At this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve likely used Zoom, Google Hangouts and other video communications platforms a fair amount. This technology has been particularly prevalent in professional settings as many of us continue to work from home.
But despite all the Zoom experience we’ve gained over the past year, it’s still not uncommon to witness unprofessional or just plain rude behavior in video meetings. From gossiping in the chat box to appearing in PJs from bed, there’s a lot of room for improvement in the etiquette department.
“The moment you click ‘Join Meeting,’ you know you are potentially being seen by dozens of faces staring at you,” Patricia Rossi, a civility expert, keynote speaker and author of “Everyday Etiquette,” told HuffPost. “Follow the etiquette rules in this setting, so that the Zoom experience for everyone involved becomes a more pleasant and civilized one.”
Of course, etiquette expectations can vary based on company culture, but there are many helpful guidelines that apply in all settings. HuffPost asked etiquette experts to identify the faux pas people often commit during Zoom meetings. Read on for nine examples.
Not Using The Mute Button
“The number one Zoom etiquette complaint we hear: People who don’t mute themselves when they’re not talking,” said Nick Leighton, an etiquette expert and co-host of the “Were you raised by wolves?” podcast. “This is the equivalent of making distracting noises during an in-person meeting, which we hopefully all agree would be rude, so please don’t do it on Zoom, either.”
If you’ve been using video conferencing over the past year, you should be familiar with the mute button. When you aren’t speaking, make use of it to reduce background sounds, particularly if you’re in a noisy environment.
“Distractions such as barking dogs, buzzing kitchen blenders, flushing toilets and people talking in the background all make for unwelcome distractions,” said Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. “Know where the mute button is so you aren’t scrambling for it at the last minute.”
“In general, if you wouldn’t do it in an in-person meeting, you probably shouldn’t do it on Zoom.”
– Nick Leighton, etiquette expert
Gossiping In The Chat
Talking about your colleagues in the chat is both rude and potentially detrimental to your career. Leighton said he believes it happens more often than he’d hope, based on questions he’s received on the topic.
One listener shared the following: “I just conducted a virtual training session at work using a new videoconference system. During the session, a chat box popped up on everyone’s screen where one of my colleagues was gossiping about a presenter while they were presenting.”
They added: “Their first few words of the chat read, ‘Not to be rude, but she …’ and it was visible for about three seconds to everyone. It was a rude comment about this presenter’s speech pattern, and three of the 20 attendees brought it up on their evaluation forms, and one even called me to complain directly. For the future, I have a plan to keep this from happening again, but I’m just not sure about how or if to address this widely, or if I should just leave it alone.”
It’s important to be mindful of the platform where you say certain things, but as Leighton noted, this situation can be clearly avoided by simply refraining from gossiping about colleagues or presenters.
“In general, if you wouldn’t do it in an in-person meeting, you probably shouldn’t do it on Zoom,” Leighton said.
Showing Up Late
This includes showing up late. In a Zoom context, being on time means having your camera, connection and microphone all set when you join.
“Your punctuality will be appreciated, and it demonstrates your professionalism and your respect towards everyone else,” Rossi said. “Ideally, be ready a few minutes before the scheduled time so that you can check your internet connection and settings. This gives you some technical peace of mind.”
Talking Over Others
“Give other people a chance to talk,” said Gottsman.
Monopolizing the conversation and talking over others is obnoxious in social settings, but it’s actually counterproductive in work meetings. Zoom meetings can be difficult enough to navigate as it is, so do your best to keep things running smoothly.
“Make use of the ‘raise hand’ function,” Rossi advised. “This way you avoid that people are talking over each other, which might be highly likely the bigger the group is.”
Appearing Too Casual
“Pay attention to your appearance,” Rossi said. “Conducting meetings via Zoom doesn’t mean you should neglect your appearance. Give it the same level of importance as you would in a normal business setting. Thus, dress well, be well-groomed as usual and be in a positive mood.”
We may be spending a lot more time in our PJs, but it’s still important to dress professionally for Zoom meetings (at least from the waist up).
“We know when we are too casual or when we ‘really don’t care’ about our appearance, it matters,” said life etiquette expert Juliet Mitchell, aka Ms. J. “You need to be ready for a meeting at any time. Just like we are expected to be ‘ready’ in the in-person world, we need to be ready in the virtual world.”
Eating On Camera
“It’s best not to eat on camera if it’s avoidable,” Leighton said. “However, there are some companies that purposefully schedule Zoom meetings over the lunch hour. And often these are the same companies that have a philosophy of ‘if your camera isn’t on, are you even here?’”
If you’re meeting during lunchtime, try to avoid needlessly messy or overly distracting foods, said Leighton.
“This isn’t the time for Renaissance fair turkey drumsticks, cotton candy, corn on the cob, or cheese fondue,” he said.
Dragging It Out
It’s important to be respectful of people’s time during the workday and try to be efficient.
“Just like when the conversation is over, when the meeting is over, say goodbye and leave the meeting,” said Mitchell. “Unless you and the other parties decide to chat informally for a few moments, be prepared to end the meeting, allowing you and others to move on to other tasks, appointments, etc. If the meeting is over an hour and a half, people need a break.”
If you’re the host of the meeting, however, it’s best to wait until everyone else has left the call before hanging up.
“Let every participant leave at their own pace and see if there are any attendees who might want to exchange some final words,” Rossi said.
Having An Inappropriate Background
“There’s a wide range of what’s considered ‘appropriate’ depending on your personality, your company, and your industry,” Leighton noted. “Just be mindful of this, whatever background you choose.”
Try to pick a presentable spot in your home for meetings, unless you’re using a fully virtual background. Avoid visibly messy rooms or inappropriate posters or objects in the background.
“Because of COVID-19, we are more gracious and accommodating of children, pets, and spouses in the house, but as much as possible, create space to be fully present and keep interruptions to a minimum,” Mitchell said.
“Turn on your camera,” Gottsman advised. “Some people want to opt out or feel nervous so they don’t join in person. It immediately forms a barrier. Make it a point to use the chat option or ask a question. Engage in some form.”
Make sure your camera is stable and positioned at eye level so that you can be present during the meeting.
“This way you create a better way of engagement with everyone involved,” Rossi said, adding that the meeting host should also give everyone the opportunity to introduce themselves if needed.
“Be focused and don’t multitask,” she advised. “Do all your other tasks once the meeting is finished.”