Zoom is now a big part of our lives. For the many who made a sudden transition to remote work, the trend of frequent video calls feels new. And because we’re all learning as we go, the rules of professional etiquette on a Zoom call aren’t clear to everyone.
To avoid hurting your professional reputation over a Zoom snafu, here are some of the main rules to follow.
Before the call starts
Proper Zoom etiquette starts before the time your call is scheduled. Take a few minutes before your first Zoom call of the day to do some prep.
1. Get dressed.
Your bathrobe or pajamas aren’t good enough for a professional call (and nudity definitely isn’t). At the very least, put on something you wouldn’t be embarrassed to leave the house in. How professional your clothing needs to be depends on your workplace culture. You can probably get away with wearing something a bit more casual than you would have to the office, but don’t go overboard.
And while it may be tempting to go pantless, figuring the camera will only see your upper half, it’s risky. What happens if the doorbell rings and you have to hop up to get it? This is one area where the risks of colleagues getting a glimpse of something they shouldn’t are bigger than the comfort you may get from foregoing pants.
2. Turn your light on.
You may be comfortable relying on natural light from your windows for most of the day, but it likely won’t be enough for your Zoom call. Take 15 seconds to get up and flip that switch before your call starts so you don’t look like a shadowy blob on the screen.
3. Check your background.
Turn around and look at what’s behind you. Is there anything you’d be embarrassed for your boss to see, like a pile of dirty laundry or a pinup taped to your wall? Either move the offending item out of view, or use a virtual background to obscure everything behind you.
4. Grab your headset.
Audio quality is an important part of any Zoom call, and audio problems are often caused by attendees. A headset allows you to block out background noises and ensure you’re not the culprit of any weird echoes. You may be able to get through a call without needing a headset, but it’s good practice to keep one handy in case.
During the call
Advance prep matters, but it’s once the call gets going that getting things right matters most.
5. Make sure your camera is positioned properly.
As soon as you start the call, check to see how you look—not out of vanity (OK, maybe a little) but more to make sure the framing’s right. If you’re using the built-in camera on your device, reposition your screen as needed to make sure it shows the right part of you in the frame. You don’t want to go through an entire meeting with your head cut off or the view focused on your cleavage without realizing it.
6. Mute yourself when not talking.
Background noises happen. If you have a headset, this step may not be required. But if you don’t, Zoom etiquette—especially for calls with lots of participants—is to mute yourself anytime you’re not the one talking.
7. Avoid multitasking.
You have a morning Zoom call scheduled, but you still need to do your makeup or brush your teeth. Or maybe it’s late enough in the day that you really want to get dinner made. In some cases, multitasking may be unavoidable. If you have to deal with childcare or you have a day full of video meetings and have to eat somewhere in there, there’s not much you can do about it. But any time you can wait until after the call, do so. Visibly doing something else while the call is happening looks disrespectful to your fellow attendees.
8. Know when to turn off your camera.
Most of the time, if everyone else has their video on, proper etiquette is to also have yours on. But if you’re doing something distracting—cooking, eating, folding laundry—turn your video off unless someone speaks to you directly and you need to respond. Depending on the context of the call, you may want to include a mention in the chat of where you’re going so people understand why you’ve disappeared from the visual component of the call.
9. Don’t take your device into the bathroom.
It may be the worst of all possible Zoom horror stories: the tale of the employee who thought they turned their video off when heading to the toilet, but actually gave their colleagues a show (aka “Poor Jennifer”). Just don’t risk it. If you desperately need to pee, leave your computer or phone behind for those couple of minutes. It’s better to miss a brief portion of the meeting than to share your toilet time with the entire marketing department.
10. Pets are OK! (But might require a mute).
Finally—we have something not to worry about. Most Zoom call participants will be charmed by a cat wandering onto the call, or a dog jumping into your lap in the middle of a presentation. We’re all dealing with stressful times right now, and cute animals make things better rather than worse. If Fido wanders into frame, lean into it.
But if your pet is making noise that’s disruptive to the call, find that mute button fast. The dog that everyone thought was cute five minutes ago turns annoying quick if his barking takes over the meeting.
11. Use the tools available to you.
Zoom doesn’t just enable video calls. The platform (and most other video call services) provides a number of features you can use to make calls more engaging. Make use of the chat function to avoid interrupting people, reiterate ideas that have been discussed, and share links. Use the screen share option when discussing things that have a visual component. And consider features like polls to make calls more interactive and keep people interested.
12. Prepare for a plan B.
No piece of technology works 100% of the time. So make sure you have a contingency plan in case Zoom is overloaded and you get buffering, or the sound doesn’t work quite right. Will you move over to Skype, or Google Hangouts? Having a plan B means you’ll be able to transition to the new platform faster and more smoothly than if you’re stuck trying to figure it out in the moment.
Zoom Away Without Fear
However you feel about Zoom calls, they’re likely to remain a big part of your life for as long as the pandemic lasts. But by respecting a few basic Zoom etiquette rules, you can make sure there’s nothing risky about them. New Zoom horror stories will likely arise, but they sure don’t have to be about you.
Photo by visuals on Unsplash