Meeting Etiquette in the Time of Pandemic

Here are some evolving good manners that can come in handy when your meetings get scheduled henceforth virtually whether it is via teleconference, videoconference or online meeting rooms


The coronavirus has accelerated a few changes that have been visible for a couple of years, but the world thinks things have changed in ways that are unimaginable.

Working from home (WFH) has become the new normal from an experiment by a few companies. Stress levels have gone up at every level with initial excitement for WFH ebbing within the first week as more work piled up with the lack of a disciplined approach.

Tectonic shifts such as this will have massive impacts and probably good to happen swiftly. We have less time to worry over them and have to focus on simply surviving this.

The virus is a great leveler, as it does not discriminate between enterprises of small, medium or large, or people of lower or upper level in an organization. When people are bombarded with words such as “quarantine”, “depression”, “curfew”, and “lockdown” more often, discussion on performance may seem insignificant. But the normal duties of employees must not be abdicated no matter how the world events shape up in the coming few weeks.

Though WFH is getting acceptance despite hiccups, young executives need to develop better meeting skills to accomplish more with less time.

Though most employees today have some experience in online meetings, majority are not used to logging in from the kitchen table -- and in their pajamas. Here are some evolving good manners that can come in handy when your meetings get scheduled henceforth virtually whether it is via teleconference, videoconference or online meeting rooms –Essential etiquette for the distant digital warrior:

· Find isolation within your isolation. Particularly for video meetings. Get away from that kitchen table to a home office, spare bedroom, anyplace that is out of traffic flow within your house. Your background shouldn’t be cluttered. Or use background screens if the video call application allows that. This is a good online etiquette for any virtual meeting and matters more when your boss is involved or you are the boss. Family, kids or other aspects of life bopping around in the background or interrupting the background just looks unprofessional and distracting. I have just witnessed a video meeting where a very serious-looking CEO’s black cat kept wandering in front of the camera. Additionally, if your meeting is deliberating on financials, strategy, planning and all sorts of very sensitive information, you would not want that to be floating around the home.

Respect this. Most importantly, current operational meetings will be bringing up some very unpleasant challenges never experienced before by any of the members.

· Make at-home technology your ally. As a go-getter, you need to weigh how good the technology is at your end. The best practice would be to use a desktop computer with a quality camera, either separate from the monitor or built in. A laptop computer is next in preference. It gives you more mobility, but sacrifices on video quality both ways, as well as sound. Do an online speed check of your Internet connection before the meeting. Remember, some of your colleagues may use their smart phones for meetings, but tell them to use that only as a last resort – selfie-governance is not cool.

· Ensure good audio connectivity for communication. Most of the devices you use have built-in audio and microphones, but the quality can be iffy. Invest in a proper wired-in or Bluetooth headset, either with your phone, or better, through your computer USB port. This not only makes the sound much clearer for everyone, but also assures that you are the only one on your end able to hear discussion (and no, don’t use a speakerphone). Headsets and video conferencing tools will have a mute button for microphone, and make good use of this when you are not speaking. The other participants don’t want to hear you muttering, the dog barking, wife screaming at kids, or other background noises. In fact, try making “mute” your default microphone setting, only going live when you actually have something to say.

· Stamp out distractions. Your meeting participants have a right to your focussed attention. That means blocking any popup notifications on your computer, not browsing your mail or texting while the meeting is in session, and putting your phone in silent mode. Let everyone in the house know that you are in a meeting, and ask them to please keep down background noise. Keep Bruno and Caesar out of your virtual meeting room, no matter how cute they are.

· Adhere to meeting protocols. Even when sheltering at home, keep some meeting protocol. Aim for business casual dress, or at least no pajamas. Be recognized to speak, and say your name before you do, even if the others are all familiar. If you need to take a break from the virtual meeting, let the group know, and pause your video and audio while gone. And no matter how tempting, no funny video memes, please!

Get used to the new normal before it becomes the normal!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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