Circa 2019. It’s 8am and the office conference room smells of coffee and pastries. Everyone is seated round the table, prepped for a breakfast meeting. If it’s an important meeting then chances are one or more other team members have also flown into town specifically for this. Meeting starts, presentations are made, agendas discussed, minutes recorded, and then it’s on to the next order of business.
Circa 2020. Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, the landscape of corporate culture has changed significantly. Meetings have left the office conference room and made their way into our living rooms, kitchens, and, dare we say it, bedrooms. According to a recent survey, in 2020, people used virtual meetings 50% more than pre-pandemic.
Remote working has led to an increase in the demand for and use of virtual meetings and online video conferences. You only have to look at the multitude of video call apps available to see that remote work is here to stay and so are virtual meetings.
An online remote meeting demands the same professional decorum as a business meeting held in a traditional conference room. While virtual meetings are still a fairly recent feature in our lives, it’s worthwhile to be prepared with the right virtual meeting etiquette.
What makes a successful online meeting?
The goal of an online meeting, like any regular meeting, is to achieve certain objectives. It could be a successful agreement of a deal, a healthy discussion about your quarterly progress, or even just an informal check-in with your remote team. At the end of this meeting, all participants should have got some value for it to be called a success.
A successful online meeting doesn’t just focus on the outcome but also on the overall experience. A seamless video conference without any glitches or distractions, high-quality audio and video obviously provides an optimal virtual experience.
Fortunately, you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment to host an online meeting. A stable internet connection, a webcam, and video conference software are all you need.
Why is online meeting etiquette important?
As businesses across the world have embraced remote working, we have had to learn and adapt to new ways of working. The older boundaries between home and office have now blurred and this in turn poses its own challenges. Firstly, most homes are not traditionally equipped for a professional work environment.
Everything from children in the background, to pets, the doorbell, and even just the general layout of a house can be potential disturbances during a virtual meeting.
While it’s not possible to control every single element, being prepared with basic online meeting etiquette can help you look more professional and allow you to engage more productively in a meeting.
Of course, it’s not the end of the world for your child to zoom into the room during a meeting. However, it is a distraction which can potentially lengthen the meeting time.
This is a loss of productivity and something to be avoided. In its bigger scope, the right online meeting etiquette can help you stay more focused on every meeting, stick to the agenda, and end on time.
How do you prepare for a virtual meeting?
You have to prepare for a virtual meeting just like a regular meeting in a conference room. To set up a remote meeting you need to:
Choose your tech
There are numerous choices in online meeting software. Every business has its preferences. Some platforms like Microsoft Teams and RingCentral, you can use in concert. Others have their own range of unique features, pros, and cons. You need to understand the needs of your business and choose the tool that is right for you.
Schedule your meetings
Before setting up a virtual meeting, make sure to give teams enough notice. Now, with more and more teams working remotely from different parts of the world, it’s important to take into account any possible time differences before you schedule a meeting. Once you have confirmation of everyone’s availability, email them the meeting link so they have it in their calendars.
Send meeting reminders
Even after sending meeting invites, it’s a good idea to follow-up by sending a meeting reminder. This can be by email or text message and can be closer to the meeting time.
11 Online meeting etiquette tips everyone should follow
Now that we’ve discussed why online meeting etiquette is important, here are 11 online meeting tips everyone should follow:
Test your tech
The first thing before joining a virtual meeting is to test your tech. The importance of this step cannot be overstated.
You can’t have a meeting if you can’t see and hear everyone clearly. The pro tip here is to join a meeting 5-10 minutes early. This gives you time to check your microphone, headset, and webcam, as well as your internet connection.
Most online meeting software asks for audio and video permissions before the first use. If you’re planning on using the screen sharing feature of your video conferencing tool, make sure to test that out, too. However, technical glitches can happen and joining early lets you check for these glitches.
Depending on the nature of the glitch, you may have to either restart your device or your app.
One of the fundamental rules of online meeting etiquette is to dress appropriately. Remote working has no doubt brought on a culture of working in pyjamas. However, while it can be comfortable to work in your PJs, remember to dress professionally for an online meeting. When you dress professionally, your clients and colleagues take you seriously.
Remember, even if you are “physically” at home, you are in “work mode”, and meeting a group of professionals in a video conference. So dress the way you would when going into the office and ditch those PJs… at least until the camera goes off!
A rule of thumb while setting up your home working space is to ensure that you can cancel out background noise when you need to. So, whether it’s your dog barking in the hallway or a crying toddler, remember to keep your virtual meetings as free of distraction as you can.
Imagine having to shout over a screaming child just so you can be heard. It’s neither feasible nor desirable to work in such conditions, especially when meeting with an important client, so you should try to try to mitigate these distractions before you join the meeting.
Make sure your work space has a door that can be closed as and when you need and that those around you are aware of the times you need peace and quiet.
You should also follow the facilitator’s instructions about keeping your phone on mute and turn off any TV or music in the background.
Mute by default
It’s good practice to keep your mic on mute when you’re not speaking. This helps to cancel any unwanted ambient noise and also lets you hear the speaker better. This is particularly useful when you’re joining a call on the move—like from an airport or café. Remember, sounds which are barely perceptible in a face-to-face meeting are amplified in an online conference call.
Keep your background neutral
While setting up your home working space, it’s a good idea to have a neutral wall or background for your online meetings. The other participants in the call should not be distracted by unnecessary clutter like kids’ toys or a pile of laundry in your background.
There are a few things you can do to make sure you have the best background for all video conferences. First, make sure to test your webcam. What you see is what the other participants of the call will see. So adjust objects accordingly.
Your best bet is to choose a wall as your background, as opposed to an open room. A wall makes it easier to avoid revealing clutter.
Finally, test the light settings and see what works best on a webcam. Remember, bright lighting will help others see you better whereas if you’re sitting in front of a light source, they’ll see your silhouette.
Set an agenda
As with regular meetings, it’s good practice to create and share a meeting agenda for the meeting beforehand. That way, everyone knows what’s being discussed and the meeting can stay on course. Often, without a clear agenda, meetings can go off-track and exceed the allotted time. No one wants that.
It’s also a good idea to share minutes of the meeting at the end of the call so that team members can reflect on them and prepare any questions for a follow-up meeting.
When you’re hosting or joining a remote meeting, fight the multitasking urge. This is both distracting for the other team members and prevents you from paying full attention to the meeting. For example, don’t check your email or go through your phone. Don’t start typing on your keyboard to take notes.
Instead, focus your attention on the meeting and automate note taking. Remember, other participants can see you and can pick up on your body language. This is particularly important whilst engaging with clients and potential business partners.
If you’re the host, and the meeting involves team members from different departments, then make sure to introduce everyone at the start of the meeting. Something to remember before setting up the meeting is to invite only those who are necessary to the call. There’s no point having multiple extraneous participants. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and a recipe for people to be unproductive.
Don’t interrupt speakers
Good meeting etiquette is to raise your hand when you have a question. No one likes to be interrupted while they’re speaking. The polite thing to do in an online meeting is to use the chat feature in your video conferencing tool rather than interrupt others or hold side conversations. This is particularly important in big meetings with multiple participants.
To avoid the confusion of interrupting others and talking over one another, just virtually raise your hand (by dropping a message in the chat or choosing the raise hand option included as part of some software), then unmute yourself and make your point. Remember to look into the camera and speak slowly and clearly.
Allow people to leave meetings
It’s important that participants can leave a meeting when they need to. Not all team members need to stay for the full duration of every meeting. They may be joining to discuss a particular matter. Once that’s addressed, they have no reason to stay. It’s more productive for them to move on to other tasks on hand instead.
Have breaks between long meetings
If you know that your meeting is going to be a long one, it’s best to factor in breaks in between. It’s good practice to let all participants know exactly how the meeting is planned, including any scheduled breaks.
As mentioned earlier, a virtual meeting is exactly like a regular meeting. You wouldn’t expect team members to carry on for hours on end without breaking for refreshments or just stepping out for a few minutes. Short breaks in between long meetings actually allow team members to come back refreshed and are better for overall productivity.
Remote working is the present and future of businesses around the world. Virtual meetings go hand in hand with remote work. As we adapt to new ways of working, and spend more and more time online rather than in person meetings, we have to practise good meeting etiquette to optimise our communications.
From testing your tech before the meeting to setting an agenda for the meeting, each of these etiquette tips is geared towards providing a seamless virtual meeting experience that ultimately boosts productivity for the business.
Originally published 02 Sep, 2021, updated 10 Sep, 2021