The Etiquette of Video Conferencing

Most professional courtesy is simply common sense. Try not to come to work sick. Never send an email while you’re still angry. Don’t microwave fish.

The thing is, we’ve had plenty of time to refine those unspoken rules, but now we’re working from home the protocol has changed. Most of our professional interactions are taking place through video technology – which has been around since the 1920s, but only really took off in the last few decades. As a result, we have questions. 

Do you still have to put on a suit for Skype? Is it frowned upon to spice up your virtual background? Can you hear me alright? How about now?

Since we’re all in a complicated relationship with Zoom, we thought it might be helpful to put together a quick guide to video conference etiquette. Take this with a pinch of salt – every office culture is different – but in terms of best practice, the tips below should help you navigate the digital meetings on the horizon.

1) Get up, wash and get dressed as if you’re going to work. Yes, you could leave your duvet five minutes before joining the meeting, but you’ll put yourself at a disadvantage. Ever heard of sleep inertia?  

“When we wake up from sleep, our brain does not immediately switch from a sleep state to a fully awakened state but rather goes through this transition period called sleep inertia that can last up to 30 minutes,” says Raphael Vallat, neuroscientist. “During this period, the brain progressively switches from sleep to normal wakefulness, and so does our mental/cognitive performance.”

Some people are able to tumble out of bed and hustle into BlueJeans. For most of us, we’re up against a good half hour of brain fog, where it’s twice as easy to make mistakes – and downing a coffee won’t help, because it takes 60 minutes for caffeine to kick in. Best to pay attention to the alarm, or risk dropping the ball in front of your boss.

2) Another benefit of giving yourself enough time to wake up properly is the chance to make yourself presentable. Even when you’re working from the sofa, you should still aim to look like you’ve got your act together before you GoToMeeting

Wet hair fresh from the shower doesn’t scream ‘good time management’, and wearing creased or dirty clothes won’t win you a promotion. Nobody’s saying you can’t dress in a more relaxed way while you’re at home – you can probably leave the three-piece suit in your wardrobe, unless your job role demands it – but ask yourself: would I happily wear this to work? If the answer is no, you might want to adjust your Lifesize Lookbook. One day (hopefully soon) you’ll be face-to-face with your colleagues again, and you’ll find it difficult to establish gravitas with anyone who’s seen you in your jimjams. Now you’re camera-ready, take care not to spend too much time gazing at yourself. This company found that 30% of people surveyed spent more than half the time on a video call watching themselves. It’s understandable – we’re not used to seeing ourselves paying attention, and our instinct is to carefully curate our facial expressions. If you’re having a hard time keeping your eyes off yourself, try slapping a post-it note over your feed. There. Now your colleagues are the only people who have to deal with how distractingly gorgeous you are.

3) Don’t be late. This age-old rule applies in any situation – it’s rude to leave anyone waiting for U, but very shortsighted indeed to make your boss wait. Set a time to start the call in advance, make sure you know how to join it (some calls require a password to join, so make sure you’ve got it), and arrive five minutes early, if you can. You can leave your camera off and mute yourself, if you don’t want to make small talk. The point is, you won’t be joining the meeting after it’s supposed to have started.

4) Location, location, location. With many of us having to work in less-than-desirable conditions, with noisy children (or noisier flatmates), there should be some forgiveness extended to interruptions. However, there are some things you can do to reduce technical difficulties when you join the Hangout:

a) Find the quietest space in your house, and make sure you’ve got a good internet connection there. These are the most important factors for a smooth, painless video call. You don’t want to be the one who keeps interrupting the meeting by leaving and returning.

b) Choose somewhere with a neutral backdrop and clear lighting. If you can position yourself in front of a window, that should be perfect – natural lighting looks best on a webcam.

c) Awkward silences are more forgivable online than they are in person – lean into them. Unfortunately, there’s a bit of lag to contend with when you’re on a video call, so bear this in mind and allow short pauses and silences to breathe – it’ll help to avoid talking over others. When everybody speaks at once on a video conference, nobody can hear anything.

d) Put headphones in, and mute yourself when you’re not speaking – microphones are designed to pick everything up, including the noises that are coming out of your laptop. That means if you’re accidentally causing an echo (because of the slight delay we talked about earlier), everybody else will hear it – the echoer is often the only person in the meeting who can’t. Headphones block your speakers, and switching off your mic kills distracting noises. Fixed!

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