A guide for video meeting etiquette

Amy Downs
A BBC interview with Professor Robert Kelly went viral after his children gatecrashed the room.

It's an obvious thing to say, but the technological revolution in business over the past 30 years has been extraordinary.

While the benefits of technology are numerous, the speed of the arrival and development can highlight gaps between employees in terms of their motivation and likelihood of adopting and using new models.

Generational divide

For those of us of a certain age, the promise of “video calls” is something we’ve known for most of our careers, but may still view sceptically. But for the generation joining the workforce today, video is the go-to medium for communications.

Most would agree that face-to-face communication is the most effective. But comfort with video meetings can be different for those who use it natively, compared to those more used to the formalities of a traditional meeting.

Though we’re all becoming used to a more flexible and less formal working environment, communication over video still demands a certain etiquette if all participants are to feel comfortable and present a totally professional image.

So here’s how to get it right.

Lovely swimming shorts, but…

Few of us live in houses that look like they’re straight out of the pages of a glossy interior design magazine, and when we’re working remotely, a suit and tie is usually unnecessary.

But while you might be working from home, you’re still working, and representing both yourself and your employer, so think about what you’re wearing.

Consider your background. Art is highly personal, and with high-quality cameras, your taste in literature could be all too visible.

A blaring TV might not say “working from home” as clearly as you’d like.

Don’t be shy

For some reason – and particularly in certain cultures – highlighting issues that affect the quality of a video meeting can be difficult. Sometimes it can even feel like personal criticism.

But if the full benefits of the face-to-face interaction are to be realised, it’s important that all aspects of the interaction are top quality.

Politely mentioning that someone seems to be a bit quiet, or that the bright window behind them means that their face is a dark silhouette shouldn’t be an issue. Improving quality, after all, works in everyone’s favour.

He’s behind you

We’ve all been there, happily engaged in a video meeting when a member of the family, friend, workman or pet has unknowingly stumbled into the background (or even the foreground).

On most occasions, this isn’t a problem, merely a fleeting passer-by, but depending on what they’re doing, how long they’re visible, how they’re dressed, and whether they suddenly realise they’re on screen and run away, they can become a significant distraction to the meeting.

Pause, make light of it, and even briefly introduce your husband who, yes, often parades through the house dressed as a Stormtrooper. And then resume your meeting.

Stay in the room

Like physical meetings, video meetings aren’t always one-to-one.

Technology today allows for large groups of people to gather, wherever they might be based. And while it can be easy in a larger meeting – particularly one where you’re not centrally involved in the discussion – to zone out or become distracted, remember that you’ll always be visible to all other participants on screen.

Muting your microphone to chat with your sister, or petting the family cat on your lap wouldn’t be appropriate in a physical meeting, so they’re best avoided in a video meeting, too.