Online meetings: a lesson in etiquette

21 January 2016

Online meetings: a lesson in etiquette

When it comes to etiquette, there are a few rules we all know: no elbows on the table during dinner, use the utensils on the outside first, and place your napkin in your lap while eating. But wishing someone a good meal is not appropriate in some countries, for example. It implicates that the meal might not be that good in the first place.

Especially in a professional setting there are many situations in which we would like to behave properly and polite, but have no clue which actions are appropriate and which are not. When it comes to modern technology it is even harder: are there any rules you should live by? And what do they say?

Online meetings are a great example of a situation in which you can offend your colleagues or clients without even realizing it. Conference calls via Skype for Business can be very efficient, but not when people interrupt each other or get annoyed by one another. Being a Skype for Business expert, I would like to share a few tips with you to make online meetings run smoothly:

1. Join the call in time

Even if you remain behind your desk for a conference call, make sure you prepare yourself in time. Use those ten minutes you would normally use to walk to the conference room and get coffee to have a look at the to do list, preceding emails and your sign on credentials. If a meeting starts at 11am, be sure to join the call a couple minutes in advance so you are able to actually kick off at 11am. Nothing is more impolite than making your colleagues or clients wait for you.

2. Be aware of background noise

Participants in online meetings might not be able to see each other, but they are definitely able to hear everything: that makes sound extra important. Using a system that supports HD audio is preferred. That way it sounds like the participants are in the room with you. However, background noise proves to be a problem. In case you find yourself in a noisy office, search for a quiet spot or put your microphone on mute. Do not play YouTube videos and sign out of Spotify. Chewing gum is also a big no-no. Sniffing or breathing loudly is not always preventable, but be aware of the fact you are doing it. You might want to get a noise-canceling microphone or mute yourself when you are just listening for an extended period of time. If you work from home, make sure there is no background noise from your kids or your pets.

3. Make sure the technology works

When you are in the middle of a discussion during a conference call, it is not very convenient if you can not hear half of what the other participants are saying. That is why you always need to check if your devices and gadgets do what they should be doing. A ten dollar headset might not have the quality you are looking for, but a pricy wireless headset is also useless when you have not charged it beforehand.

4. Be organized

Just like regular meetings, online meetings are scheduled for a reason. Make sure you set up an agenda and get it to all participants in time (not just five minutes in advance). Recruit a chairman or chairwoman to make the meeting run smoothly. If you want to make a conference call more ‘alive’, it might be a good idea to share your screen and show the participants certain files or presentations. Be careful when you share your screen however, irrelevant pages or programs should be closed.

5. Be focused

It can be very tempting to go on Facebook or Twitter during a conference call, but you should refrain from that and try to stay focused. If you lose your concentration you are not able to deliver valuable input and chances are you miss important details. When you try and focus you minimize the risk of talking over people out of nowhere, which is not only impolite to the person that was speaking but also confusing for the other participants.

Speaking for myself, I believe the rules above are not too hard to live by. Being at a party and not knowing how to properly hold your wineglass or what foods can be eaten with your hands is way more challenging. In short, following the etiquette for online meetings takes little effort but is crucial to making them more effective!

Author - Lucas Wensing, CEO StartReady

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