As we are now a few weeks into social distancing and sheltering in place, you’ve probably had a meeting or two online. While most of us have had the occasional online meeting with colleagues, family or friends before this, they have become the norm, and they will be the norm for at least another month or so, possibly even more depending on how things go.
It occurred to me this week that there are probably some guidelines that should be followed as we venture into this brave new world of online meetings. Most of these may seem logical, but they are all in response to things I’ve experienced online in the past couple of weeks.
1. Show Up on Time
None of us has the excuse of traffic or public transportation problems at the moment, but things can still happen that delay us. Also, learning how to use the tools that facilitate online meetings take some time, but your aim should be to show up and be ready to start on time, just as you would with an in-person meeting. A good rule of thumb is what I learned from my high school band director: if you’re not ten minutes early, you’re late. Thank you, Mr. Winslow.
2. Frame Yourself
While you may FaceTime with your sister while laying on the couch with your iPad propped precariously on a pillow, a business meeting, meetings with colleagues or meetings with semi-professional friends (a club you may belong to) calls for something different. Position yourself so that your head and shoulders are framed. Have a bit of space between the top of the screen and the top of your hair. As much as possible, look into the camera while you are speaking. This takes some practice, but it’s worth the effort.
3. Adjust Your Background
Most of us are using our home as our office at the moment. While not everyone has an actual home office, do your best to create as professional an environment as possible. This means a blank or non-descript wall behind you. A bit of art is not a bad thing, but no one wants to see dirty laundry or people walking in the background. Some people have taken to using digital backgrounds that makes it look like they have a skyline or a beach behind them. Those are great. The point is that the other people at the meeting are not distracted by what’s going on behind you.
4. Don’t Multitask
You might ask yourself if you would be doing what you’re doing if you were at an in-person meeting. Would you be shuffling through papers or putting away the dishes? Probably not. If you can manage to do something to keep your hands busy (knit, for example) that can be done out of the range of the camera, that’s fine if it’s not distracting you from the task at hand: your meeting. Certainly don’t eat. No one wants to watch you eat. Drinking is fine, but be aware that people can see what you’re drinking.
5. Dress for Success
We are all at home. This generally means more casual clothing and grooming that may not be up to the standards that we would expect with an in-person meeting (shaving may be less frequent, makeup may be a bit less). However, some effort is appreciated. You are still at a professional or semi-professional meeting. You’re still representing yourself and making impressions on people that will last. Put some effort into your look.
It is very likely that online meetings will become more comfortable for all of us as we continue to practice the new skill that is, for many of us, participating in online meetings. This means that even after we are allowed to return to having normal, in-person meetings, we may opt to have online meetings. Think of it in those terms.
Many people are learning the skills necessary to participate in online meetings only because they have to. Up to this point, they have opted out, preferring to meet in person or not at all. However, it is very likely that online meetings will become a more routine part of our lives as we become more comfortable practicing the new skills that make up online meetings. This means that even after we are allowed to return to having normal, in-person meetings, we may opt to have online meetings. Think of it in those terms and embrace the learning opportunity we have been given.