The workforce has grown increasingly distributed in recent years. This trend has been supercharged by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a staggering 5 billion minutes (and counting) spent in virtual meetings during the crisis alone.
As in-person meetings decline and virtual meetings continue to skyrocket, the working world is grappling with establishing a new unspoken standard for virtual meeting etiquette.
We’re here to help.
Why is Virtual Meeting Etiquette Important?
Think of any in-person meeting you’ve ever sat through. Now imagine seeing somebody in that meeting walking in late, wearing a sweatsuit, talking over a colleague, or working on something else.
You’d probably think they were acting wildly inappropriately.
Virtual meeting etiquette is equally important for the same reasons. And in many ways, the same principles apply with some nuances and exceptions.
That’s why we’ve created these 10 commandments of virtual meeting etiquette.
Commandment #1: Get Prepared for Your Meeting
Let’s be honest: it can be easy to take virtual meetings a little bit less seriously than you might take an in-person meeting. After all, it’s just a bunch of faces on a screen and everyone’s at home or at a flexible office space.
But would you ever come to an in-person meeting completely unprepared? A virtual meeting shouldn’t be any different.
Make sure to prepare for your virtual meeting by:
- Putting together an agenda to keep the meeting on track and outline the objectives you want to achieve
- Penciling it into your meeting attendees’ calendars
- Making sure everyone has access to the virtual meeting platform you’ll be using, whether it’s Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Whereby, or any of the many other options
- Creating any required visual aids in advance
- Testing your audio and video settings before it’s time to start the meeting
- Making sure you’re in a quiet place that’s free of distractions
- Ensuring you have a strong WiFi connection or hardwire
- Joining early to make sure you’re ready to go at meeting time
All of these things can impact the productivity of your meeting, so make sure you’ve covered your bases in advance.
Commandment #2: Dress Appropriately for Your Meeting
Working from home means having the luxury of working in casual, comfortable clothes. But as a rule of thumb, you should still dress in a way that lives up to the standard attire you’d wear at an in-person meeting.
But beyond that, there are also a few things to keep in mind when picking an outfit for your virtual meeting, including:
- Avoid patterns, stripes, and plaids as they can look overwhelming on video
- Steer clear of white shirts because white is brighter on camera and can wash out your face
- Opt for solid, bold colors as they generally translate better on video
- Try not to wear jewelry that might jingle or make noise when you move since your microphone might pick up the sound and project it loud and clear into everyone’s speakers
Ultimately, what matters is what’s visible. So, if it’s only your face that’s going to be seen in the meeting, there’s nothing wrong with comfort on the bottom and business up top. When it comes to attire, virtual meeting etiquette is all a matter of discretion.
Commandment #3: Mute Your Mic When You’re Not Speaking
We’ll keep this one short and simple: when you’re not speaking, hit the mute button. The background noise from multiple microphones picking up sound at the same time can be distracting and overwhelming to say the least.
Commandment #4: Look at Your Camera When You Speak
One strange thing about virtual meetings is the act of making eye contact–or the lack thereof.
Because the place where you watch people in a virtual meeting is not the same as where you look at them. That is to say, you watch them on your screen. Since your webcam is generally above your screen and you want to give the impression of making eye contact while speaking, you need to be looking at your camera, not the screen.
And if you have two screens, be mindful of the location of your camera relative to the screen you’re viewing the meeting on. If, for example, you’ve got your virtual meeting on a second screen to the left of you but your webcam is looking at you straight on, your colleagues will be staring awkwardly at the right side of your face for the entire meeting.
Commandment #5: Be Mindful of What’s Behind You
In a real-life meeting room, the environment is consistent for everyone. But since people join virtual meetings from wherever they happen to be working, it’s important to be mindful of what’s behind you.
Make sure to avoid:
- Messy rooms
- Unmade beds
- Piles of clothes, laundry, or clutter
- NSFW artwork
If you wouldn’t have it in your office, virtual meeting etiquette dictates that you should avoid having it on-screen during a virtual conference.
Commandment #6: Stay Engaged and Present
When you’re not actually sitting in a room with your coworkers, it can be easy to get distracted or to focus on other things.
It’s critical to make sure you stay dialed in until the meeting’s over:
- Don’t check your emails
- Put your phone away
- Make sure your kids or pets are happily occupied in another room
- Avoid standing up and moving around
Your virtual meeting isn’t the time to be multitasking. Stay focused.
Commandment #7: No Food Allowed
Try to avoid eating when you’re in a virtual meeting. Having an up-close view of you chewing might be distracting to other meeting guests. If your meeting is going to be long or might bump up against lunchtime, try to remember to have a snack ahead of time.
That being said, there are exceptions to every rule, like when you’re going into a scheduled lunch meeting. And, of course, beverages are totally fine!
Commandment #8: Make Your Presence Known
Would you ever just walk into an in-person meeting without saying anything or acknowledging that you’ve arrived?
The same translates to virtual meetings. Don’t be afraid to say hello and let everyone you’ve joined. It’s uncomfortable to hear a notification that somebody has jumped into the meeting and to then have it followed by an awkward silence.
Commandment #9: Keep It Professional
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying catching up with your colleagues. After all, working remotely means you probably don’t see them in-person all that often. But make sure to keep it professional. Sit up straight. Be mindful of your facial expressions and body language. Compose yourself the same way you would in person.
Virtual meetings can sometimes feel more relaxed than their in-person counterparts, but make sure to keep it professional and business-focused.
Commandment #10: Don’t Talk Over Your Colleagues
Virtual communication is weird. It lacks a lot of the in-person cues and nuances that allow people to read the room and identify when someone’s done talking.
So, make sure to leave an extra second or two after somebody’s finished speaking before you make your contribution to the conversation. There’s nothing more awkward or frustrating than five people accidentally talking over one another.
Bonus: If you’re looking for ways to make your Zoom meeting a bit more fun, check out our article on the topic.
Virtual meetings are an incredible tool, especially as the working world grows ever more remote. But it’s also important to make sure you’re practicing proper virtual meeting etiquette so that it’s as productive and enjoyable as possible for everyone.