Working from home: online meeting etiquette

Normally, I spend my working week dashing from one client’s office to another. Our sessions are always face-to-face, up close, and personal.

That changes as of today as I will be working strictly from home. Unfortunately, I could see this coming. I wouldn’t call myself a pessimist; however, my old army training taught me to always hope for the best but prepare for the worst. And that’s what I did.  Last week, I set up everything to do my lessons online until this crisis passes. I don’t have any problem with this change – to me, it’s business as usual. Luckily, most of my clients feel the same way.

But not everyone is happy about this move to an exclusively online world. Some of the pushback is because people don’t like change. But a lot of it comes because people don’t behave well during video conferences. So, I’ve decided to dedicate the next few articles on these issues. We’ll talk about the language of change next week. But this week I want to talk about online meeting etiquette.

The first question you have to ask is: do you actually need this meeting at all? 

In 2017, the Harvard Business Review surveyed 182 senior managers in a variety of industries and they found that 65% said meetings kept them from their work, and 71% said meetings were unproductive and inefficient. So, the question about whether you need to have a meeting is an important one, particularly now. Many people find working from home difficult because it’s easy to get distracted.  The situation with the coronavirus will make this even worse. In addition to normal distractions, many people will also have spouses working from home and kids who have been stuck inside for days or even weeks. If they have to attend unnecessary meetings, they won’t get anything productive done.

So, before you send that meeting request, think if this is something that can be done by email instead.

During the meeting

Here are some rules to follow if you do need to have a meeting by video conference.

  • Try to do it someplace where people can’t see a lot of where you are: no unmade beds or clothes drying on racks behind you. If you’re not sure, sit where you have a plain wall as the background.
  • Wear something appropriate – at least on top. Personally, when I work from home I usually have on a T-shirt and yoga pants. When I go online, I simply put a blouse or a cardigan over the t-shirt. No one is expecting you to be “suited and booted” but respect that this is still a business situation.
  • Remember the camera is on and people can see you frowning, rolling your eyes, and making faces. If you wouldn’t do it or say it in a face-to-face meeting, don’t do it on a video one.
  • If you are attending a large meeting and want to say something, raise your hand. You’re not asking permission to speak; you’re just letting people know that you would like to do so. And if you are chairing the meeting, go out of your way to make sure you include everyone.
  • Close your email, turn off social media, and give your full attention to the meeting.  If you don’t, you might miss important information and, well, it’s the polite thing to do.
  • If there are others at home with you during the meeting, make sure you either close the door or put your computer on mute. A friend recently told me she was on a call and she could hear the toilet flushing in the background. We don’t need (or want) to hear that.

Remember, most of the time when people work from home, it’s their choice and they have some control over it.  This time, it’s not and we have no idea how long it’s going to last. So, show a little patience, be polite, and use a little common sense.

If you have tips you’d like to add, please put them in the comments below. We’d all love to hear from you!

My name is Laura Marshallsay, and I help professionals improve their English so they can present themselves to the world with confidence. Contact me today about your Business English training needs. One-to-one lessons, classroom training, and workshops are available. Check out my website, for more information and to download my free guide “Top Tips for Conference Calls.”

If you found this article helpful, check out my new online course, Complex Emails Made Simple. In this course, I cover email structure and formality, politeness and softening, and writing difficult emails. A great course to help you every day!




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