I would like to say that we attended 50+ of the most awkward video meetings so you didn’t have to, but chances are you’ve attended your fair share of cringe-worthy video chats in the last couple of months.

Aside from the initial “Am I muted?” to “Can everyone see me okay?” questions most of us had at the start of our working from home (WFH) journey, we can now all add seeing someone’s spouse/child/pet stroll through frame, unfortunate lighting issues, and “I woke up like this” looks to the list.

Your personal brand is important and translates to others through video just as it does in person. With that in mind, here are the top 5 video etiquette “musts” to ensure others are listening to you and not your visual cues.

Video etiquette: audio only vs with video turned on. Image of Meryl Streep without make up for audio only and in full hair and makeup with video on

1. Look Like You Didn’t Just Wake Up 15 Minutes Ago

We’ve all heard the phrase “dress for the part you want, not the part you have” (Thanks Mom). Simply put, clothing communicates. You don’t have to put on a dress or suit, but you should look like you put effort into your appearance. It demonstrates to the person with whom you’re meeting that you are a professional and care about what you are communicating non-verbally. Wrinkles, bold colors, and small busy patterns show up poorly on camera – as do pajamas, bath robes, and old college sweaters.

If your office has a dress code, maintain that while working from home. Clean, light colored, and pressed tops look the best on camera and look like you actually showed up to the meeting. If a shirt is dirty or wrinkled, pick another shirt to wear that day – your career will thank you later.

Child walks in the frame of a BBC news reporter while he is on air.

2. Please Mute

I’ll be the bad guy and just say it – no one wants to hear your <insert child screaming, dog barking, spouse’s meeting, cars passing on the street here>. Chances are if it makes it harder to hear the speaker it is disturbing the audience. This does not mean you need to tell everyone you are sheltering in place with to be silent while you’re on a call. Life happens! Companies and co-workers are starting to see the human side of what it takes to be present in meetings. There are going to be kids in the background, dogs barking, and unforeseen noises to life.

Luckily, every video call platform has gifted us with the “mute” feature. If you’re not speaking, just put yourself on mute. Even if there is no distracting background noise coming from your mic it still saves you the unintended and unpredictable interruption (ie. My coughing fit when coffee went down the wrong pipe this morning). Co-workers would rather say, “Steve, you’re on mute again,” than be the person to say, “Please mute yourself,” awkwardly pointing out the loud sound coming from your home office.

3. Don’t Eat on Camera

Real talk: unless otherwise specified as a lunch or breakfast call, don’t eat on camera. Not only does it come across as rude, but it is insanely distracting. Whatever you were saying before you popped those almonds in your mouth I have now forgotten as I am thoroughly engrossed in watching and hearing you chew in my ear. Even if you paid attention to the previous piece of advice and muted yourself, I am still watching your mouth move to break down your food while contemplating if you’re paying attention. You wouldn’t attend an in-person meeting and rummage through your pockets or purse to start snacking during the middle of someone’s PowerPoint or well prepared meeting, (at least I hope not) so why do it on video?

Aside from accidentally taking your video feed to the bathroom with you, eating on camera is perhaps one of the biggest video etiquette faux pas you can commit.

Funny Zoom meeting background

4. Put the Focus on You

Put the focus on you and not your background. You don’t have to clean your house or tidy up just to have a video call but you should pick a spot that is well lit and devoid of distracting visuals. Your face is what people want to see, not your entire house, pile of clothes in the corner, or stacks of random papers on your table. This is a tricky one to master especially with roommates or kids but try to set up your video call close to a good light source (in front or to the side of you – not behind you) with a plain or minimally decorated background. 

Don’t have that option? Some video call platforms offer a “blur background” feature that will blur out your background while keeping you in focus. If it is a more relaxed meeting with friends or work happy hour, select a fun background that could also serve as a good icebreaker.

5. Be Patient

Let’s face it, even if we are all practicing our best video etiquette there are going to be unforeseen distractions, noises, and human elements to our WFH environments. Learn to roll with it, be gracious and kind to your co-workers, clients, and collaborators. We are all struggling with the need to use video instead of having in person meetings, and a little bit of patience for your fellow human can go a long way. It’s not the best situation but it is our situation to make the best of.

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