Since 2020 at the latest, cameras have replaced meeting rooms in the majority of companies. Videoconferencing has become indispensable, but for some people this form of exchange is new and unfamiliar. We no longer find ourselves face-to-face with our interlocutors, we discuss things from a distance, and that's exactly what makes videoconferencing quite a challenge when it comes to etiquette.
With our great videoconferencing etiquette guide, we'll show you what to look out for.
Etiquette yesterday, etiquette today - what influence does digitalization have?
Much of what mattered decades ago is now as relevant as ever. After all, good manners never go out of fashion, and yet things have changed over time.
In times of digital transformation, the way people interact and communicate has also changed dramatically. Digital communication channels are now the central medium of daily interaction with our fellow human beings. Polite manners, many think, are losing more and more significance in the process. The apparent triggers: physical distance and anonymity on the internet. As an aside, the unfriendly voice of command we often give to our virtual companions - beloved Alexa, for example ("Alexa, turn off the lights!") - may not be improving matters. The digital transformation has run over society too fast for us to make appropriate norms for online interaction, but we are slowly catching up with etiquette 2.0. Particularly in videoconferencing, there are a few things we can and should pay attention to, so...
"Alexa, list the etiquette rules for videoconferencing!"
"Well, that wasn't very nice of you."
"...Alexa, could you please list the etiquette rules for videoconferencing?"
"These are the new etiquette rules for videoconferencing."
13 etiquette rules for videoconferencing
1. Choose the right place for the meeting
Working in a café, a park or a coworking space: Changing work locations has become the norm at many companies in the age of home and mobile offices - and there's nothing wrong with that in general. However, whether they are the right place for videoconferences or telephone calls is a matter of debate. Meetings are often used to discuss sensitive topics, and those topics are not meant for the general public's hearing. Ideally, you should hold videoconferences in a closed room that offers privacy.
2. Present a neat environment
In addition to choosing the right location, you should also ensure a professional environment or background. A messy living room and kitchen counter with used plates is a poor choice. Make sure that the background is as neutral and clean as possible and try to create good lighting conditions.
3. Eliminate confidential and private information
Private browser tabs, sensitive documents, chats with colleagues - in case you need to share your screen, this content has no place on your screen. Situations where you need to share your screen may arise at any time. So before you start a videoconference, you should clean up the entire screen.
4. Avoid technical problems
If you are dealing with unfamiliar videoconferencing software, find out in advance how it works. This way, you drastically reduce the likelihood of embarrassment when connecting and unnecessarily delaying the start of the videoconference.
If external partners are invited to videoconferences that run through your company's own internal software, you can prevent the problem by providing short, understandable instructions - for example, together with the agenda in the appointment invitation.
5. Avoid echoes and distracting noises
One of the most common problems, and absolutely the most unpleasant, is annoying noise caused by feedback. The most important rule: avoid echoes by reducing the background noise as much as possible and this includes, quite centrally, your own loudspeaker if it is too close to the microphone.
Visit our Learning Center for more tips on dealing with audio and video telephony problems.
6. Leave the sweatpants in the closet
Business upstairs, bad-button party downstairs. In home office times, it has arguably become the work outfit par excellence. In principle, there's nothing wrong with comfortable clothing in the home office, but when it comes to videoconferences, it's probably better to do without sweatpants. Sure, the person you're talking to will probably only see the "upstairs business" area, but there may well be situations in which you have to get up briefly - for example, when the letter carrier rings, the door has to be closed to block out distracting background noise, or if important documents are not at hand at the moment. If then a pair of sweatpants or even... well, you can imagine it.
7. Join the videoconference on time
Being an exemplary conversationalist, you sit in the meeting room 15 minutes before the scheduled videoconference appointment to go over the key talking points. You wait and wait and wait, but no one answers. The colleague knocks on the door and delivers the shock news: "The partner from China said he was stood up this morning."
The rule is simple and all too obvious. Yet, there are situations in which it seems to be thrown overboard all the time. Be on time and join the call on time, and also pay attention to the time difference in other countries when making an appointment.
8. Be aware of the various customs and traditions of other countries
Speaking of other countries, different customs may apply depending on the country of origin. So, in order not to put your foot in your mouth, you should learn about the customs and habits of the person you are talking to. Here are a few examples:
In the US, meetings start and end on time. In addition to the "join in on time" rule, another rule applies here: be careful not to overrun and don't bring up topics that aren't on the agenda. To avoid this problem in the first place, you should think very carefully in advance about what is to be discussed so you can set the necessary time slot as precisely as possible.
The situation is different in India. Here, meetings are generally started with small talk. Plan time for that, too, and take an active part in the conversation.
In Japan, on the other hand, people take special care to avoid obvious criticism. Anything else is considered to be impolite. Instead of answering explicitly with a "no," it is better to reject implicitly.
9. Turn on the camera
Every Monday, the team leader gives a brief review of the past week to... yes to whom, anyway?
Some days it feels more tempting to not turn on the camera and just listen. Those days exist, no question. However, it can be very uncomfortable for the speaker to speak in front of an unseen audience, not knowing if they are even following the talk. Be collegial and turn on the camera to support the speaker and also show him or her that you are listening carefully.
10. Don't forget to mute yourself
In videoconferencing, it is also good manners not to make a sound now and then. If others are speaking and you yourself do not speak for a longer period of time, you should mute yourself to avoid upsetting others with annoying background noise or even drowning them out. You can unmute yourself with a simple click as soon as you want to speak.
11. Let others speak out
What applies in normal office life as well as in private conversations is of course also required digitally. Don't interrupt other conferees and let everyone have their say. This is sometimes more difficult with video, especially when there are time delays. In addition, you should avoid ending every sentence of your conversation partner with confirming words such as "ok", "yes" or "all clear". What is common practice in face-to-face conversations can be distracting in videoconferences.
12. Stay on task and don't multitask
When you hold meetings via a videoconferencing tool, it's quite naturally much more tempting to take care of other things on the side than it is when you meet in person in a dedicated meeting room.
A message pops up on the screen. Why not reply real quick?
Quite simply, it's not very respectful of the other people you're talking to. Be on point, keep eye contact and avoid multitasking!
13. Make sure you appear friendly and interested
Have you ever noticed that - depending on the type and positioning of the terminal you're using - you can look pretty bored or bad-tempered via video, even though that's not actually the case? Placing your notebook or tablet on a slightly elevated surface - on a stack of books, for example - can have an enormous effect on the perception of your counterpart. In any case, you should pay attention to your facial expressions, because a friendly smile is still the best way to counteract a negative impression. A positive side effect: with a smile on your lips, your voice automatically sounds sympathetic and friendly.
Group calls are an ingenious way to facilitate meetings anywhere and at any time. With international partnerships, it's a great support and in times of pandemic, we absolutely depend on it. We are slowly getting used to the fact that a large part of communication is suddenly virtual. What we must not forget is the sense of good and respectful behavior.
"Thank you, Alexa!"