Online Etiquette

photo credit: filadendron

We have been thrust into the deep end of an ocean of online meetings without any lessons. And, we are feeling the pain (as well as the promise). In fact, I had a CEO recently request a blog on “online etiquette.” I laughed, she laughed, and then I realized she was serious. I said I would write if no one else had. I was certain someone had done it – even etiquette icons Emily Post or Miss Manners. Nothing. So, over the past months I have curated my tips for not only effective, but also “connected” online meetings to share with your teams. It builds upon one of our top blog posts on effective meetings and applies to the online medium. We welcome additional suggestions and ideas – as we learn more from our TrendSpotters, we plan to keep adding to it.

Etiquette of Effective and Connected Online Meetings

Conduct Orientation Ahead of Time: By my last count, there are 16 different online meeting tools. So, it is important not to assume that the participants know and understand the technology you have chosen for your meeting. In every invite, send detailed instructions, so they know how to download the tool and how it may differ from others. In the invitation and again at the start of the meeting, be sure to mention some of the features that will be used (e.g., chat, video, Q&A), so they can get comfortable with them prior to the meeting. If someone is new to technology or this particular tool, offer to have them join early to navigate any technical glitches and get basic training on the tool.

Start Strong: While this is also true of in-person meetings, if you initiate an online meeting, consider yourself the host, just like at a party. Welcome everyone and start the conversation as people arrive. My favorite conversation starters are asking about upcoming/past plans for the weekends or asking about quarantine projects (e.g., latest recipe or home improvement project). Avoid starting with something generic like “How’s it going?” where everyone can just give a one-word answer. If folks don’t know each other or are not on the same team, introduce them or have participants introduce themselves with a predetermined format (e.g., name, organization/title and a fact no one knows). If folks know each other well, you can have them check in with one of the various mood boards (here’s one of my favorites). By their very nature, online meetings work contrary to our human need to bond with groups, so your job is to start strong and build connections consistently in the meetings.

Maintain an Online PresenceFirst impressions still matter – even in online meetings. Talk to your team about norms around internal versus external meetings and expectations around backgrounds, dress and tool usage. For example, when is it appropriate to use the chat feature? I personally like people sending notes as presentations or discussions happen – it is affirming to me and shows that they are engaged. Others may be distracted by these messages, so there is a balancing act on how much a team should use chat during meetings. I also encourage my team to maintain eye contact with their webcam and view everyone Brady Bunch-style. This small thing can really transform your online meeting into a connected conversation.

Minimize Distractions: The convenience of online meetings has allowed many of us to continue business as we shelter in place. However, working from home can and does cause distractions. And, it is easy to start letting things slip into disrespectful behavior. Encourage everyone to think about online meetings as they would in-person meetings. If they get a call during a meeting, should they take it? If they get a text during a meeting, is it ok to reply? Would they eat during a meeting? If their child or cat interrupts, what would they do? In most cases, we would walk out to the room and handle the issue. My rule of thumb is to minimize distractions. Out of courtesy to those watching as well as the person presenting, I try hard to stay muted and turn off my video when an urgent distraction happens.

Be FocusedIt is easy to feel disconnected and invisible in online meetings, but there are many ways to facilitate active engagement. We recommend using some of the same methods as you would in an in-person meeting: 1) create an agenda; 2) assign roles (e.g., we like facilitator, notetaker, timekeeper); 3) use the screen when possible to illustrate points to ensure visual and verbal comprehension; and 4) signpost as much as possible, so folks know what is expected and what to prepare for.

Add Some Fun: As all our clients know, we believe our business is serious enough. Play is an important element of learning – even for adults. Find ways to gamify your meetings through polls, bingo or online brainstorming boards. Throw in a funny question. Ask everyone to come to the meeting with their favorite T-shirt on and start the meeting with “show and tell.” Encourage use of thumbs up during conversations.

Take & Give BreaksOnline meetings have many advantages, but they also come with some disadvantages that need to be mitigated. First, due to technology issues, they should be conducted at a slower pace. Remember to pause and invite questions at various points or read the chat box. Second, the attention span for online meetings is right at 30 minutes, so consider giving mental or physical breaks to help participants stay engaged.

Facilitate DiscussionIf you have the luxury of an outside facilitator, use it. If not, brush up on your facilitation skills. Some pointers from my work: 1) ask specific questions, such as “What point in the presentation surprised you?” rather than open-ended questions, such as “What did you think?”; 2) assign the role or give permission to be a “devil’s advocate” to allow people to share their concerns with an idea in a safe way; 3) ask people to use their names when commenting (e.g., “Hey, this is Suzy, and I think this point is interesting.”) to help others identify the speaker, especially when many people are in the meeting; and 4) call on certain people to share their thoughts.

End on a High NoteJust as you start with a welcome and an icebreaker, be sure to end with something significant. Allow folks to recap next steps, owners and deadlines. Then, do a brief check-out on a topic. Or, have fun and show a funny picture and ask them to comment. Laugh together. Connect on shared experiences. Remember – they are still getting asked by their families: “What did you do today?” and you want them to relay a positive experience.

We hope you enjoyed this helpful post – the better (and more enjoyable) online meetings are, the stronger we are as a community. Send us any thoughts, comments or feedback, and we will add them to our tips.


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