom call only works if you can communicate, which usually means you have to hear everyone clearly. Invest in some headphones or earbuds that will allow you to hear the other people on your call. Make sure your computer has a reliable microphone, or use an external microphone so your words aren’t cut off. While you’re at it, eliminate other sounds as much as possible – silence your phone, turn off any alarms, and kick your pets out of the room so your sound will not be interrupted.
Set the Stage
Before you even join your call, take some time to prep the area in which you will be working. This means having supplies, like a pen and paper for notes, as well as any materials you are supposed to have available for the meeting. Consider keeping a water bottle nearby if you will have to do a lot of talking, so you don’t have to get up and leave during the call if you need something to drink.
Test it Out
Even though your laptop has been reliable for the last seven Zoom calls you made, it’s still a good idea to double check that your headphones and microphone are working, as well as your Internet connection, before each meeting. Each device has a different way to test the volume and sound, but if you’re not sure what to do, you can always have a quick Zoom call with a friend or colleague to make sure they can see and hear you well.
We realize this sounds harsh, but it’s for the good of the group. If you are on a Zoom call with multiple people, go ahead and mute your microphone until it is your turn to speak. Zoom will automatically give the spotlight to the person making the most noise, and that construction going on next door is louder than you think, so do everyone a favor and mute yourself until you are speaking. If you are the meeting host, consider muting everyone at the beginning and instructing them to stay muted until you call on them.
Keep it Steady
Make sure your device is set up in a place where it will not wobble or tilt at an awkward angle. Use a stand for your phone, or find a good place to set your laptop for the duration of the call. Don’t carry the phone around with you, or even hold it up – no matter how steady your hand is, your phone is heavier than it looks, and the other people on the call will be treated to a roller-coaster effect as your screen begins to shake and move.
It may sound like a lot of rules, but for services like Zoom, a few details make a big difference. Take some time to prep your meeting spot, gather what you will need, and iron your best button-down to create a Zoom experience that will be successful for everyone involved.
Where to Learn if You Have Time on Your Hands
You’re stuck at home with nothing to do, and you’ve watched every season of The Crown on Netflix twice already. How you will pass the rest of your free time without going absolutely insane? This could be just the opportunity you have been looking for to learn a new skill – and we have ideas on where to get started.
Learn to code with Treehouse
Coding is a useful skill, even if you don’t have to use it for your job. Knowing a little bit about coding can you take you far in both hobbies and your professional life alike. So why not try out Treehouse? You can sign up for a week’s worth of classes to see if it suits you, and go from there. Do it alone or try it with a friend to encourage each other as you both learn a new skill.
Fine tune your fine motor skills with crocheting or knitting
A lot of people enjoy crocheting or knitting, both as a stress reliever and as a way to occupy their time. If this is a skill you are interested in honing, there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube – and you can even watch Emily Blunt teach you how to make snakes from finger weaving. This is an activity that even young kids can learn, and it’s a great way to keep those fine motor skills fresh.
Learn some new lingo
Have you always dreamed of being bilingual? This is the perfect time to get a head start. Sign up with a program like Duolingo to begin learning Spanish, or to tune up that rusty French you remember from high school. Or check out this list from Mashable that gives you great tips and resources for learning American Sign Language. By the time life goes back to normal, you will be a true expert.
Start a project – and finish it
Organize your pantry. Clean out your linen closet. Get rid of the pile of clothes that you have been meaning to throw out for months. You can even take it a step further and repaint an old room, or spice up your décor with some new pillows. You have been given a unique opportunity to devote extra time to all of the house projects you started and never completed, so make a list and get moving.
Become a famous chef… or at least learn to make dessert
If you’re going to have to cook at home all the time, why not branch out and try some new dishes? This tutorial features over 40 recipes that take only three ingredients to make – sounds doable, right? Take a look and then see if you can recreate some of these delicious snacks for your family. Don’t worry – they’ll let you know if you get it wrong.
At many workplaces, employees are required to complete continuing education credits, or to take courses that allow them to be certified in a skill or become licensed through a manufacturer. Even if it isn’t a requirement, this is an ideal circumstance for you to seek out information on how to get certified, and to complete the steps necessary.
You can even ask your HR department for ideas, and once you’ve done the work, you will have gained some knowledge and will be in a great position to find a new job later down the road.
Go back to school
You probably can’t complete an entire semester before things begin to go back to normal, but you can certainly get a head start on working towards a new degree. Do some research on online schooling options and figure out how you could continue your education once everything is back in full swing. This is your chance to get that degree that no one said you would ever use but that you always wished you had.
Improve your mile time
Running isn’t everyone’s favorite pastime, but why not see how fast you can go? You can try out apps like Couch to 5K to ease yourself into a new running routine, and, before you know it, you’ll be unstoppable. Even if you don’t want to enter a marathon anytime soon, getting outside and taking a brisk walk will do wonders for your body and your mind.
You may be ready to rejoin the world, but it’s important to take advantage of the extra time on our hands. You’re stuck at home, so you may as well make the most of it and come out on the other side with a brand new skill to brag about. Happy learning!
How Will the Coronavirus Stimulus Package Help Your Family
Odds are you’ve heard about the Coronavirus Stimulus Package, but what does it mean for you and your family? We have you covered, and in this post we’ll take a look at what was passed and how it will affect you.
What is the Coronvirus Stimulus Package?
With so many people out of work because of businesses closing, and others unable to work due to illness, thousands of people are trying to navigate life without a steady income. Last week, the federal government voted to pass a bill that would allow the government to send checks or direct deposits to every eligible American citizen. There are also other benefits listed in the bill.
How much money do I get?
If you have a social security number, you are likely eligible to receive this payment. However, the amount you get will depend on the income reported on your 2018 taxes, or your 2019 taxes if you have already filed.
For those making up to $75,000 per year, which is the majority of Americans, you will receive $1200 per adult in the household, and an additional $500 per child that you claimed as a dependent. For those who make more than $75,000 annually, your amount will be adjusted – to determine just how much money you can expect, go to this calculator and fill out the information requested.
When will I receive the money?
The government is already working on processing and sending out the funds. If you are receiving a refund on your taxes and have chosen the direct deposit option, you will receive your stimulus funds the same way. Otherwise, you will receive a check in the mail. Either way, you can expect to see the money arrive within three weeks, and likely sooner if you are receiving it via direct deposit.
What if I work part-time, as a contracted employee, or as a gig worker?
Good news – you are still eligible. It’s important to remember that the goal of this stimulus plan is to boost the economy. That means that the more people who receive the checks, the more opportunities to increase the tax base, support local stores, and get the financial atmosphere back on track.
It’s important to note that college students will not receive any funds if they are claimed as a dependent by their parents. Veterans, those who receive Social Security and disability benefits, and Americans living abroad are all eligible.
What if I just lost my job or am unemployed for other reasons?
If you receive unemployment, or plan to apply for it as the result of a lost job, the bill passed by Congress allows you to not only receive a stimulus check, but you will also receive an additional $600 per week to help you replace the income you lost.
The additional $600 is slated to be paid weekly over four months, ending July 31st. The amount of funds provided by your individual state for unemployment will vary from state to state, so contact your local unemployment office for information about those funds.
What else should I know?
This information may seem overwhelming, but it is a good thing – the bill also provides for emergency aid for businesses, additional funds for healthcare and welfare, and provides aid for education and transportation systems. In short, this is not an ideal situation for anyone, but help is on the way.
In the meantime, we encourage everyone to take time to educate themselves on what the bill means for them and how it can change their future for the good. As always, we are here for you. To see how we’re helping members and the community during this time of need, please click here.
Where to find uncommon, unique, and one-of-a-kind holiday gifts
Everyone wants to be a good gift-giver, but let’s face it; some people are just more talented than others. They have an innate ability to find the perfect, most thoughtful gift for every person on their list. Every. Single. Time.
We all know that the holidays should be more about spending time with friends and family and less about the gifts your giving. But, we also know that when you do find that just-right something, you’re secretly giving yourself a high-five inside. And, with the holidays right around the corner, the pressure is on!
Check out these local and online shops that just might have what you’ve been looking for. Unique, reasonably priced, stylish, trendy, practical, or otherwise perfect items that will take your gift-giving game to a new level:
Uncommon goods is an online marketplace that was specifically designed to connect creators with consumers who were looking for truly unique items. They offer creative designs by independent makers that serve a purpose, solve a problem, use interesting materials, or are otherwise, well, uncommon.
Oprah’s favorite things—her most loved products of 2019—have finally made it to the pages of Town and Country Magazine. As usual, it’s quite the list of ideas complete with links to online merchants (ahem, Amazon). From a motorized makeup brush to the Magic Hands truShiatsu Neck and Back Massager, these are gifts everyone will love.
Etsy has the handmade, vintage, and independent products market covered. But, with its thousands of stores and millions of items to peruse, the holidays might be long gone before you get through them all. Here’s a cheat sheet of the best shops for functional, fun, pretty, thoughtful, and never-a-bad-choice gifts for every person on your list.
From crazy to creative, you’ll wonder why it took so long for someone to come up with these problem-solving, laugh a little, but utterly genius products. It’s the little things, like the Magic Bun Maker or the Sleepy Cloud Travel Pillow that make life a little easier. Give a gift that’s fun, practical, and inspiring, and they’ll remember you all year long!
5. The Grommet
The Grommet is a fan favorite for sure. It’s the best online store for innovative new products that are anything but ordinary. Local makers and small businesses are where they hunt for the most distinctive finds. Visit their website and sort by recipient, hobby, occasion, and even personal values. If you love Shark Tank, you’ll be head over heels when you discover the Grommet.
Millennials will opt for an experience over a material gift any day so, if you have a certain one of those on your list, check out Clout 9 Living. With over 2,200 unforgettable adventures, you’ll easily find something for every interest, taste, and style–all within your budget. Food tours, bike tours, glamping, wine tasting, balloon rides, skydiving, and more. What’s not to love?
If you think that Minted.com is just for holiday cards, you’re in for a surprise. For those hard to shop for friends, parents, grandparents, and, well, everyone else who makes that list, check out these thoughtful gifts. We love the art gifts like the heart snapshot mix, the love you to the moon & back photo collage, and the reindeer ears print! You’ll capture the sweetness in a gift that lasts forever.
No time to ponder all the choices and make a decision? Text them a photo, and they’ll text back with three photo gift designs selected especially for you and styled with your photo—for FREE!
Town and Country called it “The mecca for monogram must-haves.” Mark and Graham is a space where customers can find beautifully crafted products that can be transformed into one-of-a-kind pieces with a monogram. For him, her, baby, teens, family, happy couple, pet, or host, their curated gift guides will inspire you.
Choose among hundreds of monogramming options to create the most perfect present that can be enjoyed for years to come. Whether it’s a wallet, money clip, toiletry bag, tech case, pajama set, credit card holder, tote, or any other accessory, it’s sure to be the perfect fit!
If online shopping doesn’t bring you enough holiday cheer, here are a few local gift shops that will make you look like a gift-giving guru:
24 Milton Avenue, Alpharetta, GA, 30009 / (404) 414-5765
Sis and Moon’s Local Mercantile is an eclectic shop in Downtown Alpharetta where “artists, makers, and beautiful-thing-lovers unite.” The shop features curated items from both new and vintage sources, including some of the owners’ original designs. Local makers and artisans contribute to the curious mix of furniture, art, jewelry, household items, and miscellaneous blend of rediscovered and reinvented items.
15 West Park Square, N.E., Marietta, GA 30060 / (770) 792-6734
Doodlebugz is a whimsy gift shop in Marietta Square. The quaint store is filled with unique treasures like inspirational art, jewelry, clothing, home décor, non-traditional gifts, and more. They work hard to find artists and items you can’t find in every gift store, and their inventory is always changing. If you’re looking for trendy, specialty items, you won’t be disappointed.
211 Market Street, Alpharetta, GA 30009 / (678) 624-7733
The Red Hound specializes in helping their customers celebrate special occasions and holidays by offering beautiful home decor and gifts for babies, kids, hostesses, teachers, friends, and family. They’ve partnered with some talented local and regional artists, as well as national brands, to bring you one-of-a-kind pieces that you’re sure to love. Check out their Sid Dickens Blocks, Nora Fleming serving pieces, Caribbean driftwood candles, mahogany teakwood fragrance diffusers, hand-embroidered pillows, and gourmet foods.
5950 State Bridge Road, Johns Creek, Georgia 30097 – (404) 502-2172
50 Canton Street Suite 104, Alpharetta, GA 30009
All Inspired is a Johns Creek boutique where sassy, spunky style meets grace and gratitude. Slow down for a while, take a deep breath, and enjoy a holiday-themed latte while you shop for the perfect gift. You’ll find something for everyone, whether it be a trendy tunic, the perfect pair of jeans, an inspirational sign or picture frame, or a piece of handcrafted jewelry. Even better, you’ll find that almost all of their jewelry, signs, and pottery are created by amazing artisans from right here in Georgia!
5. elle B gifts
3130 Mathis Airport Parkway, Suite 304, Suwanee GA 30024 / (770) 889-9992 and 50 Canton St, Alpharetta, GA 30009 / 470-361-2040
elle B Gifts offers unique and fun personalized gifts for guys and girls, friends, tweens, and babies, too. You’ll find specialty wine glasses, car decals, engraved jewelry, pilsner glasses, party tubs, college-themed items, home décor, leather-bound journals, personalized stationery, cozy blankets, and more! They also embroider items on site. Check them out at either of their two locations and knock out your holiday shopping in one stop!
Have a favorite local gift shop? Tell us about it below.
Do college students need a checking account?
Perhaps it hasn’t hit you yet. If you are or soon will be a college student, financial responsibility is an essential lesson. The sooner you learn it, the better off you’ll be, not only through college but for the rest of your life. But, for now, let’s focus on college life and how opening a checking account now can make it easier.
Cash is okay for covering small costs, but what about the bigger ones, such as parking passes and living expenses? It’s not safe or feasible to keep that much cash on hand. By opening a checking account that comes with a debit card, you can knock out those expenses quickly and securely. Also, if you plan on having a part-time job, you’ll need to have a checking account to take advantage of direct deposit. You’ll also enjoy the ease of online bill pay to cover utility bills, etc., if applicable.
College is a time when most students have to learn how to get by with less. Worn-out sofas, care packages from home, and cheap eats are the norm. Those who learn how to manage their money well do best. A checking account makes it easier to keep an eye on your limited funds, create a budget, and reconcile your account. These are lessons that you’ll be glad you learned in college because you’re really going to need them once you graduate, get a full-time job, and, for some, start a family.
Which account is best for you?
As previously mentioned, most college students are working with limited funds. If you’re one of them, you want a checking account that offers the features you need but without expensive fees.
Keep in mind, many financial institutions will advertise “free” checking accounts with no fees, but they come with strings attached. Be sure you check out the fine print. Students tend to sign up with a bank or credit union that’s on or close to campus. It may be well worth your effort to expand your search to find a better option. Generally speaking, you can expect better rates, fewer fees, and exceptional customer service from a credit union. By making smart financial decisions now, you’re laying down a solid foundation for success that lasts well beyond college.
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