Zoom Etiquette: The basics you need to know when participating in a video conference

zoom: verb – to move quickly or suddenly with a loud humming or buzzing sound.

Suddenly, despite having nowhere to go, we’re all “zooming”. Yes, thanks to COVID-19, the word “zoom” has taken on a whole new meaning, much like “Google” did, not so very long ago.

And we’re all doing it. We’re using Zoom for work meetings, sure. But we’re also using it to attend our gym classes, to sing Happy Birthday to parents or siblings; we’re using it for cocktail nights with friends. Heck, even my four-year-old has a Zoom meeting scheduled for this Friday with her pre-school classmates!

As a communicator, I’m delighted that we still have the ability to keep in touch, to exchange ideas and share information, even while we shelter at home. But while this new technology is certainly proving its worth right now, I can’t help but notice the challenges that come from communicating at a distance.

Yes, we can still connect, and a video call allows us to pick up on non-verbal clues that would otherwise be lost during a traditional phone call. But it’s far from foolproof — and if you’re not careful, the things people are seeing can be, at best, distracting and, at worst, downright offensive!

If you watched a recent Saturday Night Live episode, then you already know that Zoom has no place in the bathroom (although hopefully you had that one figured out already!), but what are the other, less obvious rules you should adhere to during a Zoom meeting?

Here are some key things to consider:

How you look.

You can decide exactly what this looks like, but what I would say is that if you wouldn’t wear something in front of your meeting attendees in person, don’t wear it on a video conference. And as a side note… don’t open your Zoom link if you are still getting dressed (yes, this actually happened to someone I know. They had to avert their eyes as a colleague was still putting on her pants while Zoom was unknowingly connected).

It is also important to think about lighting, making sure you don’t have the sun beaming at the camera or that you are not a shadowy figure on screen. In a business meeting, avoid yawning, stretching, or eating. Everything you do is exaggerated on the other side of the camera.

How your space looks.

Your background should be audience appropriate. Again, if you wouldn’t invite all of the people on your video meeting to your house with piles of dirty laundry lying around, then don’t let that be in the background of your video. It’s also important to make sure there aren’t distractions behind you such as moving objects, people coming and going, and offensive or personal objects. If you aren’t able to improve your space to meet these standards, there are options for blurring your background or using a virtual background.

How you sound.

Try to control ambient noise as much as possible. Things like TVs, typing on the computer, someone using the bathroom down the hall, side conversations, and dogs barking can all be picked up by a microphone. And since these things can’t always be avoided, it’s worth learning how to mute your mic. It might even be best to remain on mute until it’s your turn to speak.

Of course, we all recognize the challenges and unforeseeable variables while

co-working with other family members and, in many cases, children and most people will cut you some slack right now. But making sure everyone in your household knows that you are on a video-conference is an important set-up step.

Beyond the basics.

Once you’ve checked the basics, there are a few other important things to think about if you want to ensure connection and impact through a computer screen.

First of all, if you are the leader of a meeting, introduce everyone at the beginning. This can be a good time to ensure everyone in the meeting can hear you and can be heard. Keep this part to a minimum, and start the meeting as close to the start time as planned.

Eye contact is still every bit as important as it is during in-person meetings. Remember to look at the camera when you’re speaking and make sure your entire face is in view. Make this easier by positioning the camera at eye level and don’t be tempted to look at yourself or gaze at objects in your room — essentially looking at the camera equals looking at your meeting attendees.

Reduce distractions. Being on the computer may mean your email notifications are popping up, your cell phone may be ringing, or you have documents open on your desk that you need to get to later. If you want your attendees to feel respected and valued, turn off/put away these distractions, just as you would during any other meeting. If you are just listening in, it’s often acceptable to turn off your video so that it doesn’t distract others who are watching the speaker.

Online meetings have swiftly become the new normal, but they come with a steep learning curve for all. I think almost everyone who’s been using Zoom over the last month has a few bloopers to report! In fact, since it happens so often (and we could all use some light relief) we’ve created a Zoom Bingo to help you keep track of these minor and sometimes hilarious “offenses”. See how many you can check off over the next month!

Finally, have fun, give yourself and others a lot of grace and remember, we are all in this together.