“You’re on mute”: How Zoom has changed business etiquette

W ith many of us meeting virtually over the past few months, it’s hard to remember business meetings as they once were - grabbing a coffee with a potential new recruit, hosting a working lunch in the office or catching up with existing clients over a networking event.

There was a familiarity about what was expected, we knew the established ‘set-up’ – a handshake, perhaps an exchange of business cards, an air kiss or two. And now we’re in this whole new virtual world where the rulebook has been torn-up and we’ve had to start again.

It’s not been plain sailing, there have been plenty of amusing examples of how NOT to Zoom doing the rounds on social media – remember #PoorJennifer trending on Twitter?

And what about flaky WiFi connections causing the awkwardness of Zoom dropping out towards the end of a meeting, only to be automatically reconnected to a post meeting debrief?

Cindy Mouchard, Account Director in our Paris office, believes that interactions with clients have been more relaxed over the past few months. “Since the lockdown, everybody is more understanding about the difficulty of reaching each other by phone, e-mail or video. I get the feeling that everyone is more empathetic!”

Which is great for when a stray pet pops up on screen or a child toddles into the room wanting the attention of their parent – did we ever find out if Scarlett found the perfect position for her unicorn picture on BBC News? But we should still try to maintain some sort of professionalism, even if it’s being respectful and polite.

The royal wave

Not since Harry and Meghan waved goodbye to the UK has waving been so controversial. Personally, I’m all in favour of the wave goodbye at the end of a Zoom call, it’s a neat way of bringing closure to the meeting. And, let’s face it, trying to maintain eye contact, whilst frantically moving your mouse to the ‘End meeting’ button – is an excellent distraction!

So what next?

Quite a bit has already been written about Zoom fatigue, but that’s because we’re all feeling it.

Virtual meetings on screen all day, then a group of friends schedule a social call, and, quite frankly you are very much Zoomed out. In the early days we filled our diaries up with virtual social activities such as family quiz nights, Friday drinks, regular video calls to our single friends to keep connected – but put your hand up if you’re still keeping them up? At the start of lockdown, I think we all felt compelled to video, to see each other’s faces and try to bridge the physical gap, and it really helped many of us.

Where lockdown has eased slightly, we’re coming round to the idea of a socially distanced meeting, though that’s still quite a way off for some. Meeting etiquette will probably never quite be what it once was, less face-to-face and more virtual as we find a better balance. And with elbow bumps replacing handshakes and copious amounts of hand sanitiser in conference rooms.

Marie Fradelizi, also in our Paris office, tells us that the awkwardness isn’t confined to the UK: “I haven’t had any physical meetings since February, so haven’t experienced what will happen next professionally. But, when meeting friends, greetings are now a little awkward because people do not really know what to do”.

It’ll be interesting to see if any of our pre-lockdown habits will return over the coming months, however I recently spotted the most popular phrase of 2020 was ‘You’re on mute’ which just about sums it up!

What have we learned along the way? Here are our top tips for Zoom meetings:

• Be on time – it’s always better to be a minute or two early than joining after all the pleasantries have been exchanged. There’s always the possibility of a glitch, so take that into account when logging on.

• Whatever you do, don’t eat, chew gum or anything similar – the noise is amplified via the screen, as is the image.

• One of the biggest bugbears appears to be hiding behind the video when the rest of the attendees are visible – lurkers really aren’t very popular.

• Try to be present in the meeting – we can see your eyes moving side to side when you are clearly reading your emails or catching up on Slack, and the tapping of the keyboard is a BIG giveaway!

The author

Caroline is a junior account manager in the Manchester office

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