The COVID-19 pandemic has paved the way for video and audio conferencing applications to become essential platforms for both personal and work-related communication.
The worldwide lockdowns brought about the need to communicate remotely. Just days after community quarantines were implemented, social gatherings were forced to adjust using these platforms. Many even say that the so-called “new normal” shall make these applications a necessity for practically everyone, side by side with the Internet.
Zoom is one of the most widely used communication platforms that revolutionized our means of getting in touch with people near or far. While it readily had its share of security issues early on during the pandemic, it is still considerably ahead of the competition when it comes to stability, versatility, features, and ease of use. From online birthday parties to online classes to work-from-home (WFH) meetings to webinars, not to mention TV shows, concerts, and films produced partly or entirely using this platform, no one can deny the fact that suddenly, Zoom has become an essential social channel in a more cautious, pandemic-stricken world.
With Zoom becoming a crucial part of our everyday lives in one way or another, it is worth noting how we should practice Zoom etiquette to foster a conducive environment for online communication, alongside maximizing its features for our different needs. This includes a list of: do’s and don’ts; things to prioritize and things to avoid; and things to highlight and things to minimize. Of course, these can generally apply to other video and audio conferencing applications as well, but these insights are based on my familiarity of Zoom due to my regular use of it for both personal and professional endeavors.
1. Research and understand Zoom’s technical features.
- Familiarize yourself with the Zoom interface. Take note that there are some differences with the mobile app interface, the computer app interface, and the web browser interface. Personally, I find it best to use the web browser for controlling the settings and choosing and testing preferred features. Some features may not be available on the mobile app, and this is typically due to the varying capabilities of mobile devices. For instance, the virtual background feature cannot be used in iPhone 7 and older iPhones.
- Choose a fitting a virtual background, if you prefer this instead of showing your actual room background. Use an image or video you own or an image/graphic art/video you personally created. You can also download free ones available online.
- If using a virtual background, minimize your movements, and if you can, maintain a simple or flat live background complemented by proper lighting. I tried using a green screen background and suitable lighting and they helped minimize image distortion caused by body movements. However, big movements would still end up occasionally distorted on screen. As a filmmaker, as of this writing, I can say that Zoom’s virtual background technology still has a long way to go.
- Understand how the camera and microphone functions work in Zoom. Make sure you know where to go when you need to turn the camera and microphone on or off. Personally, I think it is ideal to set your camera and mic settings off upon entering a new call to minimize the risk of being caught in a not so good time (WFH parents would relate to having kids suddenly wrestling them right after getting in a Zoom call). This is a better setting because you will be prompted to turn on your camera and unmute yourself after starting the Zoom call anyway.
- Understand how to change your camera, microphone, and speakers when using Zoom. By default, Zoom uses your computer’s built-in webcam and microphone. Did you know that with the right software/app and/or hardware requirements, you can connect a DSLR or even a digital cinema camera to your computer to replace your computer’s relatively low-res webcam for Zoom calls? I’ve seen colleagues utilize their old consumer, prosumer, and professional cameras (including those from the early days of HD) for Zoom meetings, webinars, and live streaming ventures by using compatible software and hardware connections. If you don’t have a built-in webcam in your laptop, you can even set your mobile phone as your “webcam” for Zoom. You can also practically connect any compatible external microphone to your computer, including a professional mic, for better audio quality. Your choice of speaker/s can be easily changed in the Zoom settings as well.
- If you are the host of the meeting, it is often best to mute participants upon entry. They can always unmute themselves when they have the floor.
- As host, you can share specific parts of your screen to the participants. You have the authority to allow specific participants to share their screens as well.
- Take advantage of the “Chat,” “Thumbs up,” and “Clap” functions. “Chat” allows you to discreetly ask a question during the meeting without interrupting the current speaker. Make sure you always double-check who you are chatting with, as the chat function allows you to either send a message to “everyone” or a “specific person” participating in the Zoom call. When you are presiding a meeting, being familiar on where to find the chat button is very helpful so you can readily access it any time needed. Meanwhile, “Thumbs up” and “Clap” allow people to visually react via applicable icons without interrupting the meeting.
- When hosting a Zoom meeting, take advantage of the “Waiting Room.” Early birds can stay here until they get admitted by the host.
- As a host, for security purposes, you can require a passcode when scheduling a new meeting. You can manage Zoom’s authentication options to fit your preferences as well.
- If you have a paid account, aside from the lifting of the 40-minute limit and the increase in number of participants allowed for a meeting, take advantage of additional Zoom settings for better control. To mention one, you can let participants register in advance so you know who are the people to expect during a Zoom meeting.
2. Mind the schedule.
- To minimize confusion or even forgetting a scheduled Zoom meeting, put the notice in your calendar right away. It is best to calendar it with complete details including the link and password to the meeting. Zoom makes it easy to connect to popular calendar/appointment apps, although you can always manually add it to your own calendar instead.
- When scheduling a Zoom meeting, avoid meal times and ungodly hours. If you expect the meeting to take a long time, make sure you consider not just the start but also the projected end time of the meeting. Expect that a very long meeting would eventually have certain people needing bathroom breaks or home errand breaks (like when a baby cries or it’s cooking time). If you need everyone to be always on their screen with eyes and ears on the meeting, set synchronous break times in between the long meeting and you have to inform the participants about this ahead of time.
3. Prepare the needed physical and digital materials ahead.
- If you’re presiding the meeting, or at some point, presenting at the meeting, always prepare your physical and/or digital materials beforehand. Your Zoom meeting is no different from a face-to-face (F2F) meeting. Set your materials in advance and everything will flow smoothly as planned with much less risk of delays and technical glitches. This includes preparing your digital material/s for Zoom’s “Share Screen” feature in advance. This way, you avoid showing the wrong files during the meeting.
- If using a virtual background, set it up before getting in a Zoom call. You don’t want your participants to see a virtual background for a bachelorette party used a night before for the webinar you are hosting that morning.
- If using a Bluetooth earphone, headset, or any similar wearable, or even an external camera or microphone, make sure everything is properly set up in the Zoom settings beforehand. Encountering technical issues due to wrong connection/s while already inside a Zoom call, especially if you’re the one presiding, isn’t the best way to start any meeting.
4. Mind your looks, as well as your background.
- Dress appropriately every time you have a meeting. As previously mentioned, being in a Zoom call should be treated just like a F2F meeting. You can wear your favorite pajamas when talking to your mom who lives 8,000 miles away, but you should dress to impress in a job interview. If you’re an artist pitching for a new project, you choose clothes that can best project your personality.
- Depending on the type of meeting you have, choose the most suitable design and/or colors for both your clothes and your background. Engage people with a fitting background (whether you’re a teacher, a professional speaker, an activist, an inspirational speaker, or a science expert). You may even highlight your statement on a current issue or your advocacy project by using a customized physical or virtual background. For a Zoom birthday party, a customized birthday background may also be in order. Your choice of shirt may readily send your intended message as well.
- Just like with clothes, avoid virtual backgrounds with designs/colors that call too much attention or are too distracting. This is especially important when engaged in formal and work-related Zoom meetings.
- Choose a profile photo that can best represent you. A picture that can suit both personal and professional meetings should be the priority. It is not practical to always change your profile photo every time you have a meeting. Remember that this photo appears as you whenever your camera is turned off during a meeting.
- It is always best to use your real name in your Zoom profile. Like the profile photo, you may not always have the time to change this every now and then. At one point, you may not be able to make up for an initially funny name used for an informal meeting to a professional one that follows right after.
5. Mind your camera, as well as your mic and your audio monitor.
- Choose the right camera for your needs. If you plan to edit a video from a Zoom meeting and you’re keen on video quality, you’re better off using a digital camera, or at least your mobile phone, as an external camera instead of what the computer offers by default. High-resolution footage for Zoom recordings requires a camera that can output in HD. If you need to be mobile during the meeting, choose your mobile phone over your computer by utilizing the Zoom app. Moreover, you can set up multiple cameras if you have the right hardware and software requirements for your meeting or webinar.
- Choose the right audio equipment for your needs. People have different preferences in audio requirements: some want a very conspicuous mic-and-headphone set-up like those in podcasts and audio-recording studios; some would opt to use Bluetooth earpods that are almost if not totally invisible during Zoom meetings; and other not so demanding users may be well content on simply using wired earphones. For any of these audio-recording options, know how they basically record sound.
- Always secure your webcam or external camera and microphone. If need be, use a suitable tripod or stand to keep your equipment stable. If using a phone, you may opt to hold your phone while in a Zoom meeting, but it is generally better to use a means to secure it ahead by using a phone stand, tripod, or other resourceful means (a DIY set up is relatively easy to do).
- When you haven’t used Zoom for quite some time or you keep changing equipment in between your meetings, it is best to always test your video and audio equipment ahead. This is very important, especially if you’re hosting a meeting, you’re holding a webinar and/or you’re often switching to different cameras, microphones, and speakers in between Zoom meetings. The Zoom settings provide a variety of good options to suit your needs.
- Make sure all your equipment are fully charged or have the required charging station/s within reach before a Zoom call. If using a laptop or mobile phone, or when using external camera/s, microphone, or speaker/s, headset/earphone/earbud, make sure you have enough battery to last the meeting or have a charging station on stand by.
- Know the basics of videography. Your camera is generally expected to be at the same place for the entire Zoom meeting, but this doesn’t give you an excuse to look horrible, strange, or boring. In general, the best way to simulate the F2F interaction is to set up your camera to shoot you at eye level. Often times, this may mean putting your laptop or phone a bit higher than usual. Take note that an extreme camera angle would make some sort of distortion significantly affecting how you look on screen. Moreover, your position on frame and your distance to your camera has an effect on how people see you on their screens. This also affects how much of your background can be seen by others. With regards to lighting, it is always best to have a soft lighting source. You can use the popular ring lights, but make sure they are at the right distance and brightness, and in some cases, you may need to diffuse or bounce the light or use a reflector or lightbox for a well-lit shot of your face. Setting up the meeting near a natural light source (example, by the window) or a practical light source (example, by a study table and a reading lamp) is often a good call, unless your camera couldn’t handle the big difference between the darkest and lightest parts of the shot (in which case, either your face becomes too dark or washed out). If using extra lighting sources, whether using pro lights or DIY lights, take note of the heat they can produce inside a room. Good ventilation and/or access to fan/s and/or air-conditioner should be a priority.
- Know the basics of audio recording and room acoustics. Don’t use two Zoom sessions at the same time (say, one on the laptop and one on the mobile phone) because this creates that annoyingly loud feedback similar to the noise produced when a microphone gets too near a speaker. Take note that the mics in both wired and wireless earphones and headsets are designed to work without the extra effort of putting the mic nearer your lips when speaking. Doing so is actually a disservice because it adds noise from your breath and the overall quality of the audio can turn out too loud. They are called hands-free for a reason. Noticeably, a good number of people would put their lips too near their mics (like holding on to their wired earphone’s mic and placing it too near their lips) and this is a big no-no. As mentioned, this produces harsh audio and airy noise due to exhaled air from speaking. Also, planning where exactly to situate yourself during the meeting is important for better acoustics. DIY sound proofing to improve room acoustics and not necessarily to totally isolate external sound like in a professional audio production house can be enough in most cases.
6. Set the ground rules.
It is best to include your ground rules in your Zoom invite to the meeting. You may also have a short version that can be posted via the “Share Screen” feature during the start of the meeting to serve as reminders to the participants.
These are what I generally follow and I just adjust depending on the needs of a particular meeting:
- It is best to come between 1 to 5 minutes before the scheduled meeting. Being late should be frowned upon.
- Always mute your mic unless you will speak. This clearly avoids interrupting the meeting with certain uncontrollable noise at home (unless you’re inside a sound-proof room) such as barking dog, motorcycle passing by, alarming smoke detector, or crying baby.
- While in the middle of a meeting and someone else is speaking, your first choice is to use the chat option for inquiries/clarifications/questions. If urgent, you may turn on your mic and ask for time to raise your concern.
- To put more “humanity” to the meeting, it would be good to always have your camera turned on. This way, participants see people’s faces like in a F2F meeting. So, unless there is a privacy concern, it is best to keep your camera on. However, there are also other cases when turning off the camera would be a better option due to certain limitations. For instance, if you don’t have a stable Internet connection or you’re using limited mobile data, you may turn off your video if this can help minimize bandwidth use and avoid getting disconnected.
- If you get disconnected and the host couldn’t readily let you come in because of being in the middle of a discussion, it may be wise to seek the help of a co-participant. In such case, a participant can use the chat button or eventually unmute the mic to inform the host about it — unless the rule is set that no one will be admitted late, regardless of reason.
- Temporarily turning off the camera when quickly attending to something urgent such as going to the washroom is generally acceptable. However, if leaving for quite some time, it is best to leave a note, perhaps via “Chat,” so people know about it and they won’t assume you irresponsibly left while in the middle of the meeting.
- Practice proper online behavior. As a general guide, participants in a Zoom meeting should give everyone the opportunity to join in the discussion and promote positive exchanges of insights and opinions. Moreover, people should respect diversity by recognizing the differences in opinions and ideas. You can comment, question, or critique an idea, but keep a respectful tone, especially when engaged in discussions in a professional setting.
- Practice mindfulness and open-mindedness in your spoken and written language. Think before you speak; think and edit before you post.
7. Always be mindful of people’s privacy, including yours.
- Respect data privacy. If you feel like recording or documenting any part of a meeting in photo or video, always ask permission from all the participants. In Zoom, only the host can officially record the meeting and all participants are readily informed of a recording through that “Recording” icon found at the Zoom interface. However, technology easily allows the possibility of recording anything on a computer or mobile screen even without people’s permission. Whether the documentation is full or partial, photo or video, such acts that don’t seek people’s permission are unethical and they invade people’s privacy. In the worst case scenario, this can even result to facing legal actions.
- Be considerate of others. A WFH set up means certain people have to contend with toddlers and pets who may not necessarily understand the very idea of working while at home. Not everyone have other people to take care of children or pets while doing a Zoom call. In such case, choose the best location for minimal privacy concerns. If your actual background remains a problem, using a virtual background may be your best bet. If you’re the one noticing other people having to face such concerns, please be patient and consider helping out somehow. Perhaps, you can give the assurance that it is okay and maybe it is best to temporarily turn off the camera and mic while they attend to the situation.
8. Make your Zoom meetings as convenient as possible.
- Log in to Zoom ahead of time. Just like in a F2F meeting, having some time to iron out the kinks means avoiding the hassle and trouble of getting late in a meeting. You may end up late if you encounter some technical problems such as unstable Internet connection or a secured log-in is required where Zoom needs you to sign in with SSO, which takes a bit longer time than an ordinary log in. In such cases, being able to tell someone from the meeting ahead that you are encountering some technical concerns is the professional way of handling the situation.
- Keep a reliable drinking mug at reach during a meeting. As a Zoom meeting can take a couple of minutes, an hour or two, or even longer at times, just like in F2F meetings, easy access to your own drinking mug is always ideal. It may be wise to invest on a good brand with anti-spill feature (you don’t want your coffee accidentally bathing your laptop), as well as good insulation for your cold or hot drink.
- Use a comfortable and ergonomic work station for Zoom meetings. Whether you’re hosting or presiding the meeting or webinar or you’re just there to mainly listen or partly discuss something for a short time, easy access to the remote control of the air-conditioner or fan (if any) is a good idea. Or better yet, set things up ahead. It should also be your priority to set up an ergonomic work station with the right chair and table to fit your WFH needs.