14 Zoom Etiquette Rules You Need to Follow
Making eye contact is important—so look directly into the camera, not at the person you're talking to. (Oops.)
Raise your hand if you had heard of Zoom before March 2020. If it was new to you, you weren’t alone. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and lockdowns began to be enforced, many people had to pivot quickly to working entirely online, from home. This meant that video chat software, like Zoom, went from fairly rare to ubiquitous. In December 2019, Zoom averaged 10 million users per day. By April 2020, that number shot up to over 300 million, as people logged on for work, school, social, and even dating meetups. Zoom is everywhere now. For proof, just check out how many times it shows up in the funniest memes of 2020.
The online meeting phenomenon has created a whole new world and, with it, a whole new set of etiquette rules for Zoom and other video-conferencing platforms, says Karen Donaldson, an etiquette teacher, communication and body language expert, and author. At first, everyone was confused and trying to roll with the punches, but now, a year into it, there are some clear guidelines about what to do and not to do on video calls.
This starts with lots of communication…about communicating. “These are unusual times, and it’s appropriate on video calls to acknowledge the current circumstances and the difficulties they bring,” Donaldson says. “It’s a new way of communicating, so allow extra time (and patience) for concerns and technical issues.” After all, there are so many ways video conference calls can go wrong. Once you’ve established that we’re all in this together, here are the Zoom etiquette tips you need to know.
Only video chat when video is necessary
Just because you can schedule something as a Zoom meeting doesn’t mean you should. “We have suddenly started to make every call into a video call, and in some cases, the telephone would be simpler, more effective, and save time,” says Lew Bayer, CEO of Civility Experts. Unless there’s a reason you need to see everyone’s faces, skip the extra stress and bandwidth of video.
Be selective about who you invite
There can be a temptation with virtual meetings to invite anyone and everyone since space isn’t a consideration. Don’t do it. “Just like live workplace meetings, there is no need to invite people simply out of courtesy,” Bayer says. If the content or purpose of the call does not apply directly to an individual, do not invite or obligate that person to attend.
Make eye contact with the camera, not the person
The most common faux pas that people make on Zoom calls? Looking at the video box of the person they are talking to or staring at the video thumbnail of themselves. It may feel counterintuitive, but the polite thing to do is to look directly into the camera. “It feels a bit awkward at first, but trust me, the other person will feel like you are looking right at them,” says Annette Y. Harris, an etiquette expert, executive coach, and president and founder of ShowUp. “This tip is especially important for business Zoom meetings, where nonverbal body language is as important, or maybe more important, than what you have to say.” (Here are the secrets your body language reveals about you.)
Skip the pajamas, even on the bottom
Dressing appropriately for the occasion won’t just help you look more professional or presentable—putting on a complete outfit will also help you get in the right mental space, Bayer says. If it’s a work Zoom call, dress for work; if it’s a happy hour, put on a nice shirt and jeans; if it’s a school meeting, wear a put-together outfit.
Default to mute
“Not being mindful of when you are on or off mute is the quickest way to come across like a Zoom newbie,” Harris says. Proper Zoom etiquette is to keep yourself on mute unless you’re speaking. This eliminates background noise, electronic alerts, and other irritants like the noise of you chewing gum or drinking water. Just be sure to keep an eye on the mute/unmute icon so you don’t forget to unmute when it is your turn to talk. One of the most repeated phrases these days is: “Wait, you’re still on mute!”
Use a virtual background
People are easily distracted on video calls and will find themselves preoccupied by your piles of dirty laundry on the floor or your fascinating collection of glassware. Yes, you can arrange your environment to be neat, tidy, and less distracting, but the simplest solution is to use one of the Zoom backgrounds that automatically blocks out your surroundings, Bayer says. (Here are 20 times video conference calls went hilariously wrong!)
Turn on your camera
A Zoom call with your video turned off is just a phone call with poor audio quality. The whole point of a video chat is for people to be able to see each other, and turning off your camera is rude, Harris says. “Keeping the camera off signals that either you look like a mess or your plan is to multitask during the meeting instead of giving your full, undivided attention,” she adds.
Set two start times
If you’re hosting a Zoom meeting, it’s good etiquette to set two start times—a soft and a hard start—and to open the meeting room early, Donaldson says. A “show up time” is five to ten minutes before the hard start time and allows participants to do any troubleshooting with the technology once they get online. (If you’re a participant, plan to get online early regardless of whether or not it’s specified.) Then, just like in real life, the proper etiquette is to be respectful of everyone’s time by starting and ending meetings on time.
Practice with the technology
“There is no good excuse at this point for any adult not being familiar with the Zoom (or similar) platform,” Bayer says. It’s rude and makes a bad impression to try and figure out how it all works during the call, so if you’re unsure, take some time before the meeting to familiarize yourself with the technology. Watch YouTube or log into a free Zoom account to practice raising your hand, using chat, sharing your screen, muting yourself, and other basic functions. And no, Zoom isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, these 10 things could stay virtual forever.
Don’t roll your eyes, even if you’re not on the main screen
“The key thing to remember is that everyone can see you at all times, no matter who is speaking,” Donaldson says. To avoid offending others, don’t roll your eyes, shake your head in annoyance, look bored, do personal grooming (teeth or nose picking), or chew gum, she says. “You’d think this would be obvious, but trust me, it happens all of the time,” she says.
Participate in obvious ways
In an in-person meeting or get-together, it’s easier to see when people are paying attention and are engaged in what’s happening. With digital platforms like Zoom, you need to make a conscious effort to show your boss that you’re participating, your family that you’re listening, or your friends that you’re playing along. This can include leaving the camera on the whole time, raising your hand, chatting via text, using polls, and other methods, Bayer says. Simply nodding your head or murmuring “mmm-hmm” won’t cut it on Zoom.
Zoom can feel more casual, but that doesn’t mean you should be casual with your manners, Bayer says. Whatever the standard would be for meeting in person with this group is the same standard you should follow with them online. While standards may differ based on the type of meeting happening, this generally means being polite, saying please and thank you, not yelling, and avoiding curse words, she says.
Stop using your mic to talk over people
Interrupting in real life is frustrating. Interrupting on a Zoom call is infuriating because it means the person hijacks the entire group conversation. “If you are asked to contribute, turn your microphone on and then speak when directed,” Bayer says. “Raise your hand or use chat if you have a question or comment. Do not simply turn on your microphone and speak over other speakers.”
Say your name before you speak
On Zoom meetings with many participants or with people you don’t know well, it’s easy to get confused very quickly about who is saying what. Avoid this by briefly saying your name before you comment, Donaldson suggests. Another way to identify yourself is to make sure your screen name matches your real name, rather than using an email handle or a spouse’s name.
Next, here are the etiquette rules to follow when visiting friends during a pandemic.