Zoom has 300 million daily meeting participants, a massive increase from the 10 million daily participants it had in 2019. More and more businesses, schools, and organizations are choosing to hold their meetings virtually, over Zoom, due to the convenience it offers.
Video conferences and virtual meetings on Zoom come with unique etiquette considerations. Most people know how they are expected to behave when attending a meeting in person, but do those same etiquette rules apply when attending a meeting from home, over video?
Do you have to dress nicely? Can you turn your camera off, or do you have to keep it on at all times?
If you’re just getting started with Zoom meetings, here’s what you need to know.
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This should go without saying, but it’s just as important to show up to a Zoom meeting on time as it is for an in-person meeting. It’s easy to take Zoom meetings lightly – after all, you may be attending from your basement, dining room, or anywhere else in your home that’s available.
Nevertheless, you need to take Zoom meetings seriously, just like you would a regular meeting. That means you should be in your seat and ready to join the meeting before the scheduled time.
The host may or may not allow you to join the meeting before they do. If they do allow you to join early, they may only allow you to do so 5-15 minutes before the scheduled starting time.
Regardless of whether you can join the meeting early or not, you need to be ready. That means you need to be in your chair, have your webcam set up, get other people out of the room, and have your meeting ID or join link on hand.
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Just because you’re joining the meeting from home doesn’t mean you can do so in your pajamas. The exact attire you should use depends on the nature of the meeting or conference.
Generally, however, you want to wear the same attire you would for an in-person meeting with the same participants. Some leeway is usually expected for Zoom meetings, and you may be able to dress a tad more casually, but don’t let yourself go.
Dress nicely. For company meetings, wear a dress shirt and perhaps even a sports jacket.
Aim for a “business casual” look, except for high-level meetings, in which case you would want to dress in a usual suit and tie. As a general rule, it’s better to overdress than underdress; why risk making a bad first impression?
Regardless of which clothes you wear, however, you should always be tidy and presentable. Even if you’ve been working from home for the past few months, that doesn’t mean you can forget to shave, avoid getting a haircut, or let your hair get frizzy and disheveled.
You might want to wear a nice watch – yes, people may notice it.
While the shoes you wear won’t matter, as nobody will see them, you shouldn’t attend meetings in boxers or workout pants. You may need to stand up to get some documents, fix something on your computer, or for some other reason.
You don’t need to wear cologne or perfume. However, doing so may help you feel more put together, boost your confidence, and help you concentrate.
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Choose the right environment for when attending the meeting. If you have a home office, it’s only natural to attend the conference from there.
However, if you don’t have a home office, pick the most professional-looking room in your home. It could be your dining room or living room.
Remember, people will only see a small portion of the room you are in, which gives you a bit more flexibility as to where you can attend the meeting from. For example, you can select a corner of your bedroom or basement that has a blank wall and could look like a home office to other meeting attendees.
There are some other factors to consider, too. For example, there should be decent lighting in the room.
Depending on the time of day and the position of the sun, your face may look dark, so do consider that when deciding where to position your webcam. If attending a meeting at night, make sure the room has bright lighting.
Noise is another significant factor, as is privacy. If you have young kids, it can be particularly hard to find an area of your home that is quiet, especially if the meeting is on a weekend, at night, or when they are otherwise home from school.
The same goes if you live in a busy area that has a lot of traffic, if construction is going on nearby, or if you have noisy dogs.
I’ll talk more about how to control your background noise soon, but you do need to pick a room that’s as quiet as possible.
It’s not just the noise – it’s the privacy of the room, too. You don’t want your kids, roommates, or anyone else coming into the room while in the meeting.
Even if other participants can’t see them, it can distract you and prevent you from focusing properly.
You may have seen the viral video in which an interviewee’s kids entered the room during a BBC interview being broadcasted around the world. While that didn’t turn out too bad for him, your situation may be a bit different, so take the necessary precautions.
Lock the door, get someone to watch your kids, and make sure the people you are living with know you will be busy in that room and that they shouldn’t disturb you. Put a sign on the door if necessary.
What if you can’t find anywhere in your home that looks professional or presentable enough?
Using a background won’t hide your face – only the part of the room that is behind you. You can also upload your own background to your library.
If you need to attend a meeting on short notice and have no time to clean up the mess in the room, using a Zoom background might be your best bet. However, it does come with some system requirements, so it will be easier if you have a high-end computer or laptop.
Keep in mind that people will usually be able to tell that you are using a Zoom background – it’s not like it would be a secret. Nevertheless, it’s common practice for some people to use a virtual background, so people won’t typically think twice about it.
Even if you are using a Zoom background, however, you should still pick a spot that is quiet and private.
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As a general rule, it’s expected that Zoom meeting attendees will keep their microphones muted unless they are actively speaking.
Doing so will prevent others from getting distracted by unintended background noise. Even if you chose the quietest room in your house, people may still hear the telephone or doorbell ringing, someone knocking on your door, your dog barking, your kids screaming, or other noise.
By staying muted, you can avoid that and give others a chance to express their opinions without getting interrupted by your noise. You can unmute yourself when you want to speak.
Some hosts may want you to stay unmuted at all times. In that case, you should follow their instructions and comply with their wishes, while trying to minimize background noise as much as possible.
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If you’re going to be using an external microphone instead of your computer’s built-in one, get a good one. Sure, you can buy a cheap one on Amazon for less than $10, but is it worth it?
A bad microphone might come with distortions, low-quality audio, and other problems. It could break down while you’re in a meeting, and you may not even realize that nobody can hear what you are saying.
Noise-canceling microphones can come in handy if you are unable to get rid of the noise. They help ensure that people only hear you – not what’s going on around you.
Another thing worth looking into is adjusting the microphone sensitivity settings on your laptop. Play around with it so that it only picks up your voice when you speak and not the background noise from your apartment or neighborhood.
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It’s okay if your connection lags sometimes. The other Zoom participants have probably seen that before, and they’ll likely understand.
At the same time, if you have a consistently unstable internet connection that constantly freezes or lags, it’s going to be hard to keep up with the meeting. You may miss critical information that other participants are sharing, and your colleagues may not hear what you are trying to tell them.
An unstable internet connection leads to disruptions and a decrease in productivity.
So, what can you do if the internet connection in your home is not that great? In some cities or towns, especially in rural areas, the internet connection just isn’t good.
The first thing worth trying is moving to another part of your home or getting a new router. If you are far from your router, the internet can be bad, so move closer.
You can also stop using the router entirely and switch to a wired connection, plugging the Ethernet cable directly into your laptop. Wired connections tend to be a lot more stable and faster than wireless ones.
Another thing worth trying is using your phone as a mobile hotspot if your cell phone provider allows it. You can turn on the hotspot on your phone to create a Wifi network, use your mobile data, or tether it to your laptop using a cable.
Make sure you have enough mobile data or an unlimited data plan to support video calls.
Some mobile providers sell Wifi hotspot devices that use a sim card and a 3G, 4G, or 5G mobile connection to create a portable Wifi hotspot. If you need to connect to Zoom calls often, and the internet in your home isn’t that good, look into buying one.
Of course, you can also go to a coffee shop, library, or coworking space and use the internet there. However, you can’t always control the noise in those places, and you will lack privacy; also, it’s more of a temporary solution as opposed to a long-term fix.
If you can’t get a better internet connection, here are some fixes that can help reduce the strain on your bandwidth and decrease the chances of your connection lagging:
- Tell other people using your WiFi to take a break while you’re on the call. For example, if your kids or roommates are watching Netflix or downloading movies, it could put significant strain on your bandwidth.
- Turn off background apps that may be using the internet. Disconnect your phone and other devices from the network.
- Disable HD video, as that uses up more data.
- Turn off your webcam video if possible – explain the situation to other attendees or your boss.
Always focus entirely on the meeting. It might seem like you can get away with multitasking, but people will usually notice.
For example, someone may be asking you a question, and if you’re distracted by something else, you may not realize it. They may have to repeat themselves a few times until you hear them.
Or, you may miss important information while replying to an email.
It can be considered rude to multitask during a Zoom meeting. If you wouldn’t multitask at the meeting if it were held in person, you probably shouldn’t do so if it’s held over the internet, either.
Also, you’re probably not as good at multitasking as you think – few of us are.
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It’s typically acceptable to sip on a glass of water or even coffee during a Zoom meeting. People get thirsty, need some water to clear their throats, or need the caffeine boost to power through the meeting and stay productive (just don’t slurp).
Eating, on the other hand, is generally frowned upon. People don’t want to see or hear you chewing during a meeting.
It also shows a certain level of disrespect to the other participants, as if you couldn’t care less about the meeting. Even chewing gum might come close to crossing the line, so avoid it if you can – it’s not even like you need to freshen your breath for the other attendees.
It should also go without saying that while nobody in the meeting will inhale your second-hand smoke, smoking in a Zoom meeting is typically considered unprofessional.
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Speak up! People shouldn’t have to ask you to repeat yourself.
It can be hard to know exactly how loud to speak during a Zoom meeting. On the one hand, if you speak too low, people won’t understand what you are saying.
On the other hand, you don’t want to shout.
Bringing your microphone closer to your mouth might make it easier for others to hear you. Adjusting your microphone sensitivity settings can also help.
Speak in a clear and confident voice. Maintain professionality, speak to others respectfully, and don’t use words that would be considered inappropriate in a professional context.
Be considerate of others in the meeting. When they talk, listen to what they are saying.
Don’t interrupt others or talk over them, just like you wouldn’t in a real meeting. It can get confusing and disorienting when multiple participants in a Zoom meeting are talking at once.
In a physical meeting, the voices are at least separated, coming from different places around the table or different parts of the room. In a Zoom meeting, however, all the voices are heard from a single sound source – each attendee’s computer.
As an aside, that’s why it’s a good idea for everyone to be muted unless they are actively speaking. That way, all participants can look at the screen and see who is talking.
Otherwise, the background noise from some participants can make it hard to hear the speaker.
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When in a Zoom meeting, maintain eye contact with others by looking into the webcam. The way you position your webcam is critical.
Some people don’t realize it, but they position their webcam too high or too low, so it makes it look like they are looking at their desk or their face gets hidden.
Eye contact is critical for establishing a connection with others. It’s an important aspect of business etiquette as well.
Maintaining eye contact with others shows that you are engaging with them. It also helps display confidence, which leads to respect from others.
During a virtual meeting, it’s impossible to shake people’s hands. Therefore, maintaining eye contact by positioning your webcam correctly and looking into it is an indispensable way of making up for that.
Of course, you don’t want to stare into the webcam with a death gaze. Be natural – look away or at other parts of your screen as needed.
You should also maintain good posture. Sit upright and don’t slouch.
Maintaining a good posture will help show others that you are confident and ready to tackle the issues on hand. Slouching can be taken as a sign of disinterest and a lack of engagement.
It might also be a good idea to talk over etiquette rules beforehand with your boss or host. It doesn’t have to be anything formal, like an official company document.
Instead, a short email with some ground rules will usually suffice. Your boss may lay out some things they expect of you and other participants, such as wearing a dress shirt, reducing background noise, and so on.
Clean and open communication is always best. It never hurts to know what people expect from you, so you don’t do anything that might be considered inappropriate.
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Until now, we’ve discussed etiquette rules for participants. As a host, however, it’s important to do your part to ensure that the meeting goes smoothly, without unnecessary interruptions.
Here are the basics:
- Be on time, like everyone else. Make sure everyone has the join link or meeting ID.
- Make the meeting private, so only people you invite can join. Otherwise, your meeting can get “crashed” by people who don’t belong there. You can add an access password in addition to the meeting ID. Once everyone is there, you can lock the meeting so nobody else can join.
- Similarly, only invite people who are needed. The more people you invite, the more likely things are to go wrong, from more people being late to hearing background noise from more participants.
- Introduce people who don’t know each other. It will help facilitate open communication and increase collaboration.
- Control the meeting. Set the agenda and give everyone some pointers, so they can stay focused. If people go off on a tangent, get the meeting back on track.
- If you want people to behave a certain way, let them know. For example, tell everyone to always keep their camera on if that’s what you want.
- Mute, unmute, and remove participants as needed. You can also allow screen sharing for participants when required.
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The most important thing is to treat Zoom meetings no different from regular meetings.
Just because you’re attending the meeting from the comfort of your home doesn’t mean you can afford to not be professional. Take your Zoom meetings seriously and always treat others with respect.
Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing. I started my first e-commerce company in college, designing and selling t-shirts for my campus bar crawl using print-on-demand. Having successfully established multiple 6 & 7-figure e-commerce businesses (in women’s fashion and hiking gear), I think I can share a tip or 2 to help you succeed.