Whether you attend one online meeting a month or a dozen each week, it’s important to know what to do–and what to avoid–to maximize the success of each call. While online meetings are a lot like in-person meetings, there are some nuances that require you to pivot and up your meeting etiquette game.
Don’t worry if you’re not sure where to start. In this guide, I’ll walk you through the “hows and whys” of online meeting etiquette, so you can avoid being that person in your next Zoom call. Everything you need to know to be an online meeting pro is covered here.
Online Meeting Etiquette Guide Quick Links
If you’re new to online meetings, reading through this entire guide from start to finish is a great way to get up to speed. But if you’re an online meeting veteran, feel free to jump to the sections you most want to know about right now.
- Why Online Meeting Etiquette Is Important
- Key Rules of Online Meeting Etiquette
- Considerations for a Hybrid Meeting
- Use the Best Tool For Your Online Meeting
- Final Thoughts About Online Meeting Etiquette
Why Online Meeting Etiquette Is Important
With remote workforces the norm these days, chances are you’ve been invited to more than a few virtual meetings lately. It’s also likely that at least one of those meetings didn’t feel as productive as it could have been.
Meetings are a necessary part of the work day, whether they are in-person or online. But inefficient meetings rob businesses of valuable employee productivity time, which has a cumulative effect as the number of meetings and attendees increases.
Any meeting can go south fast, but online meetings are even more susceptible due to their more casual nature and ease of scheduling. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.
One way to boost the efficiency and effectiveness of online meetings is by knowing and following basic meeting etiquette rules, especially those unique to online venues. These etiquette best practices eliminate common meeting pitfalls and maintain a professional tone in online meetings, which helps make those meetings more efficient, productive, and enjoyable for all.
Key Rules of Online Meeting Etiquette
Some traditional meeting etiquette guidelines apply universally, whether you’re seated in the boardroom or joining a meeting from your living room. But in the more casual atmosphere of working from home, many of these common-sense etiquette rules unintentionally fall by the wayside.
Then there are the unique etiquette considerations that only arise when the meeting venue is online.
Whether you’re a Zoom expert or an occasional online meeting attendee, I’ll guide you through everything you need to know to bring your best self to your next online meeting. Let’s get started.
Before the Meeting
Great online meetings begin long before the scheduled start time. Whether you’re the meeting organizer or an invited attendee, dedicating prep time before you click the launch button goes a long way toward online meeting success.
As your meeting date approaches, make sure all the following boxes get ticked.
Make an agenda. If you’re the meeting organizer, take time to put together an agenda that spells out everything to be covered during the meeting, then distribute it well in advance. Whether your agenda is a formal memo/email or a simple bullet list within the meeting invite is up to you, as long as it informs attendees of what to expect to discuss.
If you’re a meeting attendee who receives an agenda, review it ahead of time. This helps you adequately prepare so you can add value to the meeting discussion. If you’ve been invited but haven’t received an agenda, ask the meeting organizer for one.
Agree on meeting ground rules. This doesn’t have to be anything oppressive, just basic stuff that helps keep a meeting on track. Make clear whether using chat during the meeting is okay, what to do if you have to temporarily leave the meeting, how to handle interruptions, etc.
The key is to ensure all attendees are on the same page and expectations are understood before the meeting begins. This helps your meetings run smoothly and minimizes interruptions or undesirable behavior.
Be thoughtful about the guest list. If you’re the meeting organizer, limit your invitees to only those people who really need to be there. Don’t waste your colleagues’ time with unnecessary meeting invites.
If you’re on the receiving end of a meeting invite and can’t identify why you were invited, ask the meeting organizer before clicking accept.
Get in the right headspace. When you’re joining a meeting from your computer, it’s easy to go straight from whatever you’re working on to clicking “join” at the meeting start time. But resist that urge, and take a lesson from the old days when you used to attend meetings in person.
In a traditional office setting, you likely stood up from your desk, perhaps grabbed a beverage from the break room, and then walked to the meeting room. All that activity gave you a mental and physical reset between activities.
Try and do something similar before an online meeting starts, even if it is just standing up and stretching or walking away from your computer for a few minutes. When you return, you’ll find your head clear and ready for engagement.
Test your equipment. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a new piece of equipment or the same old computer and headset you’ve always had, making sure it works before the meeting starts is important. Few things are more embarrassing than fumbling around at the start of a meeting trying to get your headset working while your colleagues look on and wait.
Log in early. This goes hand-in-hand with testing your equipment. Don’t wait until the last second to join an online meeting. If you log in early, you have a chance to work out any bugs and slide into the meeting looking like the pro you are.
Dress appropriately. There’s no need to bust out formal business attire unless your company or the circumstances of the online meeting require it. But don’t go too far with the super-casual nature of working remotely. Don’t check into an online meeting looking like you just rolled out of bed or came straight from the gym. A simple rule of thumb is to wear something comfortable and/or professional that isn’t a distraction to other meeting attendees.
Consider your environment. A quiet, private space with a neutral background and great natural lighting is the ideal spot to join an online meeting. An online meeting is not the time to showcase your eclectic collection of medieval weaponry on the wall behind you, unless you’re meeting with a group of fellow collectors!
The same rule of thumb about your attire not being a distraction goes for your environment. If you can’t create a distraction-free space, then use the background blurring or virtual background features available in most online meeting software tools. If that feature isn’t available, consider a more neutral location to join your online meetings.
During the Meeting
You’ve prepped, tested your equipment, joined early, and are ready for the meeting to begin. But how you act during the meeting is equally important as how you prepped for it ahead of time.
Turn your video on. It’s fine to keep your camera off while you wait for others to join the call, but once the meeting officially begins your camera should go on. Seeing faces during an online meeting makes the experience more personalized and human.
Limit distractions. Mute all notifications, including email, chat apps, and anything else that might be an attention breaker during the meeting. This is especially important if you’ll be sharing your screen during the call. Unexpected pop-up notifications are the fastest way to share things with your colleagues you might not want them to know.
Likewise, if you’re easily distracted, close all unnecessary browser tabs and put your phone away. There’s nothing as annoying during a video call than other people visibly doing non-meeting related things, like surfing the web or scrolling on their phone.
Make appropriate introductions. This probably isn’t necessary for a standing meeting that includes the same people every time. But if you’re hosting a meeting where everyone doesn’t know each other well, take a few minutes to run through brief introductions. This will set context and help others identify and understand who’s on the call and why.
Assess your audience. If you’re going to speak during the meeting, take a minute to understand who you’re talking to. Choose vocabulary and language they will understand.
For example, if you’re a technical engineer speaking at a meeting with non-technical people, avoid jargon or specialized terminology that isn’t widely understood. The fastest way to lose your audience is speaking in a way they don’t understand.
Avoid talking over others. This is easier said than done sometimes, especially when there are a lot of people engaged during an online meeting. One way to minimize this is to pause for a second or two after someone stops talking before you begin to speak.
And if two of you start speaking at the same time, go ahead and defer to your colleague. You’ll get your chance when they finish.
To mute or not to mute. For meetings with just a few participants, keeping your microphone on lets the conversation flow naturally, much as it would if you were together in person. The informal nature of small meetings also isn’t too impacted by the normal sounds of daily life, like loud cars driving past or a telephone ringing.
However, for large meetings with many participants, muting yourself unless you’re speaking is a good general practice. That way you minimize the risk that Fido interrupts someone’s presentation when the UPS driver rings your doorbell. And if you’re the host of the meeting and doing most of the talking, you might also consider muting all other attendees until you’ve finished speaking and are ready to take questions.
Pay attention. Sure, it’s tempting to quickly fire off an overdue email response or answer a chat message when you’re in an online meeting, especially a long meeting. But don’t go there, especially if you’re not on mute and your camera is turned on.
Keyboard clacking, message arrival chimes, and your furrowed brow looking away from the camera are surefire indicators you’re not tuned in to the meeting. It’s not a good look, especially if your boss is also in the meeting.
Allow participants to leave early. If you’re the meeting organizer, make it clear that it is acceptable for some participants to leave the meeting if their purpose there is finished.
Don’t get in the habit of making all attendees stay for the sake of staying. You’ll usually end up with people multitasking once they see no value in being there.
Keep meetings short and sweet. The silver lining of online meetings is that the usual digressions into off-topic conversations doesn’t happen as naturally as when you’re meeting in person. Use this to your advantage.
If you’re leading the meeting, follow your agenda closely, build time in for Q&A at the end of the meeting, and don’t let tangents spiral out of control. That way, your meeting only lasts as long as necessary, even if it ends earlier than planned.
End your meeting on time. Good meeting management by following a clear agenda is the best way to ensure your meeting ends at the planned time. If you do need to go over the allotted time, be sure to ask attendees if they can stay–don’t just assume they’ll all hang on longer than scheduled.
If they have to go, reassure them it is fine and promise to bring them up to speed later about anything substantive that was discussed.
Thank participants for attending. Everyone’s time is valuable and online meetings have a way of sucking time away from the workday. Before screens go dark, be sure and recognize the attendees and show your appreciation for their time.
After the Meeting
Good online meeting etiquette doesn’t end when the meeting ends, especially if you’re the meeting organizer.
If you are in this role, make sure you take care of these final tasks after every online meeting.
Summarize and share meeting notes. Every productive meeting should result in notes identifying what was discussed and agreed to. Be sure to send this information out to all attendees, so they can remember what transpired.
Assign tasks and deadlines. If assignments were made during the meeting, be sure to identify who is responsible, what they need to do, and when it must be completed. You can include this in the meeting notes, input it into your project management system, or do both.
Schedule followup meetings if needed. If the same group needs to meet again in two weeks, or if you need to follow up with each individual attendee, make sure to put those meetings on the calendar and send out new invites as soon as possible, so everyone can plan for them right away.
Considerations For Hybrid Meetings
When some attendees are together in a conference room while other attendees are calling in from remote locations, all the general etiquette rules still apply. But there are a few more considerations to keep in mind to ensure these hybrid meetings are most effective.
Make sure everyone is visible. If the conference room has built-in technology for video calls, then make sure everyone gathered can be seen on the screen. If not, have each attendee join via their own computer, just like their remote colleagues.
Focus on inclusivity. Side conversations tend to naturally happen when people are physically together in a room for a meeting. Try to avoid thisq since remote attendees cannot easily be part of the chatter.
Likewise, when some people are gathered in person but others are on video, you may need to go to greater lengths to engage the remote attendees. If you’re not hearing much from the remote people, check in with them throughout the meeting to make sure they’re getting what they need to make the meeting productive for them.
Give remote speakers the floor. Remote attendees don’t have the benefit of nonverbal cues like people physically together have. If two attendees speak at the same time and one is in the meeting room and the other is remote, defer to the remote speaker.
Likewise, ask remote attendees questions throughout the meeting to make sure they aren’t forgotten. They may have valuable information to share, but be unsure when to interject.
Conduct post-meeting outreach. It’s easy to engage in a post-meeting debrief when a colleague is standing next to you, but not quite so easy if the person disappears behind a dark screen. Make it a point to call or message remote colleagues after the meeting to debrief and catch up.
Use The Best Tool For Your Online Meeting
Common team messaging tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams are great for informally communicating with individuals or small groups of team members in dispersed locations. But when your needs exceed the limitations of those tools, you’ll want something beefier to manage online meetings.
This is where conference call services like Nextiva, RingCentral, and Zoom come into play. Choosing a tool that offers robust video and audio quality, includes the ability to record calls, and accommodates large numbers of attendees is crucial to business success.
You might already have one of these tools in place. If so and you’re happy with it, congratulations. You’re already well on the path to online meeting success.
If you aren’t already using such a service, be sure to check out my review of the top-rated conference call services on the market today. I walk you through the things to consider when choosing an audio/video conferencing tool, and dive into the pros and cons of each product.
Final Thoughts About Online Meeting Etiquette
Distributed workforces are here to stay and with them come the need for online meetings. To master this convenient technology and get the most out of every scheduled meeting, following good online meeting etiquette is crucial.
Ensuring you’re prepared before, during, and after every online meeting helps to make the most of your virtual meeting time. It also results in more satisfied colleagues and a more positive attitude toward online meetings, too.