Videoconferencing etiquette

Q: I am working remotely for the foreseeable future.  My gripe is very much of a 2020-2021 gripe.  We have several weekly Zoom calls.  Many of my colleagues don’t show their faces, even though that is preferred by most.  I understand that we are all being stretched and remote will be here for a while.  While I don’t have kids, I have dogs, which I keep in a separate room.  And I understand that it must be terribly hard to manage young kids and try to balance work.  However, these folks who don’t show their face, mute themselves the entire meeting, show up looking like they just rolled out of bed, I am really getting frustrated. Some have kids, some don’t.  It isn’t even a “kids thing” for most people.  I try to present a somewhat professional presence on Zoom calls for business.  I don’t wear my oldest sweatshirt and I comb my hair.  I am not perfect, but I have my video on, my audio on, and I am dressed appropriately.  I am not expecting perfection, but I am expecting some engagement, participation and focus.  How do we get there?  Or is it too late?

A:  Maybe one of your New Year’s resolutions is to develop or improve your company’s guidelines for Zoom etiquette.  Think about drafting some do’s and don’ts.

Some do’s to consider –

  • Place pets in a separate room if possible.  Sometimes a cat will scratch a door, or a dog will bark incessantly, if the owner is in another room.  But if possible, this is the time to whip out the bone or the cat nip and put Fido in a separate room.
  • Choose a quiet location.  Some of us have a private office or a quiet corner in the basement.  Some have an end of a dining room table or a desk in a guest room.  These are all acceptable.  However, if you are in your kitchen and someone is unloading the dishwasher, that can be distracting.
  • Use your video.  A black and white “name screen” should only be used when necessary or when the host asks participants to shut down their video.  If you have a less than ideal background, then you might want to consider a virtual background.  A blank wall, a book case or a diploma are all acceptable backgrounds.  An unmade bed, maybe not.  A busy hallway or an entrance to a family bathroom, maybe not.
  • Test your video and your mic beforehand, especially if you are in a new environment or have a new internet connection.
  • Some participants may find that headphones are helpful, especially if it signals to others that they are on a video call or you may be distracted by other noises.

Some don’ts to consider –

  • Don’t handle other tasks when on your video call, unless you would also handle them in a live meeting.  No checking Facebook, paying bills online, checking your Amazon orders or ordering takeout. If you wouldn’t handle that task in a live meeting, you shouldn’t handle it in a virtual meeting.
  • Many companies prefer that participants mute themselves if they are not presenting.  This helps minimize extraneous noises like laptop fans, others in your home or the Amazon delivery person when the door bell is rung.
  • Avoid traveling with your laptop or phone unless necessary.  If you have ever been on a video call with someone who is walking around, it can almost make you seasick.  Better to stay in one place for the duration of the call if possible.

Every company has norms for their video conferences.  Some tape them.  Some don’t.  Some prefer that participants mute themselves.  Some don’t.  Your draft of the guidelines may not be 100% accurate but you will likely hit 80% or more of the expectations, with others weighing in as appropriate.

PS – Some companies have circulated these norms in 2020 as many employees are looking for what is expected.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.