Now that Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams meetings have become the norm for many of us, we’ve (hopefully) gotten comfortable using the technology and navigating the occasional awkwardness that comes with video versus in-person meetings.
Beyond using the technology, though, comes etiquette. Just like in-person meetings, there are certain etiquette practices on Zoom that can improve the experience.
We talked with Lisa Lewis, publications and logistics specialist for UW Professional & Organizational Development (POD), for some tips on making sure virtual meetings feel professional and welcoming for everyone.
What not to do
Don’t: Keep your video off all the time
Everyone has days where we don’t feel like turning our webcams on. Maybe you’re having a bad hair day or your home or office is messy or you’re just not in the mood. However, having video on is key to making online meetings feel more personal.
“It’s important for the meeting host to receive feedback and engagement from who they’re talking to. They’ll feed off of this energy just like in an in-person gathering,” says Lewis. This goes for the other participants as well. If you’re having a working meeting and get to see your co-workers faces, it’ll feel a lot more normal than seeing a bunch of blank screens.
There are always exceptions; maybe you have to call into a meeting when you’re working in a patient setting and turning video on isn’t an option, or you’re calling into a meeting while getting your steps in. It’s OK if you can’t have video on every single time, but try for it as much as you can.
Don’t: Hold your camera at a weird angle
It’s understandable if you have to attend meetings on the go, and that can make it awkward to use video. If you want to use video, though, try holding your phone at a flattering angle or propping it up on a nearby object or piece of furniture. If you’re holding your phone the way you do when you’re reading the news or checking social media, that means everyone else in the meeting can see up your nose. Which, trust us, no one wants.
Don’t: Choose a distracting background
If you can, try to find a spot with a neutral or interesting but simple background, like a wall with a photo or painting hanging on it or a corner with a potted plant — something that’s pleasant for other people to look at but doesn’t distract from you. This is especially important if you’re going to be speaking a lot and need people to pay close attention.
Some people can create customized backgrounds on Zoom, meaning your background could show anything from the Seattle skyline to the binary sunset of Tatooine from Star Wars.
Some backgrounds that are busy or bright can be distracting for other meeting participants, however. If you’re using a virtual background, try to find one that’s fairly neutral (such as these UW Medicine custom Zoom backgrounds).
For hosts: Don’t be late
Sometimes meeting attendees can’t get into the meeting room until the host has entered; that means they’re waiting, unable to talk to each other even, until the host shows up. Because of this, try to be on-time to any meetings you’re the host for — or even a little early in case some people want to show up early, too.
What to do
Do: Mute when not talking
Zoom does a pretty good job of filtering out mild background noise and amplifying the speaker’s voice, but if you have loud noises in the background or are talking to other people off-screen, do the courteous thing and mute your microphone until it’s your turn to speak. It can be extremely distracting for meeting attendees if the speaker’s voice is drowned out by background noise.
When you’re talking, you want to be heard, but that can be difficult if there’s a lot of background noise like other people talking or cars going by. Try to find a quiet location if you need to speak during a meeting. If that’s not possible, opt for headphones with a built-in microphone. And recognize that interruptions — from curious kids, for example — are inevitable sometimes.
Do: Find a spot with good lighting
If you’re turning your camera on, make sure there’s decent lighting to show your face. In person, reading someone’s facial expressions are an important part of communication, and Zoom makes that achievable even with virtual meetings. If people can’t see your face and instead just see a shadowed blob, that can make it difficult for others to interpret how you’re feeling.
For hosts: Be flexible and forgiving
It’s a fact of life that sometimes things go wrong with technology, especially now that many of us are using it more than we did before. Try not to get stressed out or overwhelmed if something doesn’t work properly during a meeting. Do your best to fix the problem and, if that doesn’t work, move on.
Also, expect that participants will have different ways of accessing the meeting. Some may call in and won’t be able to turn video on. Some may have their own technical difficulties.
“Even though there’s the assumption people have the technology and the experience using that technology, that might not be the case, either for that day or for the work environment,” Lewis explains.
For hosts: Do be the last to leave
Sometimes, if the host leaves the meetings before the attendees do, the attendees get kicked out of the meeting. This may seem abrupt to some people or may cut people off mid-conversation. To prevent this from happening, make sure you’re the last to leave the meeting if you’re the host; that way you have a chance to address any last-minute questions or comments attendees may have.
For hosts: Create a welcoming and engaging space
“It’s important for hosts to build rapport and encourage engagement from the start and provide a space for people to openly communicate and engage,” Lewis says.
Sometimes being a good host also means reading the room and finding new ways for people to express themselves. For example, if at your weekly team check-in you start the meeting by asking everyone how they’re doing and are met with crickets, try framing the question differently.
“One great example of this is instead of outright asking, ‘How are you today?’, you could share your screen and show different photos, maybe one of a summer day and one of a storm, and ask people which photo resonates with them today. This has worked well at POD and allows individuals a space to express this authenticity to their team,” Lewis says.
The bottom line is that the level of engagement is automatically lower and can feel more formal online, Lewis explains, so finding ways to work around that is important.
“Regardless if we are working back on-site as an entire team, this newfound use of technology will continue on in some aspect. We must work to continue engaging our teams. By continuing to implement new ways to connect and communicate this will create a happy, engaged and motivated team that will then continue to deliver at their highest excellence,” Lewis says.