From Zoom happy hours to Skype check-ins, 2020 was the year of the virtual meeting. And with the pandemic still going on, there’s no end to video conferencing in sight in 2021.
While it feels like so many of our usual rules have gone out the window while we work from home, we still have a certain amount of decorum to respect. The key is to maintain professionalism while also being understanding of the people who are struggling to adjust.
So what are some virtual meeting etiquette rules we can abide by these days? Below, I’ll walk through 26 tips to ensure that you’re considerate on your next work call.
1. Send an agenda to everyone beforehand.
With video and audio lags and the awkwardness of not being able to pick up on all body language cues, virtual meetings can be confusing. Minimize the confusion and ensure you end on time by crafting and sending a meeting agenda to all participants well ahead of the virtual meeting.
2. Assign a meeting leader.
If you want your virtual meetings to run smoothly, it’s crucial that you assign a meeting leader. This is the person who facilitates discussions and makes announcements, such as when it’s time to take a break. Having a meeting leader ensures that there’s always a designated person to move the meeting along and make sure people aren’t talking over each other.
3. Find a quiet place to take the call.
Taking calls in a noisy place is a big virtual meeting etiquette no-no. But sometimes, it’s unavoidable. Do your best to find a private room where you can shut the door and be away from distracting sounds. If, however, you have pets, roommates, or kids, install the Krisp app to cancel out noise so your coworkers don’t hear them.
4. Eliminate background distractions.
Before your video call, set up your camera and look at a preview of what your coworkers would see. Is there anything moving in your background, such as people walking by? Is there an unprofessional piece of decoration or something else that might distract people? Try facing your camera to a blank wall and sitting in front of it there.
5. Avoid Zoom virtual backgrounds unless your company culture or boss allows it.
Are Zoom virtual backgrounds unprofessional? It depends on the background choice and the company culture, of course, but I’d say, in general, avoid using Zoom virtual backgrounds unless you’ve gotten the okay from your boss.
6. Turn off any sound-making devices: your phone, a fan, the TV, radio, etc.
While the room you’re in may seem silent enough to you, pay attention to any devices that might be emitting sound, especially if the device is blowing air into your microphone (ceiling fans, air purifiers, air conditioning vents, etc.).
The sounds may seem harmless to you, but when it’s amplified by the microphone, it can make your audio sound choppy to your coworkers. Again, this is where installing Krisp will come in handy. The app will cancel out background noise so you and your coworkers can focus on the meeting at hand.
7. Don’t have people in the same room as you when you’re on the call.
While you might think you can get away with having your husband sitting quietly off-screen in your home office during your virtual meeting, it’s still not a good idea.
Remember, when someone invites you to a meeting, they’re inviting you and only you. There might be sensitive information that your work colleagues don’t want shared with anyone else. On top of that, some industries (such as healthcare) have strict laws around privacy, and having someone overhear your virtual meeting could violate those.
8. Wear headphones with a microphone if possible.
While you don’t need professional-grade equipment to attend your virtual meeting, even a cheap headset or earphones with a microphone will do wonders for your audio quality. Onboard laptop mics don’t always provide the clearest audio.
9. Test your camera, microphone, and software before the call.
Being live on a video call is not the time to test out your new microphone or get familiar with the conferencing software’s features. Do these things before your call so that if you run into any issues, you can troubleshoot without interrupting the meeting.
10. Turn off notifications during a virtual meeting, especially if you plan to share your screen.
It’s distracting for you to have notifications pop up on your computer screen. And if you’re going to share your screen with your colleagues, it’s distracting for them too—and has the potential to be embarrassing.
For example, if you have message notifications set up on your MacBook, a personal text message could pop up on your screen. You might not want your coworkers to see this. Be sure to turn off all notifications before your meeting, just in case.
11. Assume virtual meeting attendees can see everything.
Even if you think your camera view is limited to just your chest and face and a tiny area behind you, you never know when you might need to get up unexpectedly or adjust your camera angle. Because of this, always assume that your coworkers can see whatever is in the room with you. So if you’ve got an embarrassing poster just off-screen on the wall behind you, or if you thought it was a good idea to go pants-less—think again.
12. Alert your housemates that you’ll be in a virtual meeting.
If you live with other people, be sure to let them know when you’ll be on a call. That way, they’ll know to avoid being loud or accidentally walking into the room where you’re in your virtual meeting. Even better, if you have a home office, put up a sign on your office door letting your housemates know when not to disturb you.
13. Briefly introduce yourself when you sign on.
If you’re joining a virtual meeting with your team, you don’t need to introduce yourself. A simple greeting is fine. But if you’re joining a virtual meeting with new people, you’ll need an introduction.
Ideally, the meeting leader will acknowledge when someone joins the call. For example, “Oh, looks like we have Jenny from Marketing on the call now. Jenny, how are you?”
But if no one introduces you, say who you are and what you do that relates to the meeting.
14. If you’re late, wait to introduce yourself when there’s a lull in the conversation.
Showing up late to a virtual meeting usually means you’ll enter during a conversation. In that case, hold off on greetings until people are done talking. If you immediately start talking when you enter, you’ll likely cut someone off and cause confusion with the audio.
15. Don’t comment on people’s backgrounds.
Again, many of us are joining virtual meetings from the comfort of our homes. Our apartments or houses may not be set up for professional meetings. The lighting might be awful, or there might be a mess of children’s toys in the background. Now is not the time to make derogatory remarks about someone’s background. It’s their home you’re talking about.
While yes, people should do their best to have a professional image during their work calls from home, it’s not always possible. Give people a break here.
16. Mute yourself when you’re not speaking.
For the love of good audio, always mute yourself when you’re not talking. This might not be a big deal when it’s just two or three people on a call, but throw 15 people onto a virtual meeting, and now you’ve got 15 sources of audio. If they’re all going at once, it will be nearly impossible to hear people.
Before the meeting, whichever conferencing software you’re using, get familiar with how to quickly mute and unmute yourself so you can have a smooth call.
17. Don’t turn off your camera if everyone has theirs on.
Understandably, you might need to turn your video off if you’re having technical problems or something, but in general, if everyone else has their camera turned on—keep yours on too.
I’ve been in meetings where one person, without explanation, has their camera off the entire time. It makes it very difficult to connect with that person because it feels like they’re not listening or they’re not even there. It can come across as a tad rude, too, especially if you haven’t warned people ahead of time that you can join via audio only.
18. If your audio or video is spotty, try turning off your camera.
It’s frustrating when you’re in a virtual meeting and you can’t hear or see someone because the audio is going in and out or the video is frozen. If this happens on your end, try turning off your camera to save bandwidth. This will likely improve your audio quality so people can at least hear what you’re trying to say.
19. Don’t surf the web while on a video call.
Not only is the click-clacking sound of your keyboard distracting to others, but it also becomes clear you’re not paying attention because your eyes will be drifting across the screen.
It can be easy to forget, but people can see you on the video call. They can see if you’re looking off-screen or down at your phone. It’s impolite, and it makes people feel like you aren’t paying attention. Try to show that you’re engaged by looking at the computer screen or camera during the virtual meeting.
20. Don’t talk over someone who’s speaking.
This is true of in-person meetings too, but virtual meetings are especially prone to snafus when people try to interrupt or talk over someone else. So while you may have an excellent point to make, please be patient and wait until the person is done talking to do so.
21. Address people by name to avoid confusion about whom you’re talking to.
Virtual meetings with more than two people make it difficult to know who’s addressing whom. When you look into the camera during video calls, everyone feels as though you’re making eye contact with them. So you need to address the person by name before you ask the question.
If you’re on an audio-only call, this is especially imperative. No one can see your face or gestures, so you need to make it clear that you are asking a particular question to a specific person.
Even on video calls, it’s tougher to pick up on facial expressions and body language that you’d pick up on in person. Because of this, place extra emphasis on everything: Smile more broadly, speak up, and if you’re using hand gestures, do so emphatically. This will help people see the signals that you’re interested in what’s being talked about. If you’re too subtle, participants may think you’re not very engaged in the call.
Don’t worry about this too much, though. If body language isn’t your strong point, you don’t have to do anything that feels unnatural or awkward to you. Some people do best with written communication, and if that’s you, then be sure to send follow-up emails to the meeting participants to best express yourself.
23. Avoid asking everyone to verbally answer a question at the same time.
During virtual meetings, you don’t want to pose a broad group question such as, “What does everyone think of the new project management software we’re using?” Because the question is addressed to everyone, multiple people are going to chime in at once, and you’re not going to hear anything well.
Instead, try asking yes or no questions followed by having people raise their hands on screen. So you might ask, “Raise your hand if you’ve had a chance to try the new project management software?” Then, once people raise their hands, you can call on individuals. For example, “Robert, I see your hand is raised. What do you think of the software so far?
24. Honor the virtual meeting end time.
Yes, this virtual meeting etiquette rule applies to physical meetings too, but it’s especially important now as many people are working from home. Remember, people are doing double-duty as an employee plus parent, pet owner, spouse, etc. It’s not like in an office meeting where, if you go over time, everyone is still in their workplace setting.
In virtual meetings conducted from home, it might be only a matter of minutes before someone’s kid comes home from school or their partner needs to use the room for their video meeting. Be considerate about being in people’s personal space, and be sure to end the meeting at the agreed-upon time.
If you must go over time, let people leave before you continue. Say something like, “It’s 3 p.m. now, and I know this was the time we said we’d end the meeting. If anyone needs to leave, you’re welcome to sign off now. I’m going to stay on for 15 more minutes to wrap up our discussion about next quarter’s budget.”
25. Keep virtual meetings short. If they must be longer, give breaks.
My general rule of thumb is to keep virtual meetings to one hour. If they go longer than that, I give attendees a stretch and bathroom break every hour. This will highly depend on everyone else’s tolerances. You can always survey your team to see what works best for them.
26. Give everyone a chance to contribute.
It can be challenging to speak up during virtual meetings, especially if you tend to be shy. If you notice someone hasn’t spoken during the entire meeting, you can ask something as simple as, “[Name], you have anything you’d like to add?”
Remember These Virtual Meeting Etiquette Guidelines on Your Next Call
Yes, we’ve had to adapt to a lot past year. And while it feels like our work environment is anything but normal, we do still have some cultural norms to follow. If you use these virtual meeting etiquette guidelines on your next call, your whole team will appreciate it.