Zooming with grace

‘Great, I’ll organise a zoom meeting and we can discuss it face to face.’

A Zoom class showing 12 students

A class at NMIT taught via zoom. Image: Jenni Komarovsky

A year ago, most people wouldn’t have understood those words. In our current world of physical distancing, you hear them frequently. Even the fact that I’m spelling ‘zoom’ with a lowercase z shows how ubiquitous the concept has become.

And how I hate those words. A zoom (or any other online platform that allows us to interact using video and audio on our tech devices) meeting is not the same as meeting face to face. Granted, it’s the next best thing – but there are differences in the way we interact on a screen, and we’re all still learning to get to grips with these differences. 

Please tell me you wouldn’t munch your food, scratch your balls or blow smoke at people if you were in the same room?

There seems to be no clear etiquette and standard protocols for online meetings. Listen closely, children, while I propose some guidelines now …

1. Mute when you’re not talking

The zoom audio is delivered down a narrow channel, and it can’t present all sounds to everyone at once. It will choose the loudest sound and override all others. If you’re tapping away at the keyboard, blowing your nose or shuffling papers, there will be an interruption in the current speaker’s sound. Unless this is a riotous, informal gathering or there are only two or three people in the meeting, mute your microphone when you aren’t talking.

2. Raise your hand to talk

So, how do you interrupt the current speaker with your pertinent comment? Remember what we used to do in the old days when we wanted to talk in the classroom of Mr Jones, our crusty old English teacher? That’s right, raise your hand. A good meeting organiser will give you space by inviting your comment and either unmuting your microphone or asking you to do it. Have your say, and then … remember point 1?

3. Use Chat sparingly

Chat is a great feature of zoom – a little bit like texting for meetings. It’s fun to have private conversations with other people in the virtual room. It’s not such fun when you make a snide remark about another meeting participant and forget to make it private, then realise that everyone’s eyes have swivelled to read that incriminating comment and then to the little window on the screen containing your face. At that point, you may want to jump ahead to point 6.

4. Be aware of your clothes and background

We’ve all heard the one about the person who needed to get up during a meeting to fetch something from the next room, forgetting that their bottom half was clad only in underwear and fluffy slippers. Don’t be that person. Dress as if you’re meeting people face to face. By the same token, tidy the area behind you so that it’s not visually distracting for others. After all, you’re inviting them into your personal space, whether it’s your office or your home, and if they were physically there you’d probably do a quick tidy-up before they arrived.

5. Behave as if you’re all in the same room

Perhaps this one should be at the top of the list. I’ve sat, fuming, through meetings where people ate their lunch, scratched themselves in embarrassing places, or even lit up a fag or vaped. Please tell me you wouldn’t munch your food, scratch your balls or blow smoke at people if you were in the same room? Behaving as if you’re on your own is just plain disrespectful to the other people in your zoom meeting. 

6. Turn off video if you need to

You’d probably drink water, coffee or tea if meeting your fellow zoomers in person, but there may be circumstances where even that would show disrespect. If you need to do anything that could be seen as bad etiquette or is visually distracting to others, turn off your screen. If you have a picture of yourself smiling at them, they will still feel like you are there.

7. Smile – you’re on camera

We have to live with this technology and way of doing things now. Make the best of it, even if it’s a less than optimal form of communication for you. Smile, and the world will (probably) pick up on your positive energy and smile with you.

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This blog is part of the NMIT Blog Network. The articles and comments in this blog are the opinion of the authors and not necessarily those of NMIT.