17 suggestions for how best to conduct yourself on Zoom

The complete guide to handling your video conferences with poise — from sending clear invites to avoiding unwanted distractions

Adi Barill 14:4325.10.20
Ever since the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic forced people to work from home, it has posed some serious challenges to workplace etiquette. People have turned to less appropriate behavior, often without realizing they are on video. Some appear on screen without a shirt or in pajamas, others while eating their lunch or picking their nose during a conference, and these are just a few of the misdemeanors. The world is changing, but that doesn’t mean the standards have to drop. We should all adopt and agree on some ground rules before videoconferencing.


People participating in a video conference call. Photo: Itamar Ziegelman People participating in a video conference call. Photo: Itamar Ziegelman
Here are a few tips:


1. Make sure to send out clear invites. Most often, the sender will be the most senior team member or manager. It is helpful to list in the invitation who the other invitees are, as well as the topic of the meeting, and especially what program is being used - whether Zoom, Skype, or Google - to ensure nobody gets lost.


2. Don’t be late for meetings. Just like in real life, be sure to be on time and alert a manager ahead of time if you are going to be late.


3. Maintain eye contact and show that you are listening. Look directly into the webcam to initiate eye contact with your colleagues, close any other distracting applications or alerts, put your cell phone on silent, and don’t switch to other calls. Act no different than you would when in a real-live conference.


4. Do not all talk at once. In video chats, everyone can contribute to the conversation, and this says a lot about our modern discourse. When people speak at the same time, it makes it difficult to understand one another. To decide who speaks first, appoint someone who will moderate the discussion and grant people the ability to speak as needed. In addition, you can decide on cue signs, such as raising a hand or sending an icon on the video group’s chat, if someone must speak or respond. If you work with a set team, you can be creative and send printable images to coworkers that members can display in front of the camera if they have something to say.


5. Make sure that there aren't any technical issues. Today, most conversations start with some type of technical glitch, or someone who can’t hear the discussion or isn’t being heard. Before you begin a meeting, try to test out the program first.


6. Mute the microphone if you are not talking. Remember those people who continue to talk to their household members, answer phone calls, or fight with their spouses, all while being live-streamed in front of all their colleagues? Don’t be that person. In video calls with multiple members, a group moderator should silence everyone’s microphones and notify them that microphones should be unmuted only when someone is speaking.


7. Make sure to dress appropriately before a conference. It’s important to don formal attire or dress respectfully, especially in a formal conversation, just like in real life. If you’re walking around your house without a shirt on, put one on before your video conference starts.


8. Don’t eat while a meeting is going on. It’s inappropriate and won’t be appreciated by your superiors. Would you eat your lunch during a work meeting? Then don’t do it here either. If they are low-level colleagues, ask first whether they’re comfortable with it, and then apologize. You can also shut off your video camera for a few minutes, while you finish your meal. Regardless, try to finish your lunch before any meeting, it’s distracting. If you absolutely must eat, try to do so politely and make sure to minimize any crunching and chomping noises. Remember, your every bite is being watched.


9. If everyone has their webcam on, you should too. Remember those meetings where some people have their cameras on, while others have it off? That can be seen as disrespectful. Don't embarrass those who turned on their cameras. When on a video conference, make sure to have your webcam on at all times. If you are experiencing technical difficulties, let people know ahead of time. It also disturbs the general atmosphere if only half of the attendees are “present” - so don't be one of those people.


10. Speak in a quiet area only, and not while in motion. Just like you would avoid having a meeting in a loud area, here too, you should try to find a quiet spot. Avoid joining a conference while driving, or at the park with children screaming in the background. It is unprofessional and damages the professional image that you are trying to convey.


You won’t always find complete quiet, and there are special circumstances such as when you’re required to stay at home with your kids or drive them somewhere. Let your superiors know beforehand. As long as they know ahead of time, and you’ve apologized, it’s probably okay.


11. Video meetings are not the time to multitask. I recently joined an unofficial networking conference, where one of the attendees was working out on a treadmill while wearing activewear. We asked her why she thought it was appropriate to do so during the meeting, and she answered that she is stuck inside her house with nowhere to go, and has to keep moving. We laughed and smiled, and said we understood. However, this damaged our sound quality, and also was not very respectful. Set up your webcam in a steady place, and appear on camera while sitting up straight, and focus on the conversation. If you’re on a Zoom call with friends, it’s not official and you can do as you like. However, in a business setting, you want to appear professional and be heard clearly.


12. Don’t send links to conversations and lectures without asking for permission first. Did you get a link or an invite? Don’t send them to others without first asking the sender.


13. Don’t record the conversation without first clearing it with your colleagues. If you must do so, ask the other attendees whether they are okay with it, and get their approval ahead of time. You should also let them know why you’re doing so.


14. Don’t surprise people with a video call. Video conversations demand people’s attention, so try to refrain from dropping in unannounced. Let them know ahead of time that you are planning on making a call, and make sure to clarify which app you’ll be using.


15. Let people know ahead of time if you’re going to get disconnected. If your company or business doesn’t have a paid subscription for the video call service, you may be disconnected 30 or 40 minutes into the conversation. An alert will appear warning you that you have 10 remaining minutes before the call will end. There is something beneficial about these deadlines - they require you to be more productive in meetings and get to the point quicker.


16. End the calls in an organized fashion. When you’re on a phone call, you don’t suddenly randomly hang up, so don’t do it on video calls. Ending the call should be the responsibility of the person who set it up. Alert the other participants before you end the call. You could also agree on a cue, such as everyone waves goodbye to the camera and hangs up at the same time.


17. Avoid inappropriate conduct that should be done behind closed doors. People can see you. Avoid moving your legs or tapping your feet, scratching your face or body, picking your nose, picking your teeth, etc.


Happy conferencing!


Adi Barill. Photo: Osnat Rom Adi Barill. Photo: Osnat Rom
Adi Barill is a marketing and communications expert, who hosts workshops on video conferencing best practices.