Video conferencing etiquette: Do’s and don’ts of work video calls11/10/22
Video conferencing as a primary means of business communication isn’t going away anytime soon. Organizations continue to find video calls a useful tool for enabling real-time connections with those in and outside of their organizations.
Since the onslaught of COVID-19 in 2020, we’ve come a long way with using video conferencing tools. The platforms also continue to undergo improvements. At this point, there are few valid reasons for not learning how to navigate and use video conferencing tools to convey your professionalism in any environment.
Let’s delve into ways to avoid some of the more common work video call mistakes and how to improve your video call etiquette and display professionalism.
Video conferencing meetings
How you appear on camera can override what you say. A notable example of being unprepared for anything that can occur when you’re on camera is that of ABC’s reporter, Will Reeve. Reeve appeared on television in April 2020 from home wearing a suit jacket, but no pants.
Later, in ABC’s Good Morning America segment, “Work-From-Home Etiquette: How to Avoid Video Chat Pitfalls” recorded from his home, Reeve advised, “I’m just here in my home setup for another day of work like millions of Americans who are on video calls all the time now and [I have] a headline reminder for anyone who’s using Zoom, Skype, FaceTime — anything with a camera. Make sure you frame your shot.”
Video conferencing attire
- Dress from head to toe. As Reeves’ example illustrates, it’s important to be fully clothed from head to toe in a video call, even if you don’t expect to turn your video call camera on. Call leads have been known to ask everyone on the video call to turn on their cameras without prior notice.
- Don footwear. Even wearing a business suit without shoes can trip you up if your bare feet become visible when you suddenly have to walk away from the call to attend to something in your environment.
- Dress professionally. Aim to wear clothing similar to what you’d wear if you were in an office setting, even if you’re working from home.
- Look well groomed. Greasy, unkempt hair shows in a video call.
- Wear items with questionable messaging. Reserve clothing with controversial messaging, such as political-themed T-shirts, jackets, or emblazoned ball caps, for your off-camera life. If you’re in doubt, don’t wear it. The same goes for coffee mugs and other items with messaging that you may use during video calls.
- Appear as if you just climbed out of bed. Maybe you did, but try not to show it. Neaten your hair, splash some water on your face, and dress appropriately for every video call.
- Wear wrinkled or stained clothing. Trust us, we can see it.
- Wear clothing that’s potentially revealing. Because they’re strapless, tube tops can make it appear on camera as if you’re unclothed from the waist up. That’s not the kind of attention you want to glean in a video call. A best practice is to wear upper-body clothing with sleeves.
Camera positioning, posturing, and lighting
- Have a front-facing light source illuminating your face, if possible. It’s flattering, according to a Hewlett-Packard article. It can also help you appear professional and engaged. Having only backlighting can make your face disappear in the shadows and make you look like a video call novice. Position yourself in front of a natural light source, such as a window, or invest in a halo lite ring to place before your face.
- Position yourself with the camera at or above your eye level. This is the best camera position for video conferencing. It can help you appear engaged in a call and ready to conduct business. It’s also a more flattering angle than having people look up your nose and through double chins. If possible, use a desk or tabletop for on-camera calls to help elevate your camera. Add books under your laptop or other camera-bearing devices for further elevation, if needed.
- Place yourself squarely in the center of the camera’s frame. Sitting far off to the side or with too much margin around your face looks awkward. Make sure your face fills most of the frame.
- Look at the Camera. This is especially important as you address the call participants. It conveys that you are speaking directly to them. Looking at the camera as others speak shows that you’re paying attention to what they’re saying.
- Place your laptop on your lap in video calls. It can make you look like you’re sitting on a sofa, which doesn’t come off as professional in a business call. Also, your face is likely to only be illuminated by the laptop’s blue light. That, and the angle in which it portrays your face, isn’t flattering. Make it a practice to use a desk or table to support your camera-bearing device for professional calls, and make sure the camera is at least at eye level.
- Spin your chair, twirl your hair, or move around a lot. These and other potentially distracting activities look unprofessional.
- React to pranksters on calls. There always seems to be that one person on video calls who wants to take attention away from others by making funny faces, rolling their eyes, or making other gestures. Don’t be that person and avoid making visible reactions to such antics by others. Instead, focus on the camera.
- Learn how to share your screen with other participants on a video call. Ask a coworker or do a web search to learn how to share your screen for the platform you’re using (Teams, BlueJeans, Zoom, etc.). Know how to do this before you are asked to share your screen in a call.
- Have any proprietary information open on your screen. If there’s a chance you’ll be asked to share your screen to show a spreadsheet or other documents with the call participants, close any open applications that may contain proprietary information you don’t want shared. Anything you can see on the screen, including chat messages that pop up, will be seen by everyone on the call.
Video call backgrounds
Backgrounds include anything besides yourself that appears in the camera frame. That can include other people, coffee mugs, wall decor, kids, and pets when you're working. remotely or in a hybrid work environment.
- Keep your background looking clean and kempt. If your home or office setting tends to be cluttered and messy, consider turning on the blurred background setting available on most video conferencing platforms today.
- Turn off the TV if it’s visible during a call. The movement on a TV screen in the background can be a distraction to other callers. It can also make you seem like you’re watching TV while conducting business.
- Keep pets, significant others, and kids out of sight on calls, when possible. Depending on your working environment, this can be a challenge no matter how hard you try. It’s no longer 2020 when nearly everyone worked or schooled from home. More professionalism on video calls is expected today. Try shutting the door of the room you’re in to keep stragglers out of view. If you work in an office, find a place where coworkers aren’t frequently passing by in the background.
- Establish the best place in your environment for making video calls. Do this before you make another call if you already haven’t. Consider using a wall as a background or a bookcase. Simple accessories, such as a plant in the background, tend to work best. Avoid wall posters or other accessories that feature controversial messaging, such as political statements.
- Have your bed visible in the background. Maybe your bedroom is the only place where you can conduct video calls. That’s fine. But avoid showing your unmade (or made) bed anywhere in the camera frame. It can seem a bit too personal and unprofessional to others in a business call. Consider positioning yourself in front of a bedroom wall or closed closet doors in the room for a more businessy look.
- Use a virtual background for video calls. They can infer that you’re attempting to hide your location, even when you’re not. If you must use one, Zoom support offers some tips for adding or changing a virtual background.
- Invite your pet or kids to participate in calls. Accidents happen and pets and kids can run through the background. Remind others in your environment that you’re about to join a video call to try to limit these incidents and shut the door of the room you’re in.
Muting and unmuting the microphone
- Mute your microphone. To prepare for background interruptions or noise, keep yourself muted. Only unmute your mic when you’re invited to speak.
- Go to the bathroom before joining all scheduled video calls. You don’t want to have to respond to an impromptu question midstream. If you must use the bathroom during a call, check to make sure your teleconferencing application is set to mute. Please, don’t forget to turn off your camera.
- Start talking without unmuting your microphone. Even the most seasoned video conferencing participants occasionally fail to unmute their mics before speaking.
- Chime in all the time. Only unmute your mic and speak when it’s necessary to greet other call participants, answer or ask questions, or present to the group.
Letting guest attendees into meetings
Lastly, before engaging in casual or personal conversation with your coworkers when you first join a video call, check to see who’s already present in the call. There may be customers or clients or others who were invited to the meeting that are already on the call.
If a message displays that states an invitee outside your organization is waiting to join the call, let the call lead — usually the meeting scheduler — let them in. This allows the call lead an opportunity to make comments about the pending call to those within their organization.
Discover your next path
Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University can help you discover your path in business.