A screen relaying a Zoom video conference with Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (top row L), chairing a remote session with his Cabinet ministers whilst still self-isolating from within No 11 Downing Street, in London. (Photo by Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP)

Making the most of Zoom meeting etiquette

THE age of coronavirus has led to an unprecedented explosion of video calling. Overnight, many of us have transformed from office workers into telecommuters, no thanks to the increased reliability of videoconferencing apps like Zoom to correspond with our peers. But with an overnight change in meeting culture, there hasn’t been much time to establish the proper Zoom meeting etiquette.

And while video calls seemed like an elegant solution to remote work, ‘Zoom fatigue’ is almost inevitableZoom, a video conferencing company that originated from San Jose, California, is actually a nine-year-old platform. On March 23, 2020, Zoom was downloaded 2.13 million times worldwide, according to app tracking firm Apptopia. Two months prior, the app had just under 56,000 global downloads in a day.

Whether Zoom or another video conferencing platform is used for work, for school, with family and friends, or, like most people, all of the above, the increased time spent in front of a camera is taking a toll. One thing is for sure – teleworking was an enforced necessity for business continuity amid lockdowns.

A survey by Gartner revealed 82% of company leaders now plan to allow employees to continue working remotely, at least some of the time, as we begin to return to the workplace. Another 43% of companies will grant employees flex days, and 42% will offer flexible working hours.

In hindsight, mentions of ‘Zoom fatigue’ have popped up more and more on social media, and Google searches for the same phrase have steadily increased since early March. The best way to make it through these video meets, would be to know and digest the proper Zoom meeting etiquette.

But how do we make video calls less draining?

First and foremost, with millions of people working and learning from home during the pandemic, internet networks are strained to the hilt. To avoid tech snafus, everyone should make it a habit to test run their video collaboration software before the meeting, to ensure the call both looks and sounds good. 

Secondly, if it is going to be a video conference instead of a brief call, set a clear agenda to make the session more tolerable for everyone. There are a number of approaches to a more organized videoconference. For starters, each employee, ahead of the meeting, can be assigned talking points or can be addressing specific issues, so that everyone involved is engaged in the meeting and can stave off distractions.

To avoid a hard time interjecting during a team conversation, icebreakers would allow each participant the space to make themselves heard from the start. Everyone on a video call should also be on ‘mute’ by default until it is their turn to speak.

Additionally, if you are finding that your team meetings are getting stale and the team is checking out, it might be time to change up your meeting and bring in a Zoom icebreaker to energize and engage the team. It is also necessary to limit the number of video meetings because even in offices, many detest back-to-back meetings, and it is highly likely employees feel the same while working remotely.

Perhaps, a good rule of thumb is to book video meetings sparingly. Ideally, reserve them for discussions that require visual aids, like presentations and documents. After all while visual aid is sometimes helpful, there is no universal rule requiring you to use video chat to work from home. Sometimes, the old-fashioned telephone is just as good.

Most importantly, breaks inbetween longer video calls will give participants the room to stretch, relax, and come back fresher. Tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom have built-in options that reinforce this virtual meeting etiquette, like video/audio on and off options, ‘raised hand’ button to indicate someone wants to speak, and privacy options to reinforce users’ security – especially in light of the heightened cybersecurity vulnerabilities in this era of remote communication. 

According to Zoom itself, its typical in-person basecamp training is delivered eight hours a day, over four days. Its virtual basecamp, however, had to be structured in a way that enabled participants to learn, retain information, and be engaged. That meant breaking up the agenda into digestible chunks.

The team at Zoom believes breaks at every hour are critical in keeping participants engaged. A go-to rule is 50 minutes of learning and 10 minutes to stretch those legs or get coffee, allowing all participants to focus for a set period of time with limited distractions. 

Since collaboration platforms often allow the sharing of pre-recorded video clips and PowerPoint presentations, demo live products, whiteboard key points, and annotated slides to reinforce the impact during a presentation, companies can make use of that to engage participants.

Finally, organizations should consider mixing work and some level of recreation while operating remotely. This can be done by mixing work-related video calls with virtual happy hours, in which similar casual and social discussions can evolve while physically isolating.