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Camera on or off? 5 Zoom etiquette tips

May 26, 2022 - 14 min read

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5 Zoom etiquette tips for everyone

Zoom etiquette for hosts

Zoom meeting etiquette FAQs

All things considered, the world acclimated fairly quickly to the world of remote work

But when offices shut down, people were left wondering. Is there any Zoom etiquette to follow? What’s “normal” in this new normal world of remote working? People were willing to put up with the awkwardness if it meant being able to continue to work in a time of lockdowns and physical distancing.

If you scroll through social media, you’ll probably find a meme or two (or three hundred) about the progression of remote work. For example, when my office first transitioned to remote work, I still wore professional tops. I tried to find the best background in my apartment. I used my headphones for calls, something I’d never done before when I was going into the office. 

Fast forward to remote work in 2022: I’m writing this blog sitting at my desk in workout clothes. When I hop on Zoom calls, usually it’s a mixed bag of folks switching their cameras on or off. Sometimes, people have nice virtual backgrounds that hide their real surroundings. Other times, people (like me) use the blurred effect. And as Zoom rolls out more functionality and added perks, it’s hard to know what’s appropriate or not. 

So, let’s talk about Zoom etiquette. Especially as we acclimate to this next normal, what have we learned about what works and doesn't? What tips can you keep in mind as a meeting attendee? What are some best practices for Zoom hosts? And, most importantly, can you refill your coffee while on a Zoom call? 

5 Zoom etiquette tips for everyone

Data tells us that meetings have increased since the onset of COVID-19 and virtual work. In fact, 54% of employees say they’re attending more meetings virtually than they did in person. 

Chances are, you’re spending a good chunk of your day staring at your screen. Whether your schedule is packed with virtual meetings or only having a Zoom call here and there, here are five tips to keep in mind. 

1. Show up on time 

It’s tempting, I know. I’ve been there. It’s 11:28 and you have a meeting that starts at 11:30. But your coffee cup needs a refill, your dog needs to be let outside, your kid is asking for help with homework, and your stomach is grumbling. 

While you may think you can get all of those things done in just two minutes, I’m here to burst your bubble (because I’ve tried it). It’s not possible. 

Working from home allows us the flexibility we need to manage our personal lives and work lives from the same space. But it also can cause for risk of being late for meetings.

As much as you can, show up on time. It’s more tempting and certainly easier to log onto a meeting a few minutes late. But it shows that you’re invested in the meeting and the relationship with the person sitting in the little virtual box next to you. 

One thing that’s helped me to show up to Zoom meetings on time is scheduling meetings in 25-minute increments instead of 30. That way, you’re building yourself a five-minute buffer for those “in-between” tasks to help make sure you can take a bio break or microwave your cup of coffee. 

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2. Become friends with your mute button 

There’s nothing worse than being in a Zoom meeting with a large number of attendees. You hear some rustling and white noise over the meeting’s host. At first, you think it’s probably just some feedback on your microphone. But you continue to hear background noise. 

You notice someone has forgotten to mute themselves. And while you’re trying to figure out if you’re the one who left yourself unmuted or if it’s a colleague, you’ve missed the last five minutes of the meeting. 

Become friends with your mute button. You can actually change your settings in Zoom to make sure you join the meeting automatically muted. That way, you don’t have to worry about interrupting or disrupting the call. And, if you do see that a teammate has accidentally unmuted themselves, kindly message them privately. 

3. Pause more often to allow for conversation 

Oh, the ever-awkward virtual interruptions. In my opinion, I think it’s more awkward to talk over someone on Zoom than it is in person. And this is a tricky one to navigate because we’re all virtual. It’s harder to read body language or social cues to figure out when a person will speak next. 

To avoid frequent interruptions, try pausing more often than you would in conversation. For example, if you’re having a one-on-one with your manager, make sure you’re pausing after each conversation point. Or, if you’re trying to solve a tough problem in a team meeting, make sure you’re making space for all meeting participants to share their perspectives. 

4. Avoid multitasking 

Well, first, let’s address the elephant in the room. If you haven’t heard, multitasking doesn’t work. One study found that just 2.5% of people are effective multitaskers. Studies also show that when our brains frequently switch back and forth between tasks, we’re more likely to make a mistake. 

But the off-camera feature in Zoom (or any other virtual meeting tool) makes for a very tempting button for those who want to multitask. I’m certainly guilty of it.

I’ve found myself in large meetings where I think I can pay attention to the speaker while performing more administrative tasks. But here’s the thing: it’s not serving you. It’s not making you more efficient or productive. In fact, attempting to multitask could very well be doing the exact opposite. 

As hard as it may be to knock out something small while you’re in a big meeting, be present. Focus your attention on the meeting at hand and put your other priorities aside. Your quality of work is likely to be better anyways. 

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5. Learn your organization’s “camera on or off” culture 

It’s hard to provide blanketed advice on whether or not you should keep your camera on. I’ve worked at two different companies and taken online virtual classes during the pandemic. Each organization and meeting host held different preferences for video use. 

For example, at BetterUp, we have a fairly flexible and laidback company culture. We operate with inherent trust in our colleagues. And I think because of this, we have a culture where having your camera off doesn’t mean you’re paying attention.

There are times when I’m suffering from Zoom fatigue and just need a break from staring at myself on video. But other times, I’ll keep my video on throughout the entire day of meetings. 

But every organization is different as are roles. For example, I don’t work face-to-face with clients or customers. But if I were to meet with customers regularly, I’d probably use my camera on feature more consistently.

If I’m meeting someone for the first time, I always make sure my camera is on. If I’m in a small meeting where everyone else has their cameras on, I’ll ask if it’s OK to keep my camera off or if I should turn my camera on. 

There are nuances to this tip. So, here’s my biggest piece of advice: get to know your organization, your team, and your role. It’ll help guide you on what’s the best form of Zoom etiquette. 

Zoom etiquette for hosts

Zoom hosts, there are certain things to keep in mind from an etiquette standpoint. Here are six tips to help. 

  • Only invite people who need to be there. As any sort of meeting host, determine who needs to be part of the meeting. Make sure all meeting attendees have advance notice, especially if you’re working with people from around the world. Time is one of the most valuable things we have. Make sure you’re respectful of people’s time. 
  • Create an agenda and serve as the meeting leader. Sometimes, folks will send out meeting agendas over email or Slack before the virtual team meeting takes place. Other times, the agenda can be found in the meeting invite. But regardless, make sure people know what to expect. And once the meeting begins, as the host, you’re on point to lead attendees through each topic. 
  • Use video appropriately. It’s fairly common for meeting hosts to leave their video cameras on, especially if you’re leading a larger team meeting. In some cases, like one-on-one meetings with a direct report or smaller group meetings, you can let people know you’ll be going camera off. If you're doing so, encourage them to do as they wish, too. 
  • Maintain eye contact. Even though eye levels are difficult to determine virtually, try to maintain eye contact
  • Make sure screen sharing settings are enabled. There’s nothing worse than a video call spent trying to troubleshoot your webinar settings. Make sure screen sharing is enabled in your Zoom account. Sometimes, it helps to also share the document link in the chat as well as sharing on screen so it's easier for attendees to follow along. 
  • Make your meetings inclusive and accessible. Zoom has a lot of features, like closed captioning, to help make your meetings inclusive. You can also encourage attendees to use things like the "raised hand" feature or engage in the chat. It might take some modeling around desired behaviors and norms but ensure that all participants are able to use and participate equitably. 

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Zoom meeting etiquette FAQs

Is it rude to drink coffee during Zoom?

No. If you’re sitting at your desk with a coffee mug, it’s not rude to sip your coffee every now and then throughout the meeting. 

However, if you’re at the counter at your favorite coffee shop ordering your drink, think again. Make sure you’re fully attentive. 

Is it rude not to show your face on Zoom?

This depends on your company, your role, and your organizational culture. Read the tip above to get the full download on using your video camera on Zoom. For example, if you’re meeting someone for the first time or meeting with clients, it’s probably best to keep your camera on. 

But if you’re feeling Zoom fatigued and need a break for your regular 1:1 or a team meeting, it’s usually OK to go camera off. 

Is it ok to drink water during a Zoom meeting?

Oh, yes. It’s good to stay hydrated. As long as you’re not taking loud gulps and being cognizant of your audio, feel free to drink water during a Zoom meeting. 

Become a video conferencing pro 

Even though online meetings can be done from the comfort of your home, there’s still etiquette to keep in mind. For example, you still want to eliminate all possible disruptions to keep your full attention. You’ll want to make sure you’re present for when the meeting starts. And you want to make sure your video meeting is productive and efficient. 

If you’re not sure how to navigate a certain aspect of video conferencing, ask your coach. Your coach can help serve as your guide through tricky situations.

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Published May 26, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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