Cordial protocol for virtual meetings

by Andrea Roux
Zoom in Dos and Dontspng

Virtual meetings have become a fundamental part of our normal workday. It is a frantic adapt-or-die interruption to our business’ for survival. It became instrumental overnight in aligning and enabling our workforce and managing our customers' expectations. How can we ensure that our online presence is professional, and giving us a market advantage while having a bit of fun?

Start by devoting your first virtual meeting collaborating on acceptable etiquette as part of the working agreement. Discuss the following topics and agree on what is acceptable etiquette.

1. One for all and all for one

Allowing each member to be on their own laptop, dialing into the virtual room, make all coworkers feel part of the meeting. Each member is present in this virtual room, sitting at the virtual table. Allowing some members to huddle around one laptop, screen or microphone gives certain members an advantage. The other members will not be as engaged or part of the meeting. Having all coworkers join with their own laptop gives the meeting a sense of fairness and that all are equal.

2. Don’t just say it - show it

So everyone is on the call. The sound is clear and cameras are on. Discussions start flowing and the meeting is getting traction. However soon discussions go off route, actions are discussed and individual notes are made separately. Is everyone on the same page?

Being in a virtual meeting you can’t rely on body language or using your 5 senses to communicate effectively. You need to rely on what you hear and see. Switching on the camera and some sort of visual board bring in the visual sense to further improve the effectiveness of the meeting. Sharing a visual online whiteboard (or similar tool) with your coworkers will enable collaboration as they will all be able to connect and contribute to the board. Some quiet members participate easier when they can write or explain visually. Useful free tools to use are Google Sheets, Google Slides or Miro.

3. Show yourself, but be careful what you bare

Yes, it is wholly recommended to use video as it improves engagement, but consider your exposed background. I’ve been on so many calls where some are driving in their car, others having their unmade bed in the background, or showing off the kitchen with open cupboards and dirty dishes. I’ve even been on a call where the kids are jumping and playing in the background making so much noise that the meeting could not continue. And not to mention the numerous cats (and other pets) also entering the meeting rooms. It is difficult to control your home at the best of times, but consider the following before switching on that camera:

  • Make sure your surroundings are presentable so others can take you seriously.
  • Have proper lighting and nothing or no one distracting behind you.
  • Preferably stay seated at a desk during the duration of the meeting.
  • No eating during the meeting.

4. Suit up and show up

With working from home we have the freedom to wear anything. However when you are sharing your camera your coworkers may not want to see you in your slinky nightie or your bedhead hair. The latter may be your style, but you get what I mean. If you are planning on sharing your camera for the meeting, dress for it. It is important that you dress for the virtual occasion too. Embrace the professional in you, even if it’s just from the waist up.

5. Darth Vader, adjust your mic!

Let’s leave heavy breathing for the movies. Your coworkers will definitely appreciate no exhaling into the mic. Some microphones have settings where you can adjust the sensitivity or enable a push-to-talk button. Alternatively place the mic further from your mouth or below your chin.

6. What are those embarrassing noises in the background?

Let’s face it, there will be some background noises that you will have no control over. But for those you have control over, keep them to a minimum to reduce distraction to the meeting. Here some tips:

  • If you are working from a noisy cafe or working place, make use of the mute button. Only unmute your microphone when you are talking.
  • Manage any other distracting noises on your laptop e.g. pop-ups, incoming email or instant messages sounds.
  • Don’t type on the keyboard as it is distracting. Mute your mic while you type or alternatively use your cellphone for the virtual call.

7. Touch, Pause, Engage

To ensure people don't talk at the same time, follow this scrum accredited method: 

  • Touch (get ready to unmute), 
  • Pause (wait a second and listen before jumping in) and 
  • Engage (unmute and clearly speak with wisdom, if that is possible). 

Virtual meetings make collaboration even harder. It’s super frustrating when the conversation gets going and everyone talks at the same time. With virtual meetings the flow of conversation is harder to follow which can end up with people talking over one another. To be in tune with your coworkers you need to stop and listen. Get an agreement to Touch, Pause and Engage will bestow discipline and humor any engagement.