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If you wouldn’t do it in the room, don’t do it on the screen

A month of 4-day weeks due to national holidays (in the UK at least) is both a joy and a challenge.  The joy of the extra day off and the challenge of getting 5 days’ work activity in to 4.  After a particularly heavy week of meetings (for us and I suspect many others) it’s worth reflecting on our meeting behaviour.

It has been said that table manners make it easier to be welcomed to any table.  The same could be said of meeting manners.  And we seem to have forgotten ours. Sometimes.  Maybe a bit more than sometimes.

Have you been at a meeting recently and experienced any of these:

  • Cameras switched off
  • Cameras on but people disappearing from view for periods of time
  • Eyes clearly darting to and from other screens
  • Taking other calls in full view of the meeting
  • Non-participation and looking bored
  • People arriving late and leaving early due to back-to-back meetings?

Not only might you have seen them, you may have done them too – it’s hard to be alert and attentive at your 6th consecutive meeting of the day with other tasks needing your attention.

Let’s tackle the aforementioned online meeting bad habits.

Cameras off – it’s the equivalent of coming to an in-room meeting and sitting with your back to everyone.  You might be able to hear everything but others don’t know if you are engaged or feel they can connect with you.  If everyone there has “face fatigue” from so many meetings, consider a conference call instead where no one can see anyone and the expectation is different.  Engage with your voices instead of your faces.

Cameras on but disappearing from view – is almost always down to long, long meetings with no breaks.  Bring back the human element and break up long meetings with a chance to exit left for coffee, a loo visit and to pat the dog or feed the gerbil.

Eyes on other screens – agree a one device rule so everyone dispenses with the others, in the same way a well-run meeting in a room would dictate.  Ditto to taking other calls, although a note in the chat to say when you have to unavoidably step out for a minute goes a long way.

Non-participation and looking bored – where the latter applies, we should cut some slack.  Some people aren’t bored, they just have that kind of face when they’re concentrating.  Also, if we were in a room together, we wouldn’t be endlessly staring at each other’s faces as we do when we’re on a virtual call.  Non-participation, however, is different.  Let’s set our meetings up with as few observers as possible.  Everyone there should be able to play their part (and that includes speaking up at some point) or have the right to question why they are on the attendee list.

Late entries and early exits – whilst in-person meetings are not the answer to everything, they do seem to acknowledge we are human beings – with pauses, breaks and gaps built in for people to breathe before they go on to their next activity.  We’ve been banging on about this in our blogs since late 2020 and we can confirm that clients who have adopted our “15-minute rule” or similar – not running meetings back-to-back – have seen more energy and engagement at gatherings as a result.

It helps if you and your fellow meeting colleagues make a commitment to behave on the screen as if you were all in the room. So, game face on, elbows off the table, no chewing with your mouth open and let’s tidy up our online meeting etiquette.