Lockdown is hard, even tragic in many ways, and it has altered our lives more than we could ever have imagined. And yet we can’t deny it has had “lighter” and funnier consequences as well. The abrupt shift from traditional office meetings to Zoom or Skype ones has taken those less accustomed to these tools by surprise, creating often hilarious or embarrassing situations that are not covered by traditional office etiquette. We thought we’d lighten the mood by compiling a small guide to online meeting etiquette, with a reasonable list of dos and don’ts that will ensure everyone has a pleasant, productive, and mostly embarrassment-free experience.
1. Food and drink: if you wouldn’t do it in your office, don’t do it in an online meeting
When taking part in a Zoom meeting, you might be feeling less social pressure than you would in the office. After all, you are in your living room (or even your bedroom), surrounded by familiar things and people. Why wouldn’t you feel “at home”, since that’s literally where you are? Hence your sudden craving for a sandwich, a beer, or even a cigarette. While no one expects the same level of formality that you would experience in the office, it is still worth keeping a minimum of discipline and focus on the call. This means that no matter how you organise your home office, you should avoid eating a full meal, smoking, or drinking alcohol during meetings. A cup of coffee, tea, or a glass of water are acceptable, just as they would be in a normal meeting room, everything else might just make your colleagues uncomfortable.
2. Background and clothing: the fine line between casual and messy
We have all smiled, in recent months, at the background choices of talk show guests and TV commentators streaming from home. There were those who equipped themselves with green screens and large photos of landscapes, those who looked for the most neutral wall in the house, those who showed off a well-stocked bookcase, and those who chose to add a “green” touch to the conversation by streaming from their garden or terrace. All of these are valid options, with only one condition to be observed: make sure your background is neither dirty nor messy, and that there are no obviously distracting elements behind or around you. The same goes for your choice of attire: it is not necessary to show up in a suit and tie or an evening dress, with impeccable hair and make-up. Just try not to be like journalist Will Reeve, who appeared to have forgotten to wear trousers before appearing on American TV!
3. Organisation and moderation: only invite those who need to be involved and introduce everyone before starting
If you organise or moderate a meeting, be sure to invite only those who actually have to contribute to it – much like you would do for a normal office meeting. Having the full team on, even though some members have no particular reason to be involved in that specific meeting, would just be a waste of their time. And, even though we are all stuck home right now, everyone’s time is valuable and it should be respected as such. Unlike in a traditional office meeting, however, it is also important to introduce everyone before you start a group Zoom call. A quick round of presentations will ensure that everyone is properly connected and that they can see and hear each other.
4. How and when to talk during an online meeting
The Mute button is your friend. Use it whenever you are not talking to prevent background noise in your environment from disturbing others. When it’s your turn to speak, look at the camera, which is the Zoom equivalent of making eye contact. If you spend most of the time checking your own image, your gaze will seem distracted and it may, in turn, distract others.