These days, people are working from home more than they ever did before. The COVID pandemic has led to a considerable amount of employees working from the comfort of their homes. As more and more people get vaccinated, however, companies are beginning to have discussions about how employees can return to the office safely. And while there are some employers that are readying their workforce for in-person meetings, there are just as many employers that have decided to keep their workplace virtual.
After a rather abrupt transition to a virtual home-office in 2020, employees have settled nicely into working from home. They have been able to stay in touch, largely, by participating in online meetings. Though you’re not meeting in person, there is an online meeting etiquette that should be followed. Look, every company is different. Maybe there are no hard-wired, specific meeting rules for employees. For example, you may have a choice in deciding if you’d like to be seen during the virtual meeting or you can choose to keep your camera off. Same thing with audio: you have a choice in whether you’d like to be heard or not. Or you could work for an organization that requires both video and audio presence during meetings. If video is required, how do you present yourself? What are the norms for a virtual meeting? Again, it’s up to an organization to determine if their virtual employees should present a professional look or show up as casual as they’d like to be. No matter how the culture of your organization might be, there are still some unwritten laws that can guide you in the right direction when it comes to virtual meetings.
Besides appearance, there are other things to be considered in terms of online meeting rules. You’re a lot less likely to make fatal workplace errors during a virtual meeting if you follow these ground rules:
- Sign in to the meeting a few minutes early.
I am sure that many of us have encountered some technical issues at some point during online meetings. There’s nothing worse than trying to be heard in a meeting and noticing that the mic is not working properly.
Joining a meeting a couple of minutes earlier than the start time is a good practice because it allows you to fix a potential problem before the meeting starts. You can check if your mic and camera are working properly and you can see a preview of what you and your background will look like on camera. This way you will be able to make sure that you’re not missing anything and that you are well set up on the technical side.
- Make sure that you are dressed appropriately.
Even though it might be tempting to lounge around in your pajamas all day when working from home, you should try to make yourself presentable for any online meeting you might have. Make sure that your clothes are clean (with no obvious wrinkles), brush your hair and put on a bit of makeup if you feel like it. Doing this will help you look more professional and urge others to respect you and take you seriously.
- Make sure that your surroundings and background are neutral and clean.
It is recommended that you don’t have a messy desk or a pile of clothes sitting on your bed behind you, where it can be seen, when in a meeting. Also, it would be smart to make sure the lighting is appropriate and that you have quiet surroundings to ensure being properly seen and heard by others. Obviously, another way to tackle this issue is to blur your background or add a custom background in the video conferencing tool of your choice. Most video meeting softwares offer multiple options in this sense.
- Mute your microphone when you’re not talking.
We’re all familiar with the “hot mic” – saying something totally inappropriate into a microphone that you thought was muted and being heard by everyone in the meeting. Been there and done that, too. Maybe make it a habit of muting your microphone before the meeting starts to avoid this embarrassment. It’s much better to realize that you’re speaking into a muted microphone than to have attendees hear you say something totally inappropriate. Moreover, another good reason to mute your microphone when you’re not talking is the fact that you avoid adding any unnecessary background noise into the conference, thus making everyone’s meeting experience much better.
- Don’t eat during a meeting.
A little bit more obvious one, but it has to be said. Eating during a meeting not only disturbs the other participants but also impedes your concentration on what is being discussed. This is true whether you have your microphone and camera muted or not. It’s really hard to concentrate on what’s being said, take notes and participate when you’re chewing.
- Keep your place and keep your focus.
Avoid multitasking to ensure that you are present and not missing any information from the meeting. Additionally, try not to move around too much, as that can be distracting and sudden movements appear blurry on camera. You should aim to have a straight back and positive body language.
- Introduce yourself when you join a virtual meeting.
It would be very rude to enter a conference room and take a seat without saying anything, so why would you do that in a virtual meeting? A simple “Hi” is a great way of letting everyone know that you joined and are ready to ask or answer any questions.
When it comes to virtual meetings, one of the most important things to remember is that your meeting requires your full attention. Just because your meeting is virtual does not mean that you should spend time scrolling through social media or checking emails. While no one can see or hear you if you’re muted, it’s bad meeting etiquette, not to mention distracting, to not be fully present.
This is just a guide to assist novice and expert employees, alike. It appears that working remotely is going to be the world’s new normal and knowing how to present yourself during a virtual meeting is paramount to making sure you don’t violate corporate policy and that you respect your coworkers. As much as we can provide an outline to virtual meeting etiquette, there are some things that are not within our control. For example, a child could have a meltdown off-camera, a spouse could be seen toweling off after a shower, a landscaper could be in your garden making a LOT of noise, your dogs could be having a tug-of-war with a toy etc. The point is to not panic or let those things (of which, I’ve seen them all online), deter you from having a successful, productive virtual meeting.