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Video conferencing - a guide to etiquette

Paul Brislen, Editor. 18 March 2020, 5:10 am

As a long-time worker from home (WFH) there are a number of rules which newcomers to the game may not be aware of and, with COVID-19 sending a lot of people to the back bedroom to work among the empty suitcases, the forgotten home gym equipment and the sagging single spare bed, it's important that you quickly come up to speed with what will soon be your daily ritual.

Video conferencing capability comes in many forms and while the kids are perfectly happy with their phones filming them from awkward angles, for those of us of a more mature set we will probably be sitting at desk of some sort using a laptop.

Whether your choice (or your boss's choice) of software is Teams or Skype, Zoom, GoToMe or Google hangouts is largely irrelevant. The first five minutes of any video conference must by law consist of you sitting in the dark with your headset on waiting for others to arrive.

Once you have spent your time in video purgatory, you're allowed to check the meeting invitation and join the actual video conference where you will find everyone else on the team who have been wondering where you are for the past five minutes. Some wag will say "Welcome, we've just given you all the action points," and it is considered polite to laugh at this point, even if you can't really be bothered.

The next few minutes will be spent debugging the meeting software. Someone won't have their camera on, although everyone else does. Someone's internet will be so awful that every movement will cause their picture to freeze and unfreeze like a bad Minecraft experiment gone wrong. Someone will be talking but with the microphone muted. Someone who isn't talking will have their microphone turned on so you can hear the children screaming or the supermarket announcements or worse, the toilet flushing.

This is considered de rigueur for the new way of working.

Once the preliminaries are out of the way, attention must turn to the most important part of the meeting - trying not to look at the video of yourself while everyone else is talking. This is important because everyone else can see what you're doing so as you try to sit up straighter, pull in your gut, puff out your chest, square your shoulders, smooth your hair, check your teeth or extract wayward nose hairs, you're visible to the whole squad.

If you can make sure you have a good background. Some apps allow you to blur out the background which frankly is considered cheating. The ideal is to use a 4K image of an exotic location as your backdrop but failing that you can always fall back on a still from that BBC interview with Robert Kelly. You know the one.

Given we're all working from the spare room it is acceptable to position your electric guitar, the plastic life-size skeleton, that road sign of an exclamation mark you stole off a roadworks when you were drunk one night in university or any other signs of eccentricity in the background so as to demonstrate that you weren't always the dumpy middle aged, slightly balding old man of the team.

Ideally you'd also adjust the lighting so as to not reflect off your balding pate, and adjust the camera angle so you don't give yourself double chins but these are nice to haves, not essentials. What is essential is that you are clothed for the entire duration of the conference, although strictly speaking only the top half of you is considered non-negotiable.

Finally, the golden rule. If you have a pet you are required to have the dog or cat join in at some point, and if you can arrange it so the pet replaces you on the video feed you get extra points from the other participants.

These are the rules of video conferencing. I don't make them, but I do enforce them with an iron fist.

Good luck to all newcomers - see you on the really small screen.


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