Audrey Tang shares her advice on etiquette for managing numerous virtual meetings
Wasn’t Zoom great at the start of March 2020? This lesser-known online platform came into its own, overtaking Skype and leaving Google, Facebook and WhatsApp wondering where everyone went. We were keeping in touch with our friends, conducting ‘business as usual’, having play readings, singalongs, yoga classes and all sorts of entertainment without even having to leave our rooms – or put on any pants.
But a year on and we’re getting Zoom-ed out (or Microsoft Team-ed out, or Ringo-ed out…whatever your poison)…we want to close our Facebook meeting rooms, kick everyone out of our House-parties, and continue to mute our WhatsApps…in fact we now long for a phone call (remember – we used to hate those because we preferred text and email?) – just so we can scratch our nose, or doodle while we are chatting.
As a coach who conducts most client meetings online due to international time zones there are a couple of things I took for granted which may be pertinent now:
I shall call it ‘Zoom etiquette’:
1Do not schedule back-to-back meetings
I know this is harder when you are co-ordinating different departments and teams but ask your teams too whether they have a gap between connections.
The friend who inspired this post said to me today ‘The thing about meetings IRL (in real life – I’m so up with the lingo now), was that I could drive from one to the other – it gave me time to clear my head.’ I always think you need to do a ‘mental palate cleanse’ (like the water biscuit between wine tastings to clear the mouth) – doing star jumps, running on the spot or splashing a bit of cold water on your face between meetings allows you to enter the next one refreshed and better able to concentrate from the start.
‘Back-to-back’ zooming doesn’t allow for this.
As a coach I would never schedule clients directly one after the other – whether online or in my office – because it is extremely exhausting to give your full attention to one person and switch to the next – someone will lose out, most likely you. The same is true of your teams. (and you as both Chair, and on behalf of your organisation if your team is exhausted). At the very least I put in a 30-minute gap, and that’s short considering meetings can over-run. You don’t call a meeting just for fun – you owe it to yourself, your team and your business to be fully present when discussing the issues important enough to meet over.
2Ask yourself if it needs to be done in an online meeting room
Will a phone call do? Will a WhatsApp message be short and sweet enough? Online meetings take energy. I request them if I cannot see clients in person because I need to be able to look at their body language…your body language can betray a lot, and through that I am better able to ‘probe’ certain topics or focus on certain areas. But I think it is only fair that in turn my client sees me. They don’t need to read my body language, but it is wholly appropriate that they are reassured they have my full attention.
That’s another problem with online meetings – as with those in the physical boardroom – you do have to be present. It is therefore more exhausting. If you can get the information across effectively in a different format, consider it.
A recorded webinar or class can, as long as you don’t need to see your students, mean that they can access it whenever they want – and that enables them to manage their time (and you to manage yours if it’s just yourself and a camera.)
3Mind your manners
You are working from home – that means, unless you have a completely separate home office, you are still inviting others into your house. This can feel like an intrusion. Also, because you are at home in an environment that is often connected with relaxation be aware that you are not being too casual, or that if you are rude or critical, how others may feel taking that in their personal space.
When resolving conflict, it is best done on neutral territory so that no-one feels threatened, now, in the context of work not only are you inviting colleagues with whom you wouldn’t necessarily have a drink with into your home, but you are also entering theirs. (Dressing for the occasion is therefore recommended).
4Children, pets, post arriving, Wifi connections and other issues are a fact of ‘WFH’ life
If you are that worried, apologise from the start, and use it as an opportunity later to speak with your children and talk about your work and what they can do to stay occupied if you are on a call, but be mindful of making them too afraid to interrupt in case there is an emergency.
I know I have myself been stressed when connections fail (a mix of frustration and embarrassment as I tend to be the organiser), but a lot is out of our control right now, and we can all only do the best we can…Zoom was down much of Sunday morning. (Another reason why leaving a gap to sort out issues, or wait for them to resolve, can be helpful anyway).
5To record or not to record
This can supplement minute taking, but if you are recording – let everyone know, and consider giving them permission to record too. However, be very aware of confidentiality and Privacy regulations regarding recording, storage and use.
6Get some offline time
Switch off, go out into the garden, or at least open a window. Get some time away from the glare of the screen (and all the lighting you might be using to work your ‘on camera’ look). Take a moment to be informally mindful:
- Listen to the birds
- Feel the warmth of the sun
- Breathe deeply
- Read (a book rather than a download), sing, draw – do something away from a screen
- Enjoy a cup of tea (or your choice of beverage) – really enjoy it
- Use an eye mask to get some rest.
7If you’re working online, consider a different medium for play
Sometimes after a long day in front of a screen, it is difficult to find the motivation to join friends, family – or even a date – for another call, albeit a coffee, party or dinner. Instead consider the other mediums available to you – perhaps chat on the phone whilst watching the same film, or even send handwritten letters and cards rather than only staying in touch on a tech platform.
Just because in principle being online means you don’t have to physically go from A to B – if you don’t allow yourself to do so mentally, all the efficiency you believe you are saving, will soon be spent…or burnt out.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author of new book The Leader’s Guide to Resilience, Pearson.