We associate the term etiquette with rules for good behavior. They are intended to help us meet the expectations of behavior that apply in our social environment. The word originates from French and literally means “pinned slip of paper”. Wikipedia tells us that noblemen at the French royal court had to wear such a slip. The rank of the person was noted on it. That way, it was clear to everyone who had to greet whom and in what way.
In IT, we deal with pinned notes every day – at least in agile settings. But what about etiquette? How do we behave when we meet online? For most of us, video conferencing still feels unfamiliar. Except, perhaps, for those who work in or with large, distributed organizations or teams. For them, virtual collaboration has been commonplace even before the pandemic. But does that mean they generally stick to etiquette?
In the following, I have compiled some rules that make virtual meetings more pleasant for everyone.
Let’s start with the 3 absolute …
- Webcam turned off. We are talking about video conferences here, not phone conferences. A large part of communication is through body language although it is limited to facial expressions and gestures. To “communicate” with the avatar or photo of a participant means to do without that as well. The switched-off camera is extremely unpleasant for all other participants and can only be excused if a technical problem occurs.
- Slouching on a sofa. That’s simply too relaxed! When it comes to clarifying content, setting the technical course, allocating tasks, costs, staff, this attitude is extremely disrespectful to participants, customers, stakeholders, etc. It signals disrespect for the participants, the customers and the stakeholders. It disdains the job and the company.
- Checking or writing emails, playing on the smartphone or using other apps. That simply shows: I don’t care what you’re discussing. It bores me.
Remember: a video conference, is a public space. Let’s look at some rules that are useful “to present yourself properly”.
Sound, camera and light
- One screen for one person. That should go without saying.
- Choose a quiet place for your conference participation.
- Background noise can’t be turned off? Then use a headset to minimize it for yourself. Also, if you work from home, family members will know you are in a meeting whenever they see you wearing a headset.
- Mute your microphone if background noise in your environment could disturb other participants. Also mute your microphone during the meeting if you are listening to a speech for an extended period of time. However, it is always up to the moderator to decide how to use the mute function. If you’d like to engage in a lively discussion it makes no sense to constantly switch your microphone on and off.
- Adjust your desk chair so that you are sitting upright and comfortable in front of the screen. Position the camera so that you are looking straight into it – not from above (down) or below. In other words, the camera should be at eye level. There should be about a hand’s width of space above your head to the top of the camera image.
- Before the video conference starts, check your visible background. Whether in the office or in your home office: no one wants to see pizza boxes, plates with leftover food, half-empty bottles, dried coffee cups and the like.
- Or choose a suitable background image: it should be calm and flat so that it does not distract. Don’t upload photos of exciting vacation locations. Neither the millionth bookshelf in a library. And please, no action cam shots.
- Make sure you have good light. Never sit in a place with a window or other light source behind you. Otherwise you will appear as a silhouette in the camera image. For good light, a lamp behind the camera is recommended. Ring lights also work well. You can mount the camera inside the light ring. In addition, both the illuminance and the color temperature of the light can be adjusted with a ring light.
- Better than one ring light are two, one each on the right and left behind the camera. This is the best way to ensure that no unflattering shadows fall onto your face.
Before the Meeting
- Prepare yourself in terms of content: Read the agenda.
- Provide yourself with coffee, tea or soft drinks. (Because it can take a while!)
- Test the tools and applications you plan to use during the conference and share if necessary. Are they all updated? Trying to update software during the conference is embarrassing.
- Close all unneeded applications, tabs, etc. and temporarily turn off all notification sounds.
- Especially in the home office: are there devices consuming bandwidth? If possible, turn them off (sorry kids!).
- And also specific to the home office: make sure you’re not distracted. Sorry to say, but lock out your pet. The cat scurrying across the keyboard may be cute, but it doesn’t look professional to clients, customers or other stakeholders.
- Especially in the home office: Dress – from head to toe – according to the rules of your organization, i.e. exactly as you would for a face-to-face meeting. Not only does this make a professional impression, it also helps you to mentally adjust to work, not to leisure. Please note: Small patterns or glitter create flicker effects. You’re probably familiar with this from television. All-black or snow-white clothing irritates the camera’s brightness settings. Wild patterns and color combinations, thick scarves and flashy jewelry distract from your face – and what you want to say. Be sure to take a look in the mirror before each videoconference.
- Be on time. It’s better to join the conference a little early. Test the audio when you arrive.
- If the agenda of the conference includes a round of introductions, then it is sufficient to briefly say “Hello”, state your name and perhaps mention where you have connected from.
While the meeting is on
- Better limit the number of participants. If there are more than 7 participants, the moderator or facilitator will have a difficult time conducting the conference.
- Avoid interrupting anyone when he/she is speaking. Ask questions in the chat rather than directly, if possible.
- For conferences with many participants: Agree on a show of hands at the beginning to signal when someone wants to speak. It is the moderator’s job to pay attention to the hand signals, determine the order of speakers, and give the floor.
- Speak slowly and clearly. Use your voice to emphasize what is important to you. Vary speaking rate and volume to do this. Support the spoken word with (sparing!) gestures. Be brief.
- Let each speaker know that you are listening. If you agree with what is being said, then look into the camera, smile and nod.
- At the end of the conference, don’t just click “Leave.” Say goodbye with a few kind words – after the moderator’s closing words – even when there was some conflict.
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