Why Your Zoom Manners Matter

What your virtual behavior says about you.

Posted May 14, 2020

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
Source: Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Most adults have attended and hosted their fair share of meetings, both personally and professionally. In a day and age where many previously in-person meetings have moved online, why is there so much ambiguity over how to behave?

Perhaps a good rule of thumb is to always err on the side of courtesy. Because especially on a public platform like Zoom, manners matter. 

The Attraction of Attention 

If you were speaking to a group at a party, you would not expect a member of the group to suddenly turn and begin a conversation with someone who is standing right next to you, or turn away and begin shuffling papers or typing out an email, making it flagrantly obvious they are not paying attention. Yet this can be how we are perceived on Zoom when we multitask.

How rude is this? It depends, because meeting size matters. The more squares on the grid, the less obvious the inattention of a few attendees. If you want to show respect to your speaker by giving him or her your full attention, you can switch from gallery to speaker view so you can concentrate on what he or she is saying, as opposed to being distracted by the activity within all of the other squares, or in the chat box.

Muting to Black Is Like Turning Your Back

When you “check out” on Zoom by turning off your video, your live shot turns into a black screen with just your name or avatar. Some perceive this as turning your back on the program, signaling you are no longer paying attention.

In many cases this is true, which is why your relationship to the speaker and the group impacts your on-camera behavior, for better or for worse. You might drop out of sight briefly during a travel lecture you joined out of curiosity, where other squares had also “gone dark,” but you would not dare if it was a team meeting with your boss. 

Zoom speakers appreciate your attention, and many of them want to see their audience. They are interested in who has tuned in to watch, where they are (virtual backgrounds are fairly easy to spot), and what they are doing.

On the other hand, some Zoom hosts actually require participants to mute both audio and video during a speech in order to avoid distracting the speaker. The concern is that black boxes with names are less disruptive than obviously multitasking, often virtual strangers (pun intended).  

The Distraction of Side Conversations

The chat box is for side conversations—ideally related to the subject matter of the meeting. But not always. And affording the chat option necessarily requires participants to be less present in the main session, and can lead to private conversations as Zoomers “catch up” with each other instead of paying attention to the meeting.

This is one of the reasons Zoom hosts often limit the chat feature, allowing participants only to communicate with the speaker or the host. This decreases the temptation to (mentally) leave the meeting and socialize in the virtual foyer, as happens in live meetings all the time.

A Gracious Exit

When you must drop off a Zoom call, how do you excuse yourself? Do you verbalize your departure, lighting up your screen and drawing attention, or do you type a farewell message in the chat box where half (most?) of the attendees will never see it?

Nonconfrontational Zoom users might prefer to just disappear—poof—off of the gallery view, hoping no one will notice the shifting boxes or know who caused the reconfiguration (assuming they are paying attention.)

Some people think they can escape from a meeting like they are used to doing in real life, quietly slipping away during a period of laughter, when the speaker puts on a video, or when someone else “has the mic.” Others would not dare leave a meeting of any kind without saying a word to anyone—particularly in a professional setting.

To gracefully exit a Zoom event without drawing attention to yourself, you might apologize in advance shortly after joining for having to leave early for another commitment. Or if you must escape unexpectedly, especially if you know most of the participants, a gracious explanation in the chat box—which at least your host will probably see, may do the trick.  

If you don’t know your fellow Zoom attendees, a short explanation in the chat box is an opportunity to introduce yourself to new acquaintances. Consider adding your email or website if you want to take advantage of the networking opportunity.

And we have not even discussed the expectation that attendees will not dominate conversation, and rules regarding how to virtually raise our hand if we have a question, as opposed to waving in front of the camera.  As Zoom etiquette continues to be developed, we also hope it will be followed.