Can you hear me?
Oh... you're muted.
You're breaking up a bit.

We need to talk about video conferencing etiquette. 
No matter how dreadful and awkward, video calls are inescapable. They're a way of life, these days. And after a semester of online classes and attending video meetings for the past 5 months, I've gathered my fair share of experience in this territory — as everyone has lately.
Technical glitches happen to everyone. But today, we'll be dissecting more of the mannerism side of video conferencing. From the accumulated moments I've had sitting in front of a screen, filled with 10 to 200 people, here is my definitive, highly subjective guide on the do's and don'ts of video conferencing.


Mute yourself. Always mute yourself.

This is such a 2020 phrase, really: mute yourself. There really is no way of telling someone to do this without sounding mean, but for the love of God, mute yourself by default. It's painful seeing my lecturer suddenly pause, just because someone's mic is switched on and the person had just started chattering with their roommate, mid-session. Sometimes, someone's sink is running, or you hear a bag of chips. This is utter annoyance for everyone in the room. It's also an awkwardness that takes a while to recover from.

"Will this be recorded?" is rude.

To clarify: Asking for a class/meeting recording is okay. But there is a way to do it. The unsettlingly rude way is to ask blatantly, "Will this be recorded?", just as the tutor is about to begin the Powerpoint slides. You might be asking genuinely, but in a video call, especially if your camera is off, what it sounds like is: Can I not pay attention? Can I listen another time? So if I may suggest: "Hi, I'd appreciate if this session was recorded to help with my notes later on :)" Something like that. State intentions!

How should I look?

With every too-early meeting/lecture to attend at home, tossing in your bed that morning, you might ask yourself: Makeup or no makeup? Work bottoms or pyjama pants?

If it's a professional video call — you know, facing your employer in the hopes of keeping your job — then it's a given: dress and look the way you would on a typical in-person meeting. But what about online classes? Lectures? Well, I've seen some friends do fine with their scrunchie updos and comfy hoodies — and from my experience, tutors don't seem to mind. So my conclusion for this is: Are you paid to be there? Or paying to be there? In an instance where you get paid to be there, obviously look presentable. In an instance where you're paying to be there, you should be allowed to feel comfortable if you'd like. 

As for me, I still wear mascara, concealer, lip gloss, and throw on a nice top for online classes. I try to turn my video on when I can. Why? Because I choose to take it seriously — or at least try to look like I take it seriously, so that I can be taken seriously. Travis McElroy from the Shmanners podcast elaborated on this perfectly:
"Often times the only person you have to convince that you are business-y, is yourself. And I think that's important. Do you need to wear other than pyjama pants? Of course not. But for someone like me who easily gets distracted [...] I think setting yourself up for success by setting the right frame of mind and being business-y, will make it easier for you to do business, [and] feel more engaged."
So to put this in context, I wear makeup and decent sweaters to online classes simply because I paid money to be present, to receive value, and to engage, so I might as well make it feel closest to real as possible.

New York Public Library, February 2020.
Back when large, crowded communal spaces were a thing.

Can I eat?

If your video and mic is off, in sessions where your only role is to observe — not engage — i.e. webinars, big-group lectures, then yes you can! (While, again, being cautious of your settings, and making sure they are off at all times.) On snacking while your video is on, though, I would say there's a line. With your mic muted, you could still probably snack 'safe' — like almonds or other small, 'nibbly' things. What you don't want, though, is to have a bag of chips clearly visible on camera, because no group of people needs to see you eat Doritos while the boss is talking.

Video on or off?

Lately I've been trying to turn my video on when possible — which is really saying something considering how camera-shy and self-conscious I am. But my new rule is to show your face in the setting, especially if speaking to someone in particular. (Unless, of course, you're unable to! Such as taking care of children, etc.)

When I doubt on whether or not something is impolite in the digital realm, I try to equate that to a real-life situation. It would be atrocious for me to sit and talk with someone, with a paper bag over my face, the equivalent of speaking with my camera off, just because I didn't feel like being looked at. So in the same way we value looking people in the eye when talking to them face-to-face, I'd find it rude to force someone to speak to my profile picture or name, instead of my face, when they're trying to address me.


"This time of social distancing feels a little like when my mom's friend caught him smoking a cigarette as a kid, so she made him smoke the whole pack ("You want cigarettes, I'll give you cigarettes!") He never smoked again. The analogy doesn't quite hold. Screens aren't cigarettes. And even now, I , who am skeptical of our digital revolution, appreciate screens in a new way. That said, I think we all feel the glut of way too much of this good thing lately."  
– I Miss Singing at Church, by Tish Harrison Warren. 

Consider this a manifestation of how long I've worried about this: how screens or digital technologies can erase our manners of human-ness, if we aren't careful. I've been long concerned about how dating apps affect romance, for instance. How text messages can butcher love letters. I'm always concerned about how kids' iPad games affect their wonder for the world. 

And this year, I'm worried that video calls affect the way we treat people. I fear the things our screens offer can make us lose our senses — forget to be mindful of others, and that these, too, are real social settings.

Let's not go down that path.


What's your take on video conferencing? What other things should be a do and don't?
And if you can think of someone who breaks these rules constantly, you are fully allowed to send them this entry as the passive-aggressive reminder. :)

Hope you're safe and well.



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