Virtual Meeting Etiquette: The 20 Ground Rules For Virtual Meetings

Written By Deb Mukherjee

If you’ve been enjoying working remotely since the pandemic, you’re in luck – remote work is here and it’s here to stay. You might think that it’s temporary, but rest assured it will continue to be the norm in one form or another – companies can go 100% remote (like Twitter) or they can operate a hybrid model (like Microsoft).

But even if you find yourself working from an office again in the future, you can’t avoid the remote revolution altogether because there will always be individuals or teams that are working remotely and you’ll need to collaborate with them.

Online meetings were around before COVID-19 took the world by surprise, but our use of them skyrocketed over the past year and a half. What’s interesting here is that, with the onset of the global pandemic in March 2020, Cisco reported that their employees have spent over 5.5 billion minutes attending virtual meetings in just the first 11 days of lockdown. It’s true – the pandemic has forever changed the landscape of meetings!

One thing’s for sure – it’s time for us to get our act together and brush up on virtual meeting etiquette.

While companies worldwide have experienced a massive influx of online meetings, most of us are still guilty of falling victim to meeting faux pax. We’ll get to how you can get this right shortly, but first, why is virtual meeting etiquette even important?

Why virtual meeting etiquette can no longer be ignored

Just like any other social situation, virtual meetings also come with their form of etiquette.

Navigating from in-person meetings to virtual ones may have relaxed the norms from dressing casually to even grabbing a quick snack in between (when you’re not on a call, of course).

Reports show that over 17% of people have witnessed their colleagues engage in bad behavior while on a remote meeting, in the UK.

Besides that, “at home” behaviors like family interruptions are still considered acceptable. However, being a little too ‘at home’ by turning up for meetings in your PJs or worse, boxers, saying inappropriate things, or arguing with a family member is unacceptable.

Let’s not forget that just as we are expected to maintain a level of professionalism in an office setup, the same is expected from us while working from home.

This might seem overwhelming at first but fret not – we’ve got you covered. You can simply follow a few rules that will enable you to ace every virtual meeting from here on out. Keep reading!

20 golden rules of virtual meeting etiquette

Rule #1: Turn up early

“Right on time is 5 minutes late.”

This one still holds true, even in a remote setup. Remember how we used to time our coffee breaks in the office to make it to a meeting on time? Great, now keep that up for your virtual meetings.

No one likes to be kept waiting on calls. So if those calendar notifications aren’t getting the job done to keep you showing up on time, set up a reminder on your phone or another device to help yourself show up 5 minutes early. This gives you enough time to set up your equipment, make yourself comfortable, and be well prepared with the agenda to dive right into the call.

Rule #2: Test your tech before the meeting starts

“You’re on mute”, “We can’t see your screen”, “We lost you there for a minute” – these online meeting tropes happen more often than we’d like to admit.

Testing your tech and ensuring that you have a strong internet connection, is great for starters.

The entire purpose of online meetings is being able to listen, speak to, and see each other just like you would during in-person meetings. So take time out to ensure your webcam is working fine, test your audio, and when you need to speak up – please ensure that you’re not on mute.

Rule #3: Mute & start with video off by default

Before you hit the button to ‘join’ the meeting, ensure that you’re on mute and that your video is off by default. This helps you take stock of the situation, know who the call attendees are, and check your surroundings for possible sounds that could seem distracting.

The last thing you want to do when you enter a virtual meeting room is to make a ruckus that derails the flow of everything. If the dog starts barking and chaos ensues in the background right when you join, you’ll be the source of a huge disruption. Once you’ve entered the meeting room and taken a moment to see what’s happening, then you can safely unmute and switch your webcam on.

Rule #4: Choose the right online meeting software

Calendar scheduling & video conferencing software have taken over our everyday lives – we see the likes of Zoom and SavvyCal helping teams collaborate and thrive in the new normal.

Although Zoom is brilliant, you still need to install the software on your phone or desktop. So, if you or your counterpart is looking for a browser-based conferencing solution, check out Whereby (I love it) and the good ol’ Google Meet.

Before you set up that virtual call, ensure that you go for an online meeting tool that is widely used and is simple to set up. Your coworkers should be able to get on the call easily without any confusion or back-and-forths.

Rule #5: Take the call in a quiet environment

When you have an important call that you need to take, ensure that your background is not distracting and is work-appropriate (bookshelves are always a safe bet).

You also need to drown out any background noise – make sure that you’re seated in a quiet place free from any clutter or sounds that could be disturbing to you and your teammates during the call.

You might be tempted to take a call at a bustling coffee shop or airport terminal, but ultimately you might be better off rescheduling or skipping if you won’t be able to properly take part in the meeting.

Rule #6: Begin with a round of introductions

If you’re the host and some attendees may not know each other, it’s always polite to introduce yourself and get started with a quick round of hellos before digging into the agenda.

This is important to follow especially when you have new teammates on board or when you’re making a call with clients or external folks. Take a minute or two out to introduce everyone by their names and the roles or companies they work for.

Rule #7: Always add the meeting to the calendars of all attendees

In the office, you might be able to rely on co-workers to give you the cue about a meeting starting. But when working remotely, you have no other choice but to “live and die by the calendar.” If a meeting isn’t on the calendar, it might as well not even exist.

Don’t expect anyone to create a reminder or calendar event for themselves. When you send out an invite, make it a point to add the meeting to the calendars of all those who have been invited to the meeting. Syncing up these online meetings with everyone’s calendars is a great way to notify them in advance about an upcoming call.

Also, rely on RSVPs. In advance of the meeting, check who has YESed or NOed. If a key stakeholder hasn’t responded or has responded “NO” to your meeting request, you might want to consider rescheduling the meeting altogether. And when you do this, don’t forget to let everyone know the same with the updated date and time.

Rule #8: All hail the Agenda

As per a recent survey, it was reported that 95% of attendees in a meeting said that they lose focus and drift off! Having an agenda is the single best way to combat this.

Without an agenda, it’s too easy to go off-topic, ramble about meaningless details, or cover things that aren’t relevant to everyone attending.

With a clear agenda for the meeting, the attendees will be more engaged, focused, and may even want to chime in with their thoughts since the agenda keeps everyone on the same page. Agendas are forcing functions to only talk about the most important, relevant topics needing discussion. You can use tools like Hypercontext to seamlessly set meeting agendas directly within the calendars.

Rule #9: Do your homework before the meeting

Turning up for meetings unprepared is a surefire way to waste yours and others in the meeting’s time.

When you know that a meeting has been scheduled, take time out to go over the agenda, prepare notes and comments that you’d like to make during the call, and complete tasks that you need to report on beforehand.

Alternatively, if you’re setting the agenda for the meeting, make sure to provide as much detail as possible to allow everyone attending to adequately prepare ahead of time. Include bullet points to be discussed in the meeting, supporting documents that others should review, and links to anything that will be referenced.

Not only will this impress others in the meeting, it will also help you stay focused and result in a more effective meeting overall.

Rule #10: Take detailed notes throughout

At least one attendee should jot down the important points being discussed during the meeting. If there was an agenda set ahead of time, it can act as an outline for note taking. Whether notes are being written by one person or by everyone attending collectively, notes help ensure the meeting results in decisions, next steps, future discussion points.

Tools like Fireflies, Grain, or Hugo make note taking a breeze. But ultimately you should decide which note taking method or tools works best for you and the rest of the attendees.

Rule #11: Let your family and friends know that you’re in a meeting

Whether you have a dedicated workspace or not, it’s considerate to let everyone you live with know that you’re on call so they don’t accidentally disturb you. If you have an office or dedicated room for working, you might develop signals like closing the door or hanging up a small sign when you’re in meetings. Or if you’re in a common space, you might share your schedule with everyone who uses that space in advance so they don’t disrupt the meeting.

If you have kids or pets, ensure that they are kept occupied with activities or games during your virtual meetings. The idea is to minimize commotions and any form of distractions that could hamper the meeting. Life happens — there are always going to be minor disruptions and things that happen outside of your control — but communicating your meeting schedule can help minimize the times you have to step away from the meeting.

Rule #12: Turning your webcam on? Look directly into the camera

If you’re not a fan of video calls, you’re not alone. But using your webcam is a great way to help meetings feel more personal, engaging, and lively. So if you do happen to be in a meeting where webcams are on, you might as well learn how to make the most of it.

As much as you can help it, try to build a habit to look right into the camera. We often look at ourselves or the other attendees on the screen. But from the perspective of someone you’re talking to, it might not look like you’re talking to them at all, which can create an unnatural dynamic. Staring right into the camera may seem awkward at first, but it makes the conversation flow more naturally and helps attendees feel like you’re talking directly to them, mimicking the face-to-face experience…

Rule #13: Fix the lighting

If you’ve decided to keep your webcams on, you need to ensure that you’re seated in a well-lit place. Proper lighting is the biggest factor to your appearance on video.

You don’t want to look like a mysterious figure about to demand a ransom from the shadows of a dark room.

Sit facing a light source or a window with ample natural light pouring in to achieve the best lighting for your video calls. Or better yet, get your hands on a ring light that has been built specifically for this purpose. Ring lights can be outfitted directly to the back of your monitor or on a stand behind your computer.

Rule #14: Stay focused – avoid any form of distractions

With no one looking over your shoulder or around to see you occupied with something else, it’s tempting to go check Twitter or Amazon in the middle of a meeting. Access to other sites is wreaking havoc on our ability to focus.

Devoting your undivided attention during meetings is no easy feat, but it’s important to be present for everyone attending. Out of respect, pay attention and keep away anything that could distract you from what’s going on in the meeting.

Rule #15: Don’t rush – speak slow and clear

Public speaking is the world’s number one cited fear, and virtual meetings are no exception. A time crunch, unfamiliar technology, and nervousness can result in speaking too fast, jumbling words, or forgetting important details.

Even with how far technology has come the past decades, we’re still not immune to poor bandwidth and audio quality issues. Remember to speak clearly and slightly slower than you might in person so that everyone in the meeting can understand you. Without the same nonverbal cues to go off of, it’s important to allow attendees moments to interject with a comment or question. Take your time and allow the meeting to run its course with the time you have — you can always schedule another for anything you don’t cover.

Rule #16: Do your best not to interrupt others

While we’re on the subject, another point to keep in mind is to avoid interrupting others while speaking.

In person, you may be able to quickly interject or slide in a comment that doesn’t disrupt conversation. But due to internet lag and the difficulty of mixed audio sources, it’s nearly impossible to understand people talking over each other in a virtual meeting.

Sure, you’ve just thought of a big idea or you beg to differ, but wait for the other person to finish before you jump right in. Some consider virtual meeting etiquette to include unmuting yourself as a signal that you want to jump in with a question or comment. You might also consider a quick hand signal to the webcam or a quick “If I can add a comment…” before you begin talking.

Rule #17: Need to leave the room? Be sure to excuse yourself

During an online meeting, you may need to get up and leave the room because there is someone at your door or you need to attend to a family member – be sure to inform other participants on the call and excuse yourself before you leave the room.

Explaining the reason you’re leaving temporarily is optional, but inform them for how long you would be away and try to return as soon as possible. Leaving abruptly without reason can actually be more disrupting because attendees will be confused why you’ve left and wonder if they should continue or not.

Rule #18: Dress appropriately – opt for business casual

While you might not have to dress as formally as you did going into the office, sitting in your PJs is never a good idea.

The way you dress will always leave an impression, positive or negative. Business casual is a safe bet for 90% of meetings. At the very least, make sure you’re not wearing anything you’d be embarrassed of if your full body was in view. Avoid inappropriate graphic tee shirts and anything that looks like you could wear it to bed.

Rule #19: Keep those snacks away

When you’re working from home, it’s all too easy to snack throughout the day with the pantry and fridge just a short walk away. In general, consider avoiding snacks during a call. While it may not hamper your ability to engage in a meeting, it might be distracting to others attending.

Fuel up before you head into the call or, if you must, choose snacks that are inconspicuous and don’t make a lot of noise.

Rule #20: Sharing your screen? Always ask “can you see my screen?”

One of the most commonly used features of video conferencing tools is the ability to share your screen. Be it a presentation, product demo, troubleshooting, or working document, make sure to check with the attendees if your screen is visible to all of them before you begin discussing what’s on your screen.

While you’re working, you might have multiple windows layered on top of each other with apps, browser, and documents open. That’s totally fine — we all have a bit of “mad scientist” in us that reflects on our workstation. But when you’re sharing your screen, it’s best to tidy it up and make sure that you’re only showing what’s needed. Close tabs that may contain sensitive information and make what you’re focusing on full screen so everyone can see it clearly.

Time to step up your game for virtual meetings

There you have it – it’s time to quit winging those virtual meetings and do things the right way. Virtual meeting etiquette will help you come off more professional, respectful, and productive.

Getting used to this new norm of virtual meetings may take time, so it is important to have clear guidelines and preferred practices in place. Sticking to these basic etiquettes is important to thrive in today’s remote work culture.