Virtual Meeting Etiquette: 7 Tips for Being Professional during a Remote Meeting
Do you often think back on happier times when you used to meet face-to-face with coworkers and everyone seemed to be on the same page? Do you leave online meetings feeling frustrated? If so, it may be worth brushing up on virtual meeting etiquette…
We are now more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and CEOs have had to rethink how they do business. To keep employees safe, many have opted to allow staff to continue working from home.
Some company leaders have even discovered that online conferences are a surprisingly effective way to stay productive and engaged, despite the distance.
This isn’t the case for everyone, of course. If you are new to working remotely, Zoom meetings can feel intimidating. And even if you’ve worked from home since the first round of lock-downs last year, you may still dread those remote meetings.
So, if you find online meetings to be unprofessional, unproductive, or just downright unpleasant, it may be that not every member of your team is applying best practices for virtual meetings.
Here’s the thing…
Remote meetings may not be going anywhere soon. The fight against COVID-19 isn’t over, and some companies have found online conferencing to be a flexible and cost-effective alternative to traditional meetings. Several well-known brands, including Facebook and Shopify, have announced that some or all of their workers will be able to work at home indefinitely.
The good news is that if video meetings are not working for you, it may well be something you can fix by following our 7 virtual meeting etiquette tips below.
And if it’s your job to run these meetings, keep an eye out for some bonus tips for facilitators/hosts. These ideas will help combat some of the unique barriers to running an online meeting effectively.
7 Virtual Meeting Etiquette Tips Everyone Should Follow
The main problem with remote meetings is that many people aren’t familiar with virtual meeting etiquette. But that’s okay! Like anything else, there is a learning curve.
So, here are some tips to follow as you embark on this new way of interacting with coworkers, clients, and vendors.
1) Test Technology Beforehand
It’s a waste of everyone’s time when technical difficulties get in the way of a video conference call.
That’s why everyone should log in to every meeting at least 10 minutes before the start time.
That way, you can check that you’re able to successfully join the online meeting and that your webcam, Wi-Fi, screen-sharing tools, and any other technologies you’re using are running properly by the time the meeting starts. You may need to allow more time to sort out any issues if you aren't familiar with the meeting software or if it’s the first time you’ve used the video conferencing equipment.
2) Dress Appropriately
Although working from home is pretty awesome, considering you can do it in your PJs, you should put in a little more effort when you have a meeting scheduled.
Dressing appropriately is a virtual meeting etiquette must unless your company has instructed otherwise. In any case, to avoid embarrassment, don’t assume that people can’t see you from the waist down. Remember those viral videos showing people who thought they could get away with dressing to impress only from the waist up?
In addition to helping your coworkers and clients take you seriously, dressing professionally has a positive impact on your mental and emotional psyche, allowing you to feel confident and be more productive.
3) Take Note of the Background behind You
Whether or not you have a home office, make sure it looks like you do. It’s hard to take people seriously when you see an unmade bed, dirty clothes, open closets, and plates of half-eaten food in the background.
Here are our best tips regarding this one:
- Test First – Check what will be seen in your camera’s view well before the meeting and create a setting that looks professional.
- Plan the Setting – We suggest having a wall behind you instead of an open room. Place objects in view that you’d be comfortable having in an office setting.
- Consider Lighting – Lighting is an essential part of creating a professional ambiance. Bright lighting will allow others to see you easily, while a window behind you will transform you into a silhouette.
4) Limit Distractions as Much as Possible
Distractions are everywhere, especially in our homes and on our devices. So, remove them whenever possible.
You’ll need to be aware of things that can divert your and your coworkers’ attention, including background noise, things that can distract from the meeting, and things that are just downright rude.
Here are some ways to limit distractions:
- Follow the facilitator's instructions.
- Close the door to your room.
- Turn off all music and TVs.
- Silence your phone and place it away from you.
- Refrain from checking your email.
- Use a notebook and pen to take notes (don’t type on your keyboard since the microphone inside your computer is right next to it).
- Use a headset to cut down on background noise and so you can hear more clearly.
- Don’t eat during virtual meetings.
- Don’t multitask during the meeting—the only windows you should have open on your screen are documents and presentations for the video conference.
- When someone has the floor, it’s theirs—don’t talk over or interrupt others when speaking.
Of course, some potential distractions are unavoidable when you’re working from home.
With that in mind, practice virtual meeting etiquette by being upfront with those on your video conference call. Let others know they may hear your children playing in the other room, your pets clamoring for your attention, or even construction crews working outside.
They’ll appreciate the heads-up, and it will reduce your need to apologize or clarify mid-meeting about what they’re hearing or why you’ve disappeared from view.
In our experience—with so many of us having no choice about working from home— it is best to be candid about the situation. It’s also a great way to connect with others, as you’ll likely find they’re experiencing a lot of the same things.
5) Look at the Camera & Speak Clearly
If you were in an in-person meeting, you wouldn’t be multitasking, looking away from people, or talking so low others can’t hear you. The same goes for remote meetings.
Use these virtual meeting etiquette tips for proper interaction with the camera:
- Be Present – If you’re looking down at your desk, off to the side, or anywhere but at the computer when others are talking, it will seem as though you aren’t fully present.
- Look at the Camera – Likewise, when you have the floor and are doing the talking, you want to be sure to look at the camera so that others can feel more engaged with you. They’ll feel like you are talking to them.
- Pause – Remember there is usually a 2 to 3-second delay between the speaker’s voice and the recipient’s ear. So, after you speak, wait for a response.
- Speak Clearly – Due to equipment limitations, acoustics aren’t always great during virtual meetings, so speak clearly.
6) Mute Yourself When You Aren’t Talking
Background noise is the worst, and it’s next to impossible to avoid when working from home.
Whether your kids are playing in the background, your dog is barking, or sirens are blaring off in the distance, multiply that times everyone on the call and you’ve got one noisy situation, not to mention the echo noises that can occur from multiple microphones.
That’s why one of the most critical virtual meeting etiquette tips we can offer is to mute your microphone when you’re not talking. Often, the host of the meeting can handle that and mute and unmute people as needed, but if they don’t, you’ll need to know how to do it yourself.
7) Don’t Take Your Phone or Computer with You to the Bathroom
You would think this is common sense, but it seems like people can become disoriented when they are meeting virtually. You’d be surprised how many people do this, even without muting themselves or turning off their camera.
Imagine how embarrassing it would be for you and everyone else if you forgot you were on camera and took your phone with you to the bathroom… Yikes!
Excuse yourself if you need to, just as you would if you were in an in–person meeting.
Bonus Tips for Facilitators/Hosts
It is the facilitator’s job to lead the meeting and make sure everyone feels invited to contribute. As the guide, it also falls on you to encourage attendees to practice good virtual meeting etiquette.
But an online meeting may be harder to manage than a regular face-to-face meeting. As mentioned earlier, it’s not easy to control every distraction in a home. Unexpected interruptions are bound to happen. Plus, cues from body language are in short supply because the field of view on a computer screen is limited, and it’s difficult to see everyone at one time.
With all that in mind, here are some tips to maintain order and help people feel valued during online meetings:
- Be Prepared – Create the agenda in advance. Be upfront about your goals for the session. And remind everyone of the rules, especially proper virtual meeting etiquette.
- Check In – Start with a check-in to gauge everyone’s mood. It breaks the ice and can make for a smoother session.
- Mute – Mute the audience and unmute speakers whenever possible to prevent microphones from making distracting noises.
- Guide – Don’t let a single team member hog the mic. One question at a time, please. Politely guide people back on track if they stray off-topic or speak out of turn.
- Watch for Gestures – Just ask any teacher. Simple gestures, such as raising a hand for a question or comment and giving a thumbs-up to say “yes,” can do wonders to help a group discussion flow.
- Consent – Use the principle of consent. No one person has a monopoly on the correct way to solve a problem—so bring together as many different constructive perspectives as possible.
- Be Present – A round-robin is a great way to make sure everyone has a turn at speaking, especially when building consensus for making decisions. After hearing a proposal, make time for people to ask for clarification and offer their opinion.
- Keep Time – Respecting people’s time is essential when they work from home, especially if they do double duty, for example, as parents. Be clear about how long the meeting will last and stick to it. If the meeting goes over, make sure people feel free to leave if they need to.
- Allow for Breaks – For long meetings, consider offering a five-minute break to help people stay focused until the end—not to mention deal with other needs they may have.
Final Thoughts about Virtual Meeting Etiquette
Whether COVID-19 pushed your company into doing business remotely, or you’ve wanted to move to a more virtual setting anyway, virtual meetings are a new reality for many companies these days.
When everyone understands virtual meeting etiquette, this way of doing business can be highly productive, cost-effective, and successful.