In the first few months of working from home, many people successfully developed new routines and dutifully donned their Zoom shirts for video chat meetings. As the months of necessary pandemic precautions drag on, some have gotten a little too comfortable. Yet professionalism and appropriate behavior are just as important virtually as they are in person. Here’s a little refresher on social skills every adult should know.
Most online video chat applications will display names of meeting participants—but the participants usually get to control how their name appears. That may leave you with just initials or a nickname. Pay close attention to introductions during a meeting, and jot down names as you hear them. If you need to respond to someone and don’t know their name, you can say, “in response to the person who said…and I’m sorry, please forgive me, but what was your name again?” Then be sure you remember for next time.
Listening Twice as Much as You Talk
The art of active listening is one social skill for virtual meetings that every adult should know. Video chat meetings can descend into chaos when no one knows who is supposed to speak next. Start each video conference with a muted microphone. An alert meeting leader will notice when you unmute and take it as a signal that you’re ready to talk. If you can’t enter the conversation, make a visual signal like raising your hand. Don’t respond just to get your two cents in—make sure you are making a useful contribution to the discussion. This etiquette applies whether you are meeting in person or online.
Managing Your Background
By now, everyone has had that cringeworthy moment when a member of a colleague’s family comes within range of their webcam, possibly not dressed in their video chat attire. Most of the popular video chat apps have a way to use a background image to block out what’s going on in your house behind you.
Knowing Where Your Eyes Are
Eye contact is important in person and difficult online. Looking at a person’s image among the many participants in an online video meeting may feel like you are looking at them, but from their perspective, you’ll be looking off to the side, up, or down. Look into your webcam when you talk, and that will seem more like looking your teammates in the eye.
Stay in Control at the Virtual Cocktail Party
Some companies have instituted online ways for coworkers to keep up their social connections, including virtual happy hours. Even for informal gatherings outside company settings, it’s important to maintain control of your behavior. Friends have hosted virtual wine and spirits tastings as a way to keep in touch and have some fun, identifying the lineup of liquors you’ll be tasting and commenting on together in advance. If you’ve never attended a tasting before, read up on the etiquette of tasting and enjoying fine spirits.
Maintaining a professional demeanor and practicing your social skills while you’re working from home will pay off once in-person gatherings become safe again.