Regardless of location, the world is now accessible in real-time — a virtual rendezvous allows people to share information and data without being physically located together, instantly. Virtual engagement is smart, cost-effective, enhances productivity and efficiency, and green (reducing the amount of carbon in the environment).
And booming, thanks to the pandemic and the demand for social distancing. Usage of Zoom increased by 67% between January and the middle of March 2020, amid Covid bursting onto the world’s scene. In April of last year, Zoom surpassed 300 million daily zoom meeting participants, a 50% increase from the 200 million the company touted in the month prior. Perspective? In December 2019, Zoom reported as having 10 million daily users. (Source for above-noted information: https://usefyi.com/zoom-statistics/.)
Whether you Zoom, Skype, Slack, Facetime, Hangout with Google, or Team with Microsoft, you can GoToMeeting and connect with your peeps, peers and relations. And if you’ve got the monies, you can host sessions involving tens to hundreds.
As with the occasional face-to-face gathering of individuals, teams and even families, challenges and frustrations periodically surface with virtual sessions. For that reason, I suggest a series of Gibbs Rules for meeting virtually. If you’re not familiar with Gibbs Rules, you don’t watch the longstanding, terrific CBS TV series NCIS. Leroy Jethro Gibbs is a fictional character smartly portrayed by Mark Harmon. Gibbs is a former U.S. Marine turned special agent who commands a Naval Criminal Investigative Service team. He is cranky, clear-thinking and tolerant but firm with his team, and he has little patience for bureaucracy. Gibbs follows a series of at least 51 rules that apply to life situations and casework. He is averse to the point of being belligerent toward idle chatter without a purpose, wanting conversations to be concise and decisive — characteristics that made me think about my participation in too many exasperating virtual sessions.
Virtual Meeting Etiquette Rules
This brings me to the proposed establishment of Virtual Meeting Etiquette Rules, including fines accompanying offenses. Fines may be leveled against individuals, companies and session organizers. Instituting and following these Virtual Meeting Etiquette Rules will go a long way toward assuring smoother, more productive, well-received virtual sessions.
- No opening rounds on virtual conference calls. If there is time after the core meeting, short, closing, celebratory rounds are encouraged. How many virtual sessions scheduled for 60-90 minutes have started with 20-30 minutes of personal updates? Catch up with mates and get to know strangers on your own time, or set up a “happy hour from the home office” call after work hours. Of course, if there are newbies on the call, be prepared to introduce and welcome them via concise verbal bios.
- Start on time. Embracing the caveat that most participants log in to a session a few minutes early, all meetings and calls will start by two minutes after the scheduled time. Otherwise, all callers courteously “on time” will be allowed to vacate the call early the equivalent minutes to the amount of time they were on hold waiting for the call-organizer to begin the call while waiting for others to join. If the problem is “technical difficulty” at the hosting company, all participants’ favorite charities will each receive a $10 donation from the sponsoring call organizer.
- No 100% reading of a list already being shown on a PowerPoint or slide while on a conference call. There will be a $10 fine levied (with no avenue for appeal) against anyone who reads what everyone else is already reading while on a conference call, payable to each entity (department? subsidiary?) represented on said call.
- Location, location, location. Call participants who haven’t thought about the positioning of their “seat” or their room’s environment during a virtual call disrupt the Zen of the session. No-no’s include a room that is anything but quiet (including the radio or TV on too loud); a phone not set on silent; sitting in front of a window with the sunlight at one’s back; and attending a video session while in a public setting such as a coffee shop or restaurant. Any of the above will generate the following fine: Permanent muting during the next three virtual calls.
- Watch your backdrops/background. Remember that while you might be the talking-head, fellow callers get bored and will pay attention to what’s behind you. Bookcases and tchotchkes seem to be the norm with virtual calls — if you’re aiming to impress, place one or two books front-side-out, showing off dust jackets or covers, but remember that viewers will start checking titles on your shelves instead of paying attention to you. Resist the temptation to show off trophies, plaques, untidy shelves, whiteboards with messages not meant for wandering eyes, and hallways and open doors where unexpected peeps might cross into view. Excuse the mess, but we live here doesn’t cut it. Fine: Every other day dusting and vacuuming for three weeks. Solo. Thorough.
- Watch yourself. Ultra-casual has become commonplace while working from home, but don’t get caught being the “that guy” on the call. Bedraggled and disheveled will make folks beam in on you. Start with the basics. Comb your hair. Shave. Apply makeup. Dress shirt for the guys. Appropriate blouse or pullover for the gals. Don’t wear something distracting — stick to a solid color or vertical striped shirts and tops. Checks and plaids can make viewers’ eyes go numb. And don’t stand up if you’re rocking only your underwear. The latter’s fine is eternal membership in the “Remember-When” Embarrassment Hall of Fame.
- Filter your filter. One of the great things about these virtual platforms is that they’re more than happy to help you improve your image. For example, Zoom provides lip and eyebrow filters, which allow you to darken, lighten and enhance these two features. At first blush, these would seem terrific opportunities to polish your look. A word of caution: When you drink your coffee, your lips stay on the outside of your cup where your mouth should be. And sometimes your eyebrows appear to be painted on the lenses of your eyeglasses. You can also don bunny ears and noses, top and birthday hats, crowns, etc. Again, check their positioning before you go public. Lastly, be cautious about using virtual backgrounds, unless, of course, you’re a Matrix wannabe. That halo effect can be distracting more than enhancing. Pick your failure-to-filter fine: 1) return to work without makeup for the first week, or
2) shave one eyebrow for your first week back in the office.
- Test, test and test again. Failure to ensure that the technology works properly is a clear signal that the conference organizer is a few fries short of a Happy Meal. How difficult is it to stage a test meeting with a friend or colleague in another location to assure technology works correctly and that the audio and video signals are clear? With great bandwidth comes great responsibility. Fine: For organizers who don’t appreciate that technology working as designed is Key #1 to a good session, the organizer’s personal cell phone will be confiscated for one week.
- Lack of organization is a killer for a virtual meeting, more often than not leaving participants feeling that they have survived another meeting that should have been an email. Provide focus and don’t meander during the call — email an agenda to participants in advance and include copies of documents to be discussed during the meeting. Socialize your content before the actual online call, and then stick to the time allotted for agenda items. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed. A call/meeting organizer whose lack of focus and preparation is evident to all will be forced to walk around the office (when we get back to being in offices) for two hours with a sign stating, “I apologize for being unorganized. Ask me to explain.”
- Show R-E-S-P-E-C-T (find out what it means to me). Kindness trumps … well, pretty much anything. Exhibiting a lack of respect for others when asking questions or chiming in with comments that are not helpful or considerate of the host and other participants will only spiral a virtual meeting to unwanted depths. And if there is a “worse yet” addendum to that outcome, it’s that such conversations rise to the top as main takeaways by everyone on the call. Bottom line: Arguing about or belittling another’s thoughts is not productive. Fine for offending participant: Write “I will not be discourteous and thoughtless in virtual meetings” 500 times, scan the pages, and send them to everyone on the call.
- Short is sweet. Concise meetings help ensure that all participants are engaged, which begets maximum attention and productivity from attendees. Have a PAL — Purpose, Agenda, Length — and stick to all three. Religiously. Value time, participants’ and your own. Rather than levying a fine for offenders, this is the only proposed reverse Gibbs Rule. To wit: Organizers of snappy, focused, short meetings will be rewarded with four hours comp-time to be used within the week.
Lastly, after the call, promptly disseminate concise, action-item minutes. Ask yourself and anyone in your small circle of confidantes who might be honest with you whether your meeting was effective, efficient, inclusive, and useful. And solicit thoughts on how to improve. Honest feedback is invaluable to ratcheting up your next virtual session.
All in favor of adopting these Virtual Meeting Etiquette Rules so signify by saying “Aye.” Opposed? The motion carries. Have a great meeting!
Two quick addendums from LSomerbyCooke:
First … I extend sincere thanks to Virginia Edwards, a longtime friend from high school, for her feedback on my draft of this blog. She knows her stuff — visit her business, BeyondManners — Corporate Etiquette and Professional Development, at http://www.beyondmanners.com/ or reach out directly to her at virginiaedwards@BeyondManners.com.
Second … My tongue-in-cheek observations above aside, virtual meetings are here to stay. And that’s a fortuitous forecast. For those wanting to dig deeper, including accessing a “2020 Virtual Events Report,” I recommend looking at this excellent report by Personify / Wild Apricot.