On Friday, the stay-at-home order in Ontario increased from four weeks to six weeks. Which means we’ll be at home until at least May 20. But the one thing we all understand about this pandemic is that time means nothing. We’ve come to expect the unexpected and know that getting back to normal will take a lot longer than anyone thought it would in March 2020. One thing we can be sure of is that we haven’t seen the end of virtual meetings. These online office chats are a great way to stay in touch, they can be recorded, and are likely to stick around long after we return to the in-person work. By now, we should all be very familiar with best practices when it comes to a Zoom call or Teams meeting. But a refresher never hurts. It’s time to once again talk about virtual meeting etiquette.
You’re on Mute
Most people would agree that if you aren’t talking, virtual meeting etiquette demands that you should be muted. But maybe not? Hear us out. First of all, DO mute yourself if someone is giving a presentation and has the floor for an extended amount of time and doesn’t expect participation until they’re finished. Also hit the mute button if there is a lot of background noise in your location, you need to step away from the call, or if your child needs you RIGHT NOOOOOOOW! However, there is a good argument for keeping your mic live if the call has five or fewer people. Here is it: being available for feedback and participation can keep a smaller conversation going. You should also be able to clearly see everyone in such a small meeting, so you can tell when someone wants or needs to chime in. These visual cues help everyone participate in the conversation without interrupting.
Smile for the Camera
There are many, many stories of mishaps that have occurred when someone didn’t realize their camera was on during a virtual call. Just last week, a certain Liberal MP inadvertently gave colleagues a show during an internal parliamentary feed of virtual proceedings in the House of Commons. Yikes! The best way to avoid an unpleasant surprise such as this is to opt for the default of mic and camera off when joining a meeting. But always be ready to go live whenever you log on just in case the camera pops up unexpectedly. Also consider a physical barrier on your screen—it’s not a bad idea to cover up.
A lot of people find a virtual meeting less stressful than in-person meetings. That is, until your tech doesn’t work. We’ve probably all had that sinking feeling of logging on and realizing the platform isn’t on your computer or that an update needs to be completed before you can connect. Make sure you check whether you’re meeting on Zoom, Teams, or another app well before start time. Then test your setup by checking the camera and audio and familiarize yourself with essential functions. All online tools should let you test your mic and video before joining a meeting. As with any other meeting, it’s good virtual meeting etiquette to show up early and be prepared.
This is a facet of virtual meeting etiquette that also holds true for in-person huddles: pay attention! Stop multitasking and focus on the meeting taking place. The good news is that a group of people who are actively listening or participating will be able to accomplish goals and often finish faster. Also understand that unless you’re in a really large meeting, it’s pretty obvious when you’re otherwise occupied. Things to avoid:
- looking at your phone
- surfing the web
- answering emails
- eating lunch
Before the meeting starts, have a good look around. What’s in your background? A super busy background is distracting and a stark white wall is boring. It’s nice to strike a balance if you can, but remember that less is more. That bookshelf full of novels and knick-knacks could have a title you forgot about that’s controversial or a birthday card meant for your eyes only. Also clean up the pile of laundry or at least find a less cluttered background. Better yet, use a virtual background. Another good idea is to take meetings in a room with a door that locks. Use that lock to keep your space free from interruptions by children, spouses, and roommates. However, a pet cameo is sometimes welcome. Oh, and make sure you’re well lit!
Shut it Down!
Before you get up and walk away, perhaps in your sweatpants, make sure you’ve exited the meeting. That means your camera and microphone are off and you are once again in the privacy of your own home. Don’t get caught with your pants down, literally or figuratively. Taking a extra few moments to make sure you’ve logged off before running to the bathroom, standing up to stretch, or letting the dog out may be the difference between an embarrassing mistake and peace of mind. Ultimately, virtual meeting etiquette isn’t difficult—it’s mostly about common sense.