Different types of unified communications have become prevalent across a variety of industries, from corporate to creative. By using this technology, anyone can get together to collaborate, create, and get the job done. It is even being used in the medical industry as the popularity of telemedicine grows, and HR departments are often utilizing online video conferencing (by companies like Blue Jeans) to conduct video interviews with candidates.
Chances are, you’ve been involved in at least one — or perhaps many — of these types of meetings. But are you engaging in them with the correct etiquette in mind? Believe it or not, there is indeed a code of conduct when you enter into these conversations, and there are a few big mistakes you should be wary of making.
Make Sure You Look Presentable
If you’re working from the comfort of your own home via freelance or if you’re an entrepreneur who works with friends, you might not always be ready for action in a web chat. However, if you know in advance that you have something scheduled with a professional client or coworker, you should go the extra mile and the additional effort to look presentable. Dress professionally for your business discussion, and be dressed from head to toe. You don’t want to be known for showing up in pajamas on camera, and looking as if you didn’t take the call seriously and just rolled out of bed. On that same note, don’t just wear a jacket and tie if you’ve only got underwear on your bottom half. You never know when you’ll have to get up to move around or find yourself unexpectedly fidgeting and exposing the fact that you’re dressed—or rather, not dressed—in a completely inappropriate way.
Clean Up Your Surroundings
Having a mess in the background can prove to be quite a distraction for other people on the call. If you have a conference scheduled, clean up the area in which you’ll be making the call from. Put away clutter, clean up any piles of clothes or other items that in the background, and do a quick sweep to see if anything inappropriate is visually in your frame. Business Insider mentions one tale in which a participant’s dog walked across the sightline of the camera. That being said, you’ll want to ensure that you pets are kept out of the area in which you’ll be talking. You don’t want your dog barking or howling or your cat jumping up into your lap—or onto your computer keyboard, as they are wont to do—in the middle of your conversation.
Don’t Treat It as Meal Time
Eating while talking to somebody else can be incredibly distracting. If nobody explicitly expressed that the gathering would have to be a breakfast or lunch affair, then refrain from biting into your bagel or sandwich. If it does happen to be a call during which participants are encouraged to eat as part of a more casual, teambuilding affair, check that your microphone is on mute when you’re not speaking, so that nobody has to hear you chew. You wouldn’t want to summon the rage of any coworkers who have misophonia, as this New York Times blogger explains.
Make Sure Your Equipment Is Working
One of the biggest inconveniences during any type of call is faulty equipment. Do not forget to test everything beforehand, and check that your camera and microphone are working. Test your internet connection, and carry out any necessary adjustments. You don’t want to spend half of your meetings forcing others to endure your troubleshooting trials and tribulations. At best, all of the “can you hear me now”s and “is my camera working”s are an awkward inconvenience; at worst, you’ll end up looking terribly unprepared.
Don’t Forget an Agenda
Of course, if you’re the one who’s holding the conversation together, the last thing you’ll want to do is to cause participants to feel as if their time is being wasted, just as you’d like to avoid in a face to face meeting. Start the meeting on time, and have a clear agenda prepared beforehand of topics you’d like to cover and issues you’d like to address. You want your participants to feel as if the situation is highly organized and under control, and avoid meandering or meaningless banter.
Overall, video conferences aren’t rocket science, but they do come with their own set of rules and quirks to keep in mind. When in doubt, just approach the situation as you would approach any other face to face meeting: with etiquette, class, and professionalism. As these technologies become more and more ubiquitous, the potential of face to face meetings dying out seems completely likely, so you might as well become an expert at the virtual kind while you can, and get ahead of the competition.
Image source: Viktor Hanacek