Etiquette Tips for Online Meetings

Due to this novel* coronavirus, we’ve been worshipping and sitting in meeting upon meeting for the past four months – so as an update to our first logistics hints, here are some etiquette tips for online meetings.

I asked Facebook – What do you wish everybody knew? And what rule do you most often break?

Keep yourself muted, unless it’s time for you to speak.

This was, by far, the most often made suggestion. Put simply, our homes are noisy and unexpected things happen – no need to distract everybody when the phone rings, the kids argue, the dog sees a squirrel.

The one exception to this is in small informal groups – and even then, have your mouse hovering over that mute button for when you need it.

Related – The importance of taking turns
In small groups back-and-forth is fine. Once you get more than about a half-dozen people, taking turns needs to be more intentional, whether that’s raising hands, having a facilitator invite specific people to talk, using the chat box, or going to breakout rooms.

And each of us can consider whether or not any particular idea we have needs to be shared right now. You’ve likely seen the THINK acronym (Is it True? Helpful? Inspiring? Necessary? Kind?) I also quite like this Quaker flow chart.

In youth groups, we consider Step-up/Step-back – if you’re generally a quiet person you might need to set a goal to share at least once. If you’re an extravert, you might need to stay quiet to more equitably share time. 

CAMERAS – on or off?

This is highly contextual on your culture. In church meetings, most people have their cameras on, but in some workplaces and other groups, the assumption is that your camera is off unless you’re presenting.

DEFINITELY have your camera off if you’re not fully dressed. Yes, really. Or maybe you decide to keep the camera off because brushing hair was just too much work this morning.

EATING – yes, we all have to eat. And sometimes you just don’t have a break to do so between meetings. BUT unless everyone is eating (dinner party!), keep your camera off. No one wants to watch you chew.

IF YOU NEED TO MOVE YOUR DEVICE, please stop video while doing so. Sure, you can take the ipad into the kitchen while you grab another cup of coffee, but we don’t need to be dizzied.

Think about what your fellow participants are looking at –

Lighting – in general, you want the light to be at your face, NOT behind you. I’ve moved desks and lamps to give myself better lighting. If you don’t want to move furniture, well, at least close the curtains so you don’t look like you’re in the Witness Protection Program.

Camera height – check to see if your image is eye-to-eye or if people are seeing the top of your head or the worst angle of your chin. On a desktop, you’ll adjust your webcam, and on a laptop just change the angle of your screen. If you’re on a phone or tablet, find something to rest the device on so the image stays stable and your arm doesn’t get tired.

What’s behind you? Because of this new reality, we’re signing in from our bedrooms, our living rooms, with the people and pets and the piles of stuff each of us has grown accustomed to. Some are curating their framing with well-stocked bookcases and house plants. Heck, there are folks rating this.

Virtual backgrounds – Some people love them, some people hate them. Yes, they can hide a cluttered room and give a little whimsy. Are they something we can smile at and then ignore for the rest of the meeting, or will we be distracted?

Special mention – ceiling fans! Air circulation is important, yes. And know that the strobing motion of the blades (or even how they affect the light in your room) can be distracting our even painful for others in your meeting.  How can you angle your device to keep the fan out of view?
Someone else’s fan making you nauseous? Switch views so they’re not visible on your screen, OR keep a few sticky notes handy to put over those squares! 

Chat Box Etiquette

This is another area that is HIGHLY dependent on your group culture – some groups do not use the feature at all. Others only use it at specific directed times. Other groups use it throughout, in an ongoing and multi-strand conversation.

Get a feeling for how your group is using the chat box. If you’re the facilitator, model how you’d like it used, and give tips as needed. (Remind people that their message will be labeled with their name automatically, and they need to hit enter to have the message go through!) And bonus – know that links are only clickable when in a full http:// format!

Keep in mind that the default in most interfaces is for whatever you type in the chat to go to EVERYONE – there may be a dropdown menu where you can change that to a private chat to just one person.

Finally, if you find the chat box too distracting, you can close the box, and you can turn off the notifications completely.

Plan Ahead

If you’re the host, log in promptly and make sure everything’s working as you intend. Rehearse things that might be complicated. And have an agenda for how you’d like things to proceed – just because participants are logging in from home doesn’t mean their time is less valuable!

For all participants-

If you’re concerned about your technology, log in a little early. If you don’t even know where to start, reach out for help – WELL BEFORE THE MEETING. Yes, I’m happy to troubleshoot with you, but not on Sunday morning.

If your wi-fi is uncertain, figure out how to plug in to your router or a network drop. Or call in on your phone. Phone connections may require additional log-in information from your host. This is definitely something to investigate well before the meeting.

Finally, and most importantly:

Let’s all approach this time with GRACE.

We’re all going to oops. I’m pretty sure I’ve made every mistake on this list, and can look forward to a myriad of whoopses to come. So, when we do mess up, what do we do?

    1. Carry on – if you must, offer a brief apology. And not everything needs an apology. Forgot to unmute? Just click the button and start your sentence again.
    2. Take a breath. Calm can help, even if it doesn’t actually fix things.
    3. Do your best to keep your sense of humor, or at least perspective! 

So, what else should we add to this list? Drop me a line to let me know!

*Can it really be a novel coronavirus when we’re so sick of it?