Video Conference Etiquette in the New Communications World
The DOs and DON’Ts of Teleconferencing for Newbies
For many businesspeople, this new communications world snuck up literally overnight. As in-person meetings, business lunches and travel became no-go zones, video conferencing apps quickly replaced them. While it’s been around and used for a while, Zoom became a part of the collective lexicon within days of nationwide social distancing protocols being adopted. Free platforms such as Skype, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts Meet, Microsoft Teams and other cloud-based options have quickly become daily communications tools for maintaining internal face-to-face discussions with coworkers as well as external clients and customers.
Our handshake business culture may forever be changed but face-to-face communication is efficient and effective. It is a must do and here to stay. Much like post-9/11 America, business travel will slowly return. However, for now, the best way to achieve real connection with business contacts is via video conferencing. It truly is the next best thing to being there.
All over the Internet, there are loads of technical pointers and troubleshooting guides regarding successful video conference protocol. Those are easy to learn. Proper etiquette and self-awareness while video conferencing are separate issues. While committing to professional virtual habits is not rocket science, it’s even easy for seasoned users of video-conference platforms to let their business acumen slip when cocooned for weeks within the comfort of their own homes. If you are a newbie to the world of video conferencing through platforms like Zoom and others, or are working in these applications from home for the first time, below are a few tips and reminders to help you or your employees transition to this new world of communication while maintaining professionalism.
No One Has to Know It’s Your First Time
If you have not yet downloaded Zoom or a similar type of app but will soon need it for a client meeting or other business purpose, the adage “practice makes perfect” is the best approach. Take a tutorial. Zoom, for instance, offers a help center with numerous video tutorials to allow you to get familiarized with the functions, tools and navigation on the platform. Zoom also offers live training sessions and shares sample meeting recordings. Even if you acclimate to the functions quickly, it is highly recommended that you execute several practice meetings with a friend or relative. Knowing how the controls work, and where the mute button is, are essential. An important client call is not the place to
get up to speed with Zoom. Despite practice, these platforms are notorious for glitches. If you do encounter a problem that appears it will take a bit of time to resolve, release the participants from suffering through it with you and offer a callback or an alternative meeting time once it has been resolved.
Timing is Everything
Some very straightforward advice is to know the parameters of your video conference account. Many new users utilize the free versions and thereby are bound to time limits on meetings. With Zoom, you have 40 minutes. Avoid hosting and inviting clients or customers to a half-day planning session on a free account, then have the meeting time elapse. Not only would this be awkward, but it would have you scrambling for another option while your guests wait.
Also, don’t be late to video conference meetings! It is much better to wait in a virtual waiting room then have your image appear on the screen after the meeting has started. You wouldn’t want to be late to an in-person meeting so that same standard should still apply.
Adhere to Dress Codes
Keep putting your best business face forward. With the advent of COVID-19 telecommuting, one theme has prevailed – many have stopped wearing pants. Just wear pants. If for some reason you need to stand up to retrieve something or deal with a rambunctious pet, you will be covered – literally. Despite being homebound, maintain a professional dress code. Unless the meeting dictates it, a suit and tie may be overkill but it is a good idea to dress in a business casual style, as well as maintain your hairstyle and grooming. You want your business associates to both recognize you and trust you are on the ball. You want them to feel that although your office environment has temporarily changed, your serious approach to work has not.
Make Sure You Are the Focus
During the COVID-19 work from home mandates, many workers considered nonessential are still working, but from the safety of their homes. Most are in the same boat, joined by spouses, children refugeed from schools and even pets. While it’s unprecedented and most businesspeople are being afforded some level of understanding when a child or pet inadvertently crashes a meeting, taking strides to better manage background noise and interruptions is good etiquette and demonstrates respect for all participants in your meeting. For instance, make sure you communicate daily meeting times to all family members ahead of time and again, 5 minutes before going live. Close the door to your workspace and lock it if possible. Put the family pet in a room that is fairly distanced from your location in the house. This is especially important as it relates to barking dogs. Explain to children that your home space now has a temporary dual purpose. Much like their classroom is at home, so is your work.
In addition to background noise, complete an audit of the physical space behind your camera’s view. It’s easy to make some assumptions about a person’s housekeeping, reading habits (or other undesirable habits) and taste in décor during a video call if they haven’t taken care to do a scan and remove distractions and personal effects. Depending on which platform and account type you have, some applications allow you to blur the background entirely. The focus should be on each speaker and what they have to say, not last night’s bottle of wine sitting in view behind them.
Remember Where You Are and What you are Doing (You Are LIVE!)
By now, most everyone has seen the viral videos of the unfortunate individuals who decided to use the restroom or walk around in their underwear while live on video and in full view of their coworkers. They clearly got a bit too comfortable and forgot they were on camera. Keep your guard up. Always assume you are viewable and audible once you log in to your video conferencing app and until you log out and confirm it. Twice. It is important to maintain your in-person mindset, demeanor and habits. Would you ever dream of bringing an entire conference room of clients with you to the restroom? While you are on a video call, ask yourself these kinds of questions before you make decisions on seemingly simple actions. Monitor your body language – no slouching or propping your head up with your elbows on the table, keep your emotions controlled if not in agreement – meaning no head shaking or other gestures of disapproval. Again, common sense tactics, but it is surprising how many slip into home mode on these calls.
Although virtual, the co-attendees of your video conference are still in the same room with you. When the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and workers begin returning to their offices and more traditional ways of doing business, including in-person meetings, make sure your colleagues and other associates haven’t formed unflattering opinions of your abilities because your virtual conduct didn’t match your in-person professionalism.