Video conferencing is any kind of telecommunication between two or more people via video and audio. Remote workers and those who live far away from their family and friends are already likely experts in video calls. And with the increasing numbers of people working from home and remotely, communicating with colleagues via video conferencing is only becoming more common.
Considering how ubiquitous video conferencing software is today, one might think proper etiquette would be well understood by now. While there’s usually no issue FaceTiming family members or friends from the comfort of your bed, that’s not the case with workplace communication tools—such as Zoom—that require greater forethought for both decorum and effectiveness. You may be an expert in having meetings in the office, but the added virtual barrier of video conferencing can pose a challenge for some.
It can be easy to get distracted or lose focus when working from home, and video conference meetings are no exception. While it might be cute when a team member’s dog wanders into the room, that lovable pup could be a little distracting, too. The same goes for disengaged participants who clearly aren’t listening or paying attention to the meeting.
The first step to having productive video calls is to make sure they’re functional, from both a tech and a human perspective. So, to ensure you’re making the most of video meetings with your co-workers, we’ve put together a checklist of some of the most important video call etiquette tips to follow:
You’ll look and feel feckless and unprofessional if you’re trying to start a meeting but your microphone or webcam isn’t working. When you have a meeting scheduled in advance, always make sure your video conferencing setup is working beforehand—not two minutes before the meeting starts. Check your built-in microphone or headset to ensure it’s been detected by your software.
You should also test if your internet connection can sustain a video conference. You don’t want to get cut-off at a critical moment or mid-conversation. If it’s struggling, many apps allow you to limit the quality of video you’re receiving or turn it off so you can still participate audibly. Even if you’re not on the video with everyone else, being able to still engage and follow along is the most important. Keep in mind that some people may opt out of the video option altogether for various reasons, particularly if they are in a shared space with children or pets or they simply don’t want to be seen at that moment. That’s ok, too.
We’ve all done it at least once: rolling straight out of bed and onto that laptop for the 9am team meeting. Attending a video meeting in your pajamas, however, might not be the best look for your professional persona. If you want to be taken seriously in a video conference call, dress for it. While you don’t have to necessarily dress in formal work attire, do ensure that you’re dressed well enough to be seen by your team members. Not only will you look like you care, wearing something other than sweats can really help you get in the right mindset for having a productive and focused conversation with your colleagues.
Not everyone has a dedicated private office to help them work from home, but it is important that you can find or create a quiet space for video conferencing. Even if you don’t find family, roommates, or pets wandering around a distraction while you work, some of your attendees will. So when you’re sitting down for a video conference, make sure you’re in a spot where no one is likely to wander in or disturb you. You’ll be able to stay focused on your colleagues while they’re talking and remove any background noise when you’re speaking.
Now that you’re dressed and in a private spot for your video call, pay attention to your surroundings and how they look on camera. Your preparation won’t matter if it’s too dark for your colleagues to see or if all they’re looking at is a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Take a moment to clean and set up the space around you. Open the curtains or flick on the lights, or if the issue is your visually unkempt décor, use a green screen or virtual background to obscure it. Zoom, for example, automatically detects your background and lets you overlay it with an image.
Once your meeting is finally underway, one of the most important aspects of video call etiquette is muting your microphone when you’re not talking. Even if you’ve found a quiet spot for your meeting, your microphone will still pick up if you move about, cough, or start typing. The last thing you want is for someone to repeat themselves because of an accidental interruption, or to catch you, no matter how briefly, working on something else mid-meeting. Most video conferencing software has a mute button for yourself or the call—just make sure to unmute yourself when you're speaking again.
When you’re on a video call, it may seem most sensible to look at the video feeds of the other people in the meeting. However, if you want others in the call to focus on you when you’re speaking, you should look directly into the camera. Even if you can’t see your colleagues, looking at the camera helps replicate the feeling of face-to-face communication, ensuring they pay attention and really listen to what you’re saying. If you’d like to be able to see them while you speak, position the on-screen video directly next to the camera so both are at eye level. This isn’t an issue for most laptops, but you may need to shuffle your setup around if you’re working on a desktop.
Of course, once you’re in the video conference, the most important thing you can do is to focus on the meeting you’re having. Tuning out of a meeting while video conferencing is both much easier to do and get away with than in the office. This means it’s on you to ensure you participate as if you were at the office, even if you’re sitting in your bedroom on the laptop. Staying focused at home can be achieved the same way as it is in the office: for example, note taking can help you absorb and respond to what’s being discussed. However, you also need to avoid the temptation of swapping tabs onto other activities or just looking at your phone. Even if you think you’re good at multitasking, if you’re distracted, you won’t get much out of the meeting you’re in.
Once you’ve got the basics of video conferencing etiquette down, you shouldn’t have any issues with setting up and having video calls with your colleagues. However, just as when you’re in the office, it takes a bit more effort to make your video meetings effective and the time is productive. So, if you’re planning meetings with colleagues, make sure you have all the materials you need. Fortunately, the Zoom integration with Dropbox makes it easy to use your files and video conferencing software for more effective video meetings.
The first step to making any meeting effective, in or out of the office, is to have a defined agenda. This alone goes a long way to making your video conference a success. With the meeting agenda template available in Dropbox, it’s easy to quickly put together a shareable agenda outlining the basic points of your meeting. Those invited to the meeting but unable to attend, will also then be able to review this document afterwards. Or, even better: they can watch the video recording from the call that are automatically copied to Dropbox from Zoom.
If you’re expecting input and collaboration from your team in a video call, it’s important to give them the context to do that. While you might be able to just pass around a sheet or write on a whiteboard in the office, video conferences require more advance planning. Prepare and share files or documents you’ll need before the meeting, so your colleagues aren’t left guessing. Once you’re all on the line, you can also share your screen to walk through the document together so that everyone is on the same page. Better yet, you can then share that file directly from Dropbox into the Zoom meeting, where team members can add to it in real time.
In the office, getting people into a meeting room can mean just wandering up to their desk and asking if they’ve got 10 minutes. It can be a lot harder to get people’s attention however while working from home, even when using Slack or other office chat apps. If you want people to show up to your video conference, you must let them know in advance. If you don’t, it’s likely they won’t be at their desk and won’t have had time to read the agenda. Give everyone the time they need to prepare themselves for the video conference, and you’ll be setting up yourself—and your whole team—for success.
With remote teams becoming more common, video calls aren’t just a meeting substitute anymore; they’re becoming the norm for many businesses. And with video conferencing playing a bigger role in both our personal and work lives, using the technology properly is essential. So, the next time you’re scheduling a Zoom meeting for 10am, use our video conference etiquette so your meeting is a success. Preparing for a video conference will help engage your team to participate and, ultimately, boost your online teamwork while you’re working remotely.