The New Rules of Virtual Meeting Etiquette

Graphic that says the new rules of virtual meeting etiquette

Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you can slack on professionalism. You can easily fall into a too-casual trap when your commute is a short walk from your kitchen to your home office. I know this temptation well because I’ve worked from a home office for close to 15 years.

I researched video conference etiquette best practices with the help of Michelle Greene Chessler, a Boulder, Colorado–based marketing executive and veteran virtual team leader. I met with Michelle as part of my research for my upcoming book Virtual Teams for Dummies (out July 31, 2018 and available for pre-order now on Amazon).

When she joined Polycom in 2007, she inherited a virtual team of eight people and she switched to a 100 percent virtual model, using Polycom voice/video collaboration technology. In fact, she didn’t meet her boss face-to-face for 18 months, and then she only met with him face-to-face three times in five years. But for Chessler, leading her first virtual team was a smooth transition. “I was lucky. I had a really good boss, and I inherited good people, all very high performers.”

More than a decade later, her first virtual teammates remain very good friends — and she’s still never met them face-to-face. As for the early days of their video calls, no etiquette guidebook was available so they wrote their own rules. Keep these virtual meeting etiquette tips in mind as you write yours:

*   Beware of your background. Your coworkers won’t take you seriously if you have a pile of dirty clothes or an unmade bed in the corner behind you. Make sure your virtual meeting background is professional, distraction-free, and work appropriate, and that the lighting is good. “My team struggled with this at the beginning,” she said. “We were even sent background screens to set up behind us so that we looked more professional, even though we were all calling in from our homes.”

 *   Make sure you’re ‘screen-ready.’ One of the best things about working remotely is the freedom to wear anything to work. However, when you’re in a virtual meeting, your coworkers don’t need to see your sweats and bedhead. Put on a clean shirt, brush your hair, and set up your webcam at eye level. ”We used to joke that we were like news anchors. From the waist up, we looked very professional, but behind the desk were pajama pants and slippers.

*   Minimize distractions. Video meetings have enough background noise, so don’t add to it. Make sure you’re in a quiet room; turn off stereos, cell phones, and TVs; relocate pets; and make sure the nanny has the kiddos settled somewhere. Also, minimize use of your keyboard because the sound is distracting.

 *   Speak clearly, concisely, slowly, and don’t interrupt. The technology has improved greatly for video conferencing, but it’s still smart to speak clearly, concisely and slowly. If you have a decent mic, you don’t need to yell. Your normal speaking volume should be fine. As much as possible, stick to your natural speaking cadence. “When I led international teams, we had some team members with heavy accents who were not native English speakers,” said Chessler. “After frequently asking people to repeat themselves, we learned to really slow down and enunciate to make sure everyone could follow the conversation.”

*   Make eye contact. During your video call, your screen probably has the presentation open, a window to type comments, and multiple video screens with your colleagues’ faces. When it’s your turn to speak, remember to look into your camera, not at the multiple distractions on your computer screen. It takes a while to grasp this, but it looks more natural and connects to people much more effectively.

*   Don’t eat. Even if the meeting falls during your normal meal time, don’t eat during your video call. Just because people can’t smell it doesn’t mean they can’t hear or see you chewing. Trust me, no one wants to see you stuff your face while discussing important business matters.

*   Don’t multitask. According to a study by InterCall, 65 percent of people do unrelated work, 60 percent read or send emails, and 43 percent admit to checking social media. All of these are no-nos. Give the virtual meeting your full attention. It’s more productive and more respectful. “We worked in a high-demand company, so naturally people tried to multitask during our video meetings,” said Chessler. “We had to nip it in the bud early on.”

*   Keep the mute button handy. Nothing is more frustrating than hearing that alien echo noise or high pitch screech from conflicting microphones. If you’re working in a noisy cafe, an airport, or anywhere that has a lot of background noise, make sure to keep your microphone muted when you’re not speaking. It gives everyone else the ability to chime in without distraction.

*   Be patient. If someone doesn’t respond immediately, give him or her a few seconds. The slow response may be an audio delay or people might be desperately trying to unmute themselves.

Interested in learning more about best practices of virtual teams? Check out my new book, Virtual Teams for Dummies, to be released July 31, 2018, and available for pre-order now on Amazon.

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