Last year we started the “etiquette” conversation by addressing Communication Etiquette in a Distributed Workforce. That article highlighted why it is vital to establish a communication etiquette that is accessible and universally applied across your organization. One of the primary methods teams use to communicate is through “meetings.” Since meetings are the lifeblood of remote workforces, we are taking our communication etiquette lesson a step further by addressing virtual meetings.
Virtual Meeting Etiquette Components
You have the opportunity to decide what virtual meeting etiquette means for your organization and team. The same code won’t work for all meetings. The appropriate etiquette will depend on the type of meeting and the relationship between the people in attendance.
Calling a Meeting
Etiquette applies to everyone—the meeting organizer/host and the participants. Each has their own code to follow. The host’s responsibilities begin with the decision to call a meeting. Is it truly necessary? Is there another way to accomplish what you need? Reserve meetings for discussions and decisions, not reporting information.
Show respect for others when scheduling a meeting. Don’t schedule back-to-back meetings all day long. People need time to focus on their actual work.
Set an agenda for every meeting, even if it’s comprised of a few bullet points. The host should send an agenda describing the purpose of the meeting, even if it’s tentative, with the meeting invitation—that’s only polite. If you’re invited to a meeting without an agenda, ask for one so you can decide whether to attend or not. You can also use the agenda to set expectations, such as camera/microphone on or off.
Preparing for a meeting
As a participant, your duty is to review the agenda and any background materials sent by the host before the meeting. Make sure your technology is ready to go. Allow time before the meeting to mentally transition so you’re fully present. Log in early if you sense the need to chat so you don’t intrude on time reserved for the agenda. Dress appropriately and respectfully. Don’t be a distraction—a virtual meeting commandment to always heed.
Follow the established meeting protocol when deciding whether to have your camera on or off. Use a virtual background if you have concerns about your real background or if you believe your background might be a distraction. But don’t become the center of attention by using a distracting virtual background. Assess your lighting situation—sitting in the dark or in a glaring light can be a distraction too.
Make sure you understand what the meeting protocol is for microphones: mute on or off. If microphones are on, make sure you’re in a quiet room with your phone’s sound and your computer’s notifications turned off. If you need to take notes, either take them by hand or mute your microphone if you take them on your keyboard or laptop.
Running a meeting
If you’re the host, start the meeting on time. It’s unfair for those who show up on time to have to wait for others—and it’s uncool to waste their time.
Share the agenda on the screen and stick to it. If unrelated issues come up, agree to move them to the “parking lot” for consideration at another time, unless everyone insists on dealing with them at the moment.
When sharing your screen, be cognizant of what people might see in your tabs, toolbar, or notification pop-ups.
Participating in a meeting
Show some respect by not multi-tasking—everyone knows what you’re doing when the screen’s light on your face keeps changing. No snacking either.
Establish protocol on using the chat box. What works during a virtual coffee chat may not always be appropriate during a work meeting. A running chat alongside a meeting can be distracting and disrespectful to those who are talking—unless everyone’s okay with it, you decide.
If chat is allowed, don’t assume everyone is keeping up with it. Share any comments that deserve notice or call people’s attention to them.
If you have to leave the meeting unexpectedly, let the host know privately. If you’re only stepping away to sign for a package, turn off your camera and microphone, and write a be-right-back note in the chat.
Moderating and participating in discussions
The meeting host must be prepared to moderate discussions so everyone has the chance to make their voice heard. You may want to establish a protocol for participation—raising an emoji or real hand, for example. You may have to call on people who are not participating so everyone feels included and valued. By taking notes on the screen, people will see that they’ve been heard and their voice matters.
As meeting participants, we all need self-awareness. If you have a tendency to interrupt or ‘hog the microphone,’ place a sticky note on your screen to remind yourself to pause and think before speaking. Awareness is half the battle.
Ending a meeting and following up
The biggest breach of virtual meeting etiquette is calling a meeting, taking up people’s time, and then not taking any action. Two months later, you get everyone back and go through the whole charade again—that’s disrespectful.
Before the meeting ends, the host should review any action steps and assign responsibilities and deadlines (when possible) for those next steps. After the meeting, send out a recap of next steps and who’s accountable for them.
Etiquette is essentially about respecting each other. If your organization would benefit from a respectful assessment of your meeting and communication protocols and processes, contact us to see how to get started.