5 tell-tale signs professional etiquette has left the building


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Online meeting etiquette

Today I wanted to talk about online meetings. It strikes me that it’s been six months since everyone went home and meetings went online but still very few organisations have been explicit about online meeting etiquette.

In recent months, I have encountered some really surprising behaviours online that would simply never be tolerated if you were sat around a meeting room table.

1. Let’s start with the camera…

About 15 years ago, I recall a friend recounting a recent trip to the Middle East where her host, on discovering that his visitor was in fact a woman, summoned an aide to put up a screen on the table between them. I remember giggling when told this story. But now here we are 15 years later and the same thing is occurring in the UK. Perhaps you are the culprit who puts the screen up or perhaps it’s those you meet with? In reality every time there is a video call/meeting between two people, one with camera on and one with camera off, isn’t that exactly what is happening – you join the call expecting a level playing field in respect of communication, but one person has chosen to put a screen up. And somehow people have decided that this is acceptable. I would question whether it really is acceptable. Feels pretty rude to me if I’m brutally honest!

2. Let me now turn to online meeting behaviours…

If I sat across a meeting table from you, how astonished would you be if whilst we were talking, I carried on doing my emails and replying to messages. It’s bizarre that what was considered unacceptable just a few months ago is now accepted as ‘normal’.  I recently heard someone admitting, during a meeting with multiple people attending, that the meeting was their chance with camera off to catch up on their emails. I am staggered no one ever suggests that this is rude or is it just another behaviour that has crept in in recent months and no one dares challenge?

3. A variation on a theme of ‘rude’…

During a video call, when there are a group of people with cameras on, and it becomes clear that a number of them are exchanging texts or other messages effectively ‘under the desk’, prompting giggles, sly looks, nods etc. between those behaving this way all of which are out of sync with the content of the meeting. It’s really off putting to those not engaged in this ‘whispering’ and childish nonsense.  In fact it is not just off putting but hugely distracting if you are presenting at the meeting and what confounds me is that no one calls them out on this unacceptable behaviour. Again, I question how this has come about when it would never be allowed in a professional face-to-face meeting.

4. Let’s think about how you appear on screen…

I have been amused in recent weeks during calls with one particular person that all I can ever see of her is from chin to forehead. Each time we talk I am distracted wondering how she has positioned her camera so that I can only see her from the chin up. Really…..how does she do that? I find some of the best connections I have online are when I can see the other person from their chest or shoulders up. In fact the more I can see, whilst still being close enough to see their face, the more non verbal behaviours I can observe which all enhance the communication. It’s the shoulder shrugs, leaning forward or back etc. that give me a sense of really meeting with them. And when its just someone from the chin up, all I get a sense of is ‘this is weird’. Plus, exactly what is she hiding? She is a lovely person but I get this nagging sense of something is not quite right, something is missing.

It’s a rare person though who asks someone to adjust their camera and on the few occasions I have done, it’s as though I have slapped or publicly reprimanded the person – always I get a sense of a disproportionate response to what has been asked, and that’s another odd online behaviour that has emerged. But if no one comments on how they see us how will we ever learn or change what we are currently doing?

5. Now let me ask whether during your online meeting you have your office door shut?

I cannot remember the last time I had a face-to-face meeting with a client or employee and the door was not shut to give us some privacy and sense of shared quiet space. However, during online meetings it is not uncommon to see members of someone’s family wandering in and out of the room just behind the person I’m talking to. And more often than not they wander in and out without ever acknowledging they are walking in and out of your meeting. Weirder still are those meetings when you are talking to someone and clearly they are also regularly communicating with someone who is just off screen – “yes, please make me a tea”, “no, go away as I’m busy”, “yes please pick up the dog and put it on my lap” … weird!

I am also quite curious why the Information Commissioner has not yet said anything about the billions of data breaches that will have occurred during homeworking across the past six months. As an employer would you be happy for an unknown individual to walk through a meeting room during a confidential business discussion? The reality of course is that you wouldn’t, but no one says anything. How strange is that?

Whilst I am back at my office desk and have been for 2 months now, there are still millions of employees who continue to work from home, many of whom do not have a private space to work in, no security protected WiFi to use that others cannot access and family members, flat mates and friends wandering in and out randomly.

But all I hear from businesses thinking about whether or not to ask staff to return to offices, is how much can be saved when people home work and office leases are ended… and how much more productivity and engagement there is to be had when staff get to work the way they want to. Has the Information Commissioner lost its teeth whilst the government creates a way of working to save the nation’s health or, more controversially in recent weeks, to pander to those who are somewhat ‘workshy’? If so, for how long has our beloved Information Commissioner lost its teeth before it comes roaring back into action with its 4% of annual turnover fines?

But please don’t think that I am not immune to these losses of professional etiquette, it’s so easy to get sucked in. To my shame, I found myself in an online meeting last week having totally forgotten to exchange some pleasantries with the person I was speaking to as the call began. Instead I launched straight into business while he struggled to bring me back to the kind of discussion we would normally have.

How have we become so intense during online meetings that we forget to be polite?

Perhaps it is that in our focus on making home and online working productive, we have bypassed the bit about why professional etiquette is just as important? Is it time we all started remembering our manners?

What are your thoughts, opinions, experiences?

This is a personal blog written by Helen Jamieson. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Jaluch Ltd. The views and opinions posted in response to this blog are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily represent those of Helen Jamieson or Jaluch Ltd. Jaluch Ltd is not responsible for the accuracy of the information within this blog.

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