10 Things NOT to Do in a Virtual Meeting

The COVID crisis has triggered an evolution in the ways that we work and interact. Virtual meetings are here to stay, and, as we move forward, should be conducted with the same professionalism as in-person meetings.


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I read recently that Zoom’s mobile app had 14 million active monthly users at the beginning of March of this year. By the end of May, that number had ballooned to 173 million and we all know why. Recent events have propelled us into a world platformed by the likes of Zoom, GoToMeeting, Bluejeans, Microsoft Teams and others, and left us scurrying to learn how to access and use them effectively. This renaissance has also led to a whole new host of virtual pet peeves, the likes of which I’m happy to share this month. Consider these 10 things NOT to do in a virtual meeting:

Show Up Late – We were all busy before the COVID crisis. Many of us are even busier now. Don’t keep us waiting to begin a meeting. Arrive on time and, if an urgent matter arises that will cause you to be tardy, text or otherwise notify the meeting organizer so they know not to wait.

Dress like a Slob – I maintain the same personal dress code for virtual meetings that I do for in-person ones. For our companies, casual is fine for internal meetings. This includes hoodies, ball caps and the like if that’s what you’re comfortable in and it’s just us. When it comes to virtual meetings with clients and other outside contacts, we dress accordingly. Yes, I still put on a jacket for virtual meetings with clients.

Work on Something Else – Do I glance at my phone in a conference room meeting if I’m expecting an urgent email or text message? Yes. Do I do so in a virtual meeting? Yes. But sitting on a web meeting and clearly ignoring the meeting while working on something else is rude. Further, for those of you who think nobody can tell and you’re getting away with it, you’re not. Your teammates are just too polite or timid to tell you that everyone on the meeting sees your eyes dotting around, notes your disinterest and can tell you’re reflexively laughing when everyone else does even though you weren’t paying attention.

Turn Off Your Camera – You were invited to the meeting for a reason. Please be present by leaving your camera on throughout. When you turn it off, we all assume you’re…. (see “Work on Something Else”).

Stay Unmuted – By now, just about everyone has figured out that they should mute their microphone when not talking to spare everyone else the feedback and background noise, but there are still a few outliers. Mute your mic please.

Sneer “You’re Muted” – We all know the routine. To paraphrase Pink Floyd, their lips move but we can’t hear what they’re saying. Every meeting seems to have that one jerk who barks “You’re muted!” at every opportunity. We are all guilty of forgetting to unmute. Just smile and gently remind the offender that their mic isn’t on. 

Ignore Your Tech Problems – Boy, those first few weeks of working remotely were rough, with insufficient bandwidth and inadequate hardware standing in the way of productive virtual meetings. By now, people’s patience with your connectivity issues is wearing thin. If you’re working from home, it’s on you to invest in the wireless technology and service that’s necessary for you to do so effectively.

At-Home Side Shows – Early on in the COVID crisis, when parents were scrambling to figure out how to balance work commitments with kids that were home all day, and our pets had no idea we were on a virtual meeting, there was rightly a high level of patience with the random interruptions they caused. As the crisis comes under control and we work from home out of convenience rather than necessity, patience with frolicking kids in pajamas and barking dogs will wane.

Background Flexing – A business associate has an opulent home on a high bluff overlooking a picturesque lake. The view is stunning. It was also obvious during a recent virtual meeting that he had positioned his webcam at an angle such that the view of the lake perfectly silhouetted our view of him. Why do the same people who reminded us regularly that they had pulled into the office lot in their Lexus or BMW now have a need to showcase their homes on virtual meetings? Turn your computer around and spare us.

Cutesy Background – A close cousin to the Flex is the faux background some choose from the Zoom menu. Employer-branded backgrounds are fine, as are the classy garden, library and office ones. Sports stadiums and concert venues are gaudy and should be saved for virtual meetings with family and friends — and to the annoying coworker who first discovers them while on a meeting and experiments with a new one every 90 seconds, we have enough distractions without yours.

Necessity is indeed the mother of all invention, and out of the COVID crisis will spring a variety of innovation and evolution in the ways that we work and interact. Virtual meetings are not going away, but the bothersome virtual behaviors in which some chose to engage should. If any of the above apply to you, you’ll do yourself and the rest of us a favor by taking notice.