2020 has definitely been the ‘Year of the Virtual Meeting’. It’s not that Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls weren’t used pre-COVID-19, but with the rise of home-based and ‘hybrid’ home-office work practices over recent months, video meetings are now the rule and not the exception for millions of workers here in the United Kingdom.
At their best, video calls can be a highly effective and efficient way to keep in touch with colleagues and business contacts as well as an essential means to collaborate remotely on projects. At their worst, though, video calls can be riddled with technical glitches, sometimes feel entirely unnecessary and/or are poorly run.
A recent multi-country LinkedIn poll by Robert Half found that the Top 3 video conference call irritants are: #1 Poor video/audio quality; #2 Calls are unnecessary (an email would suffice); and #3 Too many people talking at once. These survey results are a timely reminder that practical video conference call etiquette is essential in order to make the best use of the time allocated and for all participants to appear organised and professional.
So, here are 14 video conference call etiquette tips designed to help you steer clear of trouble…
1. Make sure everything works
Technical difficulties can be the bane of many video conference calls and are the Number 1 irritant cited by respondents to Robert Half surveys on this topic in both the US as well as internationally. To avoid these glitches, test your technology – computer, applications, camera, and microphone – to ensure it’s all functioning before the meeting begins. You don’t want to delay the start of a gathering because no one can see or hear you.
2. Get organized (and sense-check if a call is actually required)
Ask yourself: ‘Is this call really necessary? Can I cover this topic via email or other means of messaging?’ (and thus avoid the Number 2 irritant from our survey – unnecessary video calls). Then if you decide to proceed and are leading a virtual meeting, share an agenda prior. Remember: It’s all too easy to veer off topic during an online meeting or become distracted by surroundings (especially when many people are working from home in dining rooms and spare bedrooms). For the sake of productivity and focus, limit your agenda items and send them out to participants beforehand.
3. Be screen ready
One of the best things about working from home is being able to dress more casually. But video meetings put a limit on this to some degree. There’s probably not a need for a suit, but do put on professional, clean clothing and check your appearance in the mirror before your video meeting begins. You don’t want anything to draw attention away from what you’re saying. As a bonus, getting ready for the workday can help put you in a productive mindset. Warning: If you’re wearing a professional shirt with sweatpants, don’t forget to fully exit the meeting before standing up.
4. Check your background
The best background for video meetings is one that won’t be distracting. Blank is often best. Check to make sure there isn’t a pile of dirty dishes or laundry in your background. Many virtual meeting platforms allow you to change or blur the background, if needed. Also check to see that the lighting is adequate so people can actually see you. This is particularly important if you’re being interviewed remotely for a job or speaking with new contacts for the first time
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5. Speak clearly (and allow for delays)
Enunciate your words and speak slowly during online meetings. Home internet connection quality can vary, as does the reliability of devices. Keep in mind that there’s often a minor delay when someone talks, so pause after asking a question or listening to someone’s response. It’s all too easy to inadvertently interrupt other speakers or talk over one another, which can easily lead to the Number 3 irritant cited in our international survey – too many people talking at once.
6. Look at the camera
There’s a lot to see on your screen during virtual meetings: images of yourself and your colleagues, the main presentation or an ongoing transcript of the conversation between participants. Off-screen, you might have a partner or kids at home walking around. Make “eye contact” with others in the meeting by looking at the camera when you’re talking and listening.
7. Connect on a personal level
It’s important to display empathy and to connect as human beings and not just as business colleagues, especially during challenging times like these. Managers leading virtual meetings might want to build in some time at the beginning (or the end) to check in to see how everyone is doing.
8. Find a quiet place (if you can
Ideally, you’ll be in a low-noise room where you can close the door. If you’re not able to get privacy for your video meeting, opt for an area of your home where others are less likely to interrupt you. Explain to roommates, spouses, significant others, or children that you’ll be participating in a work meeting and unable to talk to them during that time. If possible, put pets in a separate room. And remember to turn off notifications on your computer and personal devices.
9. Use the mute button
Can’t find that quiet place? Enter meetings on mute. And when you’re not speaking, mute the microphone so people can talk without hearing your dog bark or doorbell ringing.
10. Pay attention when sharing your screen
If you’re sharing your screen during a video meeting, minimize the number of windows and tabs you have open so it’s easy for participants to see what you’re talking about. Make sure you close documents you don’t want to share, and temporarily disable any incoming messaging notifications while you’re presenting.
11. Limit the attendee list
Many people we recently surveyed said they’re experiencing video call fatigue. If it’s your meeting, only invite those who truly need to participate. Smaller groups are often more engaged and productive.
12. Message carefully
Beware of sending messages to participants during online meetings. If you’re complaining about someone during the meeting (which you shouldn’t risk doing anyway), and your comment accidentally goes to the wrong person or ends up in a transcript, you could damage relationships as well as your reputation.
13. Don’t multi-task
Good video conference call etiquette means resisting the temptation to check the news, social media, or your email inbox. It’s quite clear when a participant isn’t paying attention during a video meeting. And it’s a universal truth that nobody wants to see or hear you eating. Even if it’s lunchtime, save your sandwich or snacks for later.
14. Stay put
If you join the meeting on a mobile device, avoid walking around or shifting too much, which can be disorienting to others. Place your device on something stationary, if at all possible, and try not to fidget.
Finally, here’s a last word of advice regarding video conference call etiquette: Remember to be kind and patient with your colleagues during online meetings. People have different levels of comfort and expertise when it comes to virtual meetings. Offering some technical assistance or reassurance, as necessary, will help everyone feel like they’re supported and part of the team, even when you’re not in the same place.
For further advice on the ongoing impact of COVID-19, visit roberthalf.co.uk/advice