With more teams working remotely these days than at any other time in business history, it’s easy to forget there are still ground rules to observe. Many of them are common courtesy, and some are essential to leading effective virtual meetings. If you have recently switched to remote work or a hybrid work scenario, try to remember the golden rule: Virtual meeting etiquette is the same as in-person meeting etiquette (e.g., yes, you should wear pants) — except your pets may be making a surprise guest appearance.
Keeping focused and on-topic can be a lot more difficult with remote meetings because of the relaxed atmosphere of being in comfortable surroundings, but it’s not impossible. Here are some simple ways to make sure your online meeting is just as professional as if you were meeting your teams face-to-face.
7 rules for facilitating good virtual meeting etiquette
1. Prevent distractions, but plan for them to happen
A recent survey conducted among office workers in full-time jobs pre-pandemic by Udemy found that reducing distractions makes people more productive and increases motivation. Your attendees should be observant during a meeting — their focus should be on the agenda and on the speaker.
But interruptions happen. How you react to an interruption is just as important as how you would react in an office meeting. Pets, loved ones, and/or delivery people will occasionally walk on-screen or ring the doorbell during a remote meeting — don't overreact. It will result in losing focus during the meeting.
As the meeting facilitator, limit the distractions you have control over before the meeting starts. Check that phones are off (or, let’s be real, muted), check to see you have everyone’s attention and make sure your work area is secure and private. Also, practice looking directly at the camera when speaking, and encourage others to do so as well to show everyone they have your complete attention.
Invite everyone to take a moment to close their emails and give their phone a 'rest' for a while. In a longer workshop, build time in for breaks to check for urgent requests and let participants know this will happen, so they don't feel worried about missing an important notification.
2. Limit side conversations from the attendees
Having a chat while a meeting is going on is not necessarily a bad thing — it keeps communication open and allows a collaborative transfer of ideas. But a side conversation in a remote meeting should be a quick, informal on-topic message in chat. Anything more complex is distracting, and attendees could lose focus.
Participants should quickly table any side chat that requires a complex or intricate discussion. In order to keep the meeting on track, schedule a separate time for a post-meeting discussion.
Using a visual collaboration platform turns the idea of side conversations on its head — rather than worrying about distractions, having a shared digital space allows meeting participants to engage directly with one another in a constructive (and productive) way, moving initiatives forward.
3. Come prepared and on time
Although this seems like common sense, many people will scramble as the virtual meeting starts to find notes, files, paper and pen, or some other item you need to engage in the meeting.
This is another distraction that’s prevented by keeping a simple (mental or physical) checklist of all the things you need ahead of time. Also, try to log in a minute or two before the meeting start time in case you run into any technical errors and need help. No one wants to start a meeting while the facilitator is getting their material together.
Another element of being prepared — distributing the meeting agenda before the meeting. You want your participants to come combat-ready with questions and feedback.
Use the who/what/why framework for meeting invitations. Add one line about the purpose and add the link to the mural and other documents into your calendar invitation. This gives everyone enough context to begin the meeting and have all of the information accessible when you begin. Hold 5-15 minutes in your calendar before a meeting so you have time to review and prepare and invite others to that pre-session time to prepare on their own.
4. Decide on a "muting" policy
Do you keep all mics on or muted during the meeting? Most facilitators will ask for mics to be muted unless speaking. But to preserve the integrity of sharing and collaboration, you want to keep the mic on in some cases.
When to keep mute off
Human communication involves a lot of cues, mostly nonverbal, which are conveyed by correct and constant monitoring of the subject. 70% of communication is non-verbal, according to research on non-verbal cues in tense and conflict situations.
A meeting facilitator has to be mindful of accurately identifying non-verbal cues to lead a meeting and “read the room.” These cues include tone of voice, inflection, gestures, facial expressions, and reactions to other speakers.
You should also be aware of non-native speakers at the meeting. Many times these attendees rely on facial expressions and non-verbal cues to get the full context of a response — a good reason to not mute a meeting.
When to mute
There are definitely situations where placing everyone on mute is a good idea. Large video calls can get messy — mute attendees where there are over five people in a meeting. You should also ask participants to mute when background noise is extremely loud or distracting, when they are in a public space (café or park), or whenever you hear a feedback echo.
Since every meeting is different, it helps to set expectations about how to engage upfront. Use the time reviewing the agenda to let everyone know when it's time to come off mute and participate. In the meantime, invite and show them how to use reactions in a mural to express themselves with a "thumbs up" or "heart" even while they're muted. In the meeting invitation, use words like 'video-on,' 'interactive' and 'discussion' to let people know it will be more than just a presentation.
Again, one of the best ways to build better connection and engagement is through the use of a visual framework in a shared digital space. If there are potential language barriers, or a wide range of comfort levels regarding speaking in a group setting, platforms like MURAL help alleviate those issues by offering concrete means to engage through visual collaboration.
5. A meeting leader should never leave the room
Except in cases of extreme emergencies, leaving the room during the meeting is almost as disruptive as walking out in the middle of an in-office meeting. There are exceptions, but a more considerate and less distracting tip would be to discreetly stop the video on your teleconferencing software or maybe disable the camera for a quick moment.
Always leave a chat message to let the team know you will leave and for how long so they can defer important conversations until you return.
6. Your background is just as important as your face
Your background says just as much about you as your appearance does. And when your background contains inappropriate or private information, it could be disruptive and damaging — especially if you're leading the meeting.
Many video conferencing apps offer a blurred background feature or allow you to customize your own. If your software does not, however, or you are unsure how to use it, take a minute to make sure the range of your web camera doesn’t pick up anything that might offend anyone at the meeting. Just as you wouldn’t hang anything offensive or inappropriate on the walls of the meeting room at work, take care to do the same in your remote workspace.
7. Opt for shorter meetings
A short meeting leaves less time for distractions to grow. The attention span of your attendees is important, which is why quick 15-minute meetings with clear agendas are so effective.
TED Talks limits their talks to 18 minutes (with many coming in much shorter) because they clearly feel that the attention span for average viewers is less than 15 minutes. Shorter is better, according to Ted Talks. This can be applied to your meetings as well.
Allot 15 minutes, then add incremental time as the agenda calls for, but shoot for a 15-minute end goal. If your meeting is a daily stand-up, the keyword is stand — have your attendees stand for meetings of fifteen or fewer minutes to keep them focused. It helps to sharpen focus, keep agendas on track, and keep attendees motivated, even if they’re remotely attending your meeting.
Here's a short checklist to bring to your next remote meeting:
Before the meeting:
Log in two minutes before the meeting to identify any technical problems
Is the agenda set, and has it been distributed?
Has the time slot for the meeting been cleared and accepted by all attendees?
Have you checked your background?
Do you have all your necessary files/reports/note-taking items?
Are all phones on mute/silent?
During the meeting:
Go around the room and make introductions
Set the guideline for how speakers ask questions. Raised hands? Chat queries?
Mute your mic if you’re in a public place or if background noise is an issue
Speak directly into the camera, not at your screen
Use a clear voice, keep your volume consistent, and speak slowly but firmly
Record the meeting if possible
After the meeting:
Summarize and distribute the meeting notes or minutes
Follow-up with attendees and act on feedback
Bottom line: Treat your remote meetings with the same respect as in-office meetings
Just because every weekday suddenly turned into casual Friday doesn’t mean facilitators should abandon professionalism because they’re not face-to-face with their teams. It’s even more important now with remote work because a focused, energized meeting doesn’t waste time, and it gives your team the bandwidth to concentrate on their core work.
More to discover
The MURAL template library has hundreds of examples to kickstart your meetings, from icebreakers and team building exercises to Agile ceremonies.
Here are some helpful templates for common use cases: