Ten Rules of Etiquette for Videoconferencing
Don’t let the small screen fool you. There are right ways and wrong ways to behave
Videoconferencing comes with its own set of etiquette rules. WSJ’s Sally French offers six tips to becoming an expert.
March 13, 2016 10:12 p.m. ET www.wsj.com
It’s the big day. You have a video conference with the chief executive of your company to pitch your ideas. You’re on time, and you couldn’t be more prepared for your presentation.
But are you up-to-date with your online—and on-camera—etiquette?
Video services like Skype, Google Hangouts and Join.Me are increasingly flooding the workplace. They offer a sense of immediacy that conference calls cannot, and they deliver big savings in contrast with traveling for actual face-to-face meetings.
But videoconferencing comes with its own code of behavior that takes the place of yesterday’s manners for meetings. Indeed, don’t let the small screens and at times deceptively informal atmosphere fool you. There are right and wrong ways to conduct yourself—and lapses will be noticed.
We talked to experts on etiquette and videoconferencing. What follows are some of the most important do’s and don’ts for work-related video calls.
Typing during a video call not only creates distracting noise but also indicates you aren’t paying attention. Others on the call might assume you are working on something unrelated to the conversation. Even if you are taking notes, the sound of the keys can be distracting to others.
“It’s probably the biggest faux pas,” says Angie Hill, general manager of audience marketing at Skype.
If you do need to take notes, experts say, it is better to handwrite them. And if you absolutely must use your keyboard, hit the mute button.
Maintaining eye contact builds trust and communicates that the conversation is important to you. But if you look directly into your computer’s camera so viewers can see your eyes, it is difficult to keep track of what’s happening on screen.
At the key moments when everyone’s eyes are on you, such as if you are presenting or introducing yourself, look at the camera. Otherwise, it is OK to look at the images of the other people on the call.
Move the video-chat window near your computer’s camera so you can both look at people’s faces and into the camera at once.
Would you really bring your tuna sandwich into the boardroom? No? Then don’t bring it into your video call, either. Just because the other conference guests can’t smell it doesn’t mean they can’t hear or see you chewing. Plus, food is the ultimate distraction.
“I’m now watching you eat a sandwich instead of paying attention to how brilliant you say you are,” says Lindsey Pollak, a workplace-etiquette consultant based in New York City. “And let’s be honest, nobody looks good eating.”
Put the sandwich down. And cover it up if you have to.
With videoconferences, it can be tough for colleagues in the room with you to tell if you are in a meeting or simply working at your computer. Interruptions can break your train of thought, and make you look unprepared and unprofessional.
If you’re in a conference room or private office, put a note on the door. If you’re in a cubicle or at a bank of desks, use a signal to let colleagues know you are unavailable.
“I write the words ‘video call!’ on a piece of paper,” says Lizzie Post,descendant of etiquette nobility Emily Post and a spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute. “I freely admit this is dorky,” she says, “but if someone comes over, I hold it up, and it works.”
Need to use the restroom? While you may sometimes be able to get away with bringing a phone—on mute—into the bathroom, that obviously won’t work in this case.
About 24% of respondents voted this as the worst thing someone could do on-screen during a conference call, according to a survey by market-research firm Lab42 for Join.Me.
If it is a large meeting or you feel uncomfortable interrupting, just slip away and, if necessary, privately message a fellow participant saying you will be back shortly. If it is a small meeting, or you are the moderator, just ask to take a quick break.
Just because you can get away with online shopping during a conference call doesn’t mean you can in a video call. Everyone can see your eyes drifting away or your fingers typing, and they can tell you’re distracted.
Stay focused. Don’t look away from the screen. That is a clear indication that you aren’t engaged.
Sometimes a video call is between a room full of people and one person in a remote location. It’s important to ensure that people participating outside a group are included in the dialogue and given cues and openings for questions or comments. Otherwise, the people in the room can easily get caught up in their own conversation and forget to include the person on the call.
Raising a hand to speak is OK, especially when there is a lag time on the video feed. If you’re moderating the call, be proactive and ask if anyone has something they want to add.
A messy background can cause people to focus on the clutter around you rather than on your words and ideas. Noise can be a problem, too, whether it is construction outside or a conversation at the next cubicle.
If your environment is too loud or messy, move to a conference room. A bare background isn’t a must, though. Interesting objects or designs could work in your favor by generating conversation.
One of the biggest gaffes is when technical issues prevent a person from joining a call. You don’t want to open the video-chat service only to find you need a software update. Fumbling the sign-in and joining late as a result, or missing a meeting completely, can make a person look unprepared or technologically inept.
Join a videoconference before the appointed time to troubleshoot any possible connection problems. And when the meeting is over, make sure you end the call.
“The worst mistake I have ever heard of is someone thinking the call was over,” Ms. Post says. “They didn’t hang up properly and ended up saying something disparaging about the call. It was awkward for people on both ends.”
Many of us occasionally work from home, so it is worth remembering that the same rules apply. Still, breaches of video-call etiquette are common.
In the survey by Lab42, 7% of respondents said they had seen someone participate in a videoconference from bed, while 17% of Americans have seen an attendee’s pet make an appearance. More than 20% admit to wearing pajamas—though with a more professional-looking top.
Stay out of bed. Keep pets and children out of the picture. And get dressed.
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