When it comes to meeting etiquette for virtual meetings, it’s important to know what to expect. Virtual meetings aren’t exactly new, but the growth of the remote workforce has required many professionals to learn new ways of conducting and participating in meetings.
So why is it important to learn virtual etiquette, and what rules should you follow? In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about virtual meetings.
The Importance of Virtual Meeting Etiquette
Human beings are social by nature, and meetings can quickly get out of hand with no structure or rules to follow. For example, the basic ground rules for professional meetings demand that participants behave responsibly, treat each other respectfully, and focus on the business at hand.
However, it’s easy to think that virtual meetings afford some level of anonymity, a relaxing of the rules, or a lack of real-world consequences for misbehavior. But none of these things are true.
Even when meeting virtually, it’s important to respect those around you and recognize that everyone’s time is valuable. By observing rules of etiquette, you can avoid inappropriate behavior that wastes time and boosts productivity for your teams.
10 Rules for Virtual Meetings
Any time you attend a virtual meeting, you will be expected to appear and behave in certain ways. Many rules follow common sense — if you wouldn’t do it at an in-person meeting, don’t do it at a virtual meeting.
However, the virtual meeting space invites a casual attitude that may cause you to disregard even basic social norms, like not interrupting someone or not wearing pajama bottoms with your office-appropriate shirt. There are also guidelines specific to using digital communication tools. Here are some basic rules for streamlined virtual meetings.
1. Make Sure All Equipment Is Working
Technical snafus can quickly derail the progress of a virtual meeting, and you don’t want to be the one causing them. The best way to avoid this is to plan ahead. Do a test run to check your camera, microphone, and speakers well before the meeting so you know everything is working or you have time to address any concerns.
Virtual meeting norms may also demand that you mute your mic, turn off your camera, or engage in side chats, for example. Ensure you’re familiar with the platform so that you can complete simple tasks without disrupting the meeting.
If you’re the host, you should also learn how all the tools work to keep the meeting on track, moderate if necessary, and help others with any technical issues they may encounter.
2. Curate Your Backdrop
It’s natural to be concerned about your appearance when you attend virtual meetings, but online meeting etiquette doesn’t begin and end with your appearance. You also need to ensure your background’s appearance is professional, clean and put-together.
When you look around your home office or the space you’ve set aside to attend virtual meetings, you might not see anything amiss. But you should always make sure to look at your image on the screen prior to the meeting to see what’s behind you.
You may suddenly become aware of a cluttered bookshelf, personal photos, inappropriate artwork, or even bad lighting placement. These elements don’t make a positive professional statement and could create an eyesore on camera. A clean, uncluttered backdrop with soft lighting is always best.
3. Come Prepared
Showing up to an in-person meeting unprepared is unacceptable; the same principle applies to virtual meeting etiquette. Whether you’re presenting or participating in a discussion, holding everyone up while someone brings you up to speed on topics you should already be aware of is unfair.
Make sure to do your due diligence before the meeting. This can mean time blocking on your calendar to review any relevant materials, doing a quick runthrough of your presentation beforehand, or simply reading up on the topics you’ll be discussing. Showing up to any meeting unprepared — whether virtual or in-person — puts you in a bad light with your colleagues and higher-ups.
4. Dress Appropriately
There are many benefits to working remotely. For starters, you no longer have to sit in traffic or deal with late trains on your commute. You also get to work from the comfort of home in a relaxed atmosphere that reflects your preferences and fits your routine.
However, you don’t want to get too comfortable when it’s time to interact with colleagues on camera. After all, meeting norms for virtual meetings are really no different than in-person gatherings when it comes to etiquette and expectations. This starts with your wardrobe.
You should always treat a virtual meeting the same as a real-world meeting, complete with professional attire. But don’t just dress appropriately from the waist up. We’ve all seen funny videos where a seemingly well-dressed professional will experience a camera blunder, revealing a lower half clad only in sweats or pajamas. Don’t fall victim to this easy mistake. Wear work-appropriate bottoms while the meeting is in session and as soon as it’s over, you can hop back into those favorite sweats!
5. Arrive on Time
You wouldn’t walk into a meeting at the office after it’s begun, and remote meeting etiquette requires that you show up for virtual meetings on time as well. In fact, you should probably show up a few minutes early, as it may take time to enter the meeting information and for the host to let everyone in.
Showing up early helps to ensure that the meeting can start on time and that you’re not holding up the show or interrupting an event already in progress. Additionally, the first few minutes of meetings are typically for socializing. Colleagues may talk about their weekends or discuss a fun event they recently went to. These few minutes are crucial for building bonds with colleagues and clients and you don’t want to miss out!
6. Eliminate Distractions
Virtual meeting etiquette demands that you pay attention to the speaker/presenter and avoid disrupting the proceedings. Unfortunately, there are all kinds of potential distractions in the home environment. Whether your cat has got the zoomies or your child is home sick, the potential for distraction is high. So how can you avoid them?
A good place to start is by muting notifications on all of your digital devices, including your phone, computer, tablet, etc. While you’re at it, close any tabs for email, messenger apps, and websites you might be tempted to browse when you should be paying attention.
If you have reason to worry about environmental noise like kids, pets, and traffic, close any windows and doors before joining the meeting. Finally, plan to eat before or after your meeting if possible. Even if you’re muted, eating on camera could be a distraction.
7. Mute Your Microphone
While a good rule of thumb is to treat a virtual meeting like an in-person meeting in terms of attire, behavior, and so on, there are some norms for virtual meetings that are specific to the medium. For example, it’s common sense to mute your microphone unless you’re speaking. This ensures that ambient noise or any noise you might make (such as coughing or typing) won’t interrupt the meeting in progress.
When it comes to your camera, it’s best to keep it on at all times unless something comes up. This communicates professionalism, as well as your willingness to be present. If you often attend meetings with your camera off, it says one thing about you — that you don’t want to be there. Keep your camera on for the duration of the meeting whenever possible, but keep yourself muted until it’s time to speak up.
8. Pay Attention
This is one of the most important rules for virtual meetings. The goal of a meeting is to deliver information, encourage discussion, and promote collaboration among coworkers. This one may seem like an obvious rule, but when working from home, it’s easy to become distracted.
If you’re busy checking social media, browsing the web, doing other work, chatting off-topic with coworkers, or just spacing out, you’ll miss important information, and you won’t be able to participate in any resulting discussion. Even worse, it could impact your ability to complete assigned tasks. Not to mention, your colleagues have worked hard on this presentation and it’s important to give it the attention it deserves.
9. Keep Messaging On-Topic
There’s nothing wrong with discussing side topics with attendees, particularly if you have questions, need clarification, or have information to add. That said, you mustn’t let side chats devolve into full-blown socializing. Your meeting has a goal, and too much side talk can cause meetings to run over or result in required topics being covered at all.
Keep your messages brief and related to the meeting at hand. If a topic starts to detract from the meeting and your goal wasn’t met, schedule a follow-up discussion to delve into it later. While some meetings will always run over no matter how on-topic you are, oftentimes meetings can be tied up nicely with structured and disciplined messaging.
10. Engage when Speaking
Are you in charge of conducting the meeting, or have you been chosen to make a presentation as part of the agenda? Maybe you’re just asking questions or participating in a group discussion. Regardless of your input level, you must try to connect with your audience.
Whether you’re presenting, leading the discussion, or commenting, look into the camera (not at your image on the screen) and speak clearly. Avoid fidgeting, looking down at your phone or your notes, or other distracting behavior. You want to make it clear that you’re here, you’re present and you have ideas worth listening to.
5 Additional Virtual Meeting Rules for Hosts
While the online meeting etiquette above applies to anyone joining a remote meeting, there are certain rules that apply specifically to hosts. When you host a virtual meeting, you should lead by example. By dressing appropriately and behaving professionally, you help to set expectations for everyone who attends.
With that being said, you are in charge of the meeting, which means you should take a few extra steps to ensure that the proceedings are successful and you’re not wasting valuable work time. Here are five basic rules every virtual meeting host should follow.
1. Provide an Agenda
To respect everyone’s time, create an agenda to keep the meeting on track. Start by creating goals that you hope to accomplish throughout the meeting. From there, you can compile an agenda that helps you to accomplish desired outcomes and use the time wisely.
It’s good virtual meeting etiquette to share the agenda with participants ahead of time so they know what to expect and have time to prepare if necessary (such as by reviewing key materials to participate in discussions). Your agenda could start with introductions, cover listed topics, include time for questions/discussion, and end with a brief recap and instructions or assignments.
2. Set Ground Rules
As the host, it’s your job to ensure the meeting runs smoothly and within the allotted time. Setting ground rules ahead of time helps everyone stay on track. You should decide whether to mute everyone but the speaker or allow open mics for discussion.
Will you take questions during or after the meeting? Are people allowed to leave early? Can they leave if the meeting runs over? Virtual meeting ground rules may vary by event, so it’s best to spell them out up front.
3. Keep It as Short as Possible
There are no set virtual meeting norms related to the length of meetings, but the longer they go on, the less likely you are to keep attendees engaged. After all, people can only concentrate for so long before their minds start to wander.
While attention span is unique to each individual, a good rule of thumb is to try to keep meetings to one hour. However, this isn’t always possible. Sometimes, you have no choice but to host an extended meeting to cover a lot of information or discuss a complex topic. If you have meetings that require longer discussion times, make sure to schedule time for quick five minute breaks. This will allow attendees to stretch, grab a snack, or use the restroom.
4. Keep Your Meeting on Track
As mentioned before, everyone’s time is valuable, so keeping your meeting on track is important. Keep an eye on the clock to ensure you don’t run over and try to keep a steady pace throughout the meeting. If questions or discussions are delaying proceedings, save them for the end to ensure you cover all the agenda items. Distractions will almost always happen, but if you plan for them, you can minimize interruptions and finish the meeting on time.
5. Be Present
As the meeting host, you’re the doorkeeper and the moderator, which means you can’t leave. If an emergency arises, end the meeting and delegate the task of restarting it to someone else. It’s poor remote meeting etiquette to abandon a session you started.
This rule doesn’t just apply to being physically present. You must also be mentally present. You can do this by listening closely, considering attendees’ feelings, and thinking about questions in a way that can help them. Everyone in your meeting is physically present, but you can help them be more mindfully present by example.
How Sonix Can Improve Virtual Meeting Etiquette
One of the biggest distractions during a meeting is note-taking. While it’s admirable that employees want to record the meeting for later use, this can be a major distraction and lead them to miss important information. A great way to eliminate this issue is to record, transcribe, and even translate dialogue so employees can access information after the fact.
Sonix’s advanced automatic transcription software offers a convenient, accurate, and affordable way of capturing virtual meetings and transcribing them for employees to refer back to. You can even make transcribed content searchable, and translations allow you to share with international offices.If you want to improve etiquette and efficacy with virtual meetings, put Sonix to the test with a free trial or contact us to learn more today.