LIZ MILNE gives us the do’s and don’ts of Teams' etiquette
As an Attendee
It is coming up to ten months since the UK announced its first lockdown. Since then, video calling has boomed, becoming a daily event for many people; whereas previously it was maybe a once or twice a year event – for Grandma’s birthday who’s in Australia, for example. Today, with the coronavillain only slightly better understood than it was last year, and with a faint light at the end of the vaccine tunnel, video calling software such as Teams has been widely used for work meetings, departmental gatherings and, of course, for lessons. As Teams has quickly become ingrained in our daily lives, the need is rising for the unwritten rules to be written down. Here’s how to be a Teams player!
With the whole nation once again in lockdown, houses are full. Students are trying to learn, office workers are trying to balance the demands of the house with those of the office, and only key workers and those unable to work from home are out and about on the roads. As soon as you know your meeting schedule, tell the people in your household a) when you will need a big chunk of the Wi-Fi and for how long and b) when noisy pets, even noisier small children, and parental lectures will have to be quieter for the duration.
You may have to be prepared to move your base of operations: setting yourself up in the living room with the only television in the house is unfair to everyone else! Hit the bedroom, camp out in the kitchen, or Harry Potter it, in the cupboard under the stairs!
Dress for the Occasion
You don’t have to have an Oscar’s-acceptance-speech-worthy face full of bronzer and make-up, but do run a brush or comb through your hair, or clip it up. Wear clothes that are suitable for public consumption, so to speak, and check your lighting too. Dazzle from backlighting might look cool, but it can be headache-inducing for others, whilst shadowy figures in darkened rooms are frustrating as participants squint to see exactly who is lurking in the dark!
Check your Tech
Take the time to check your tech before your first meeting of the day. Switch on your laptop or PC as soon as possible, just in case it decides to update. Check your internet connection and reboot your router, if necessary. Do all these things well before the meeting begins, so that when it is time you, and everyone else, can get underway promptly. And for the love of all things impatient, each time you've been booted out of the meeting, avoid loudly announcing your return.
While this sort of thing was treated sympathetically at the beginning of the pandemic, by now, there is an expectation that most people understand the basics of a video call. While unexpectedly dropping out of a meeting due to a fluctuation in signal is out of your control, try not to disrupt the rest of the meeting more than you have to when coming back in. A quick explanation in the chat bar, and perhaps even a quick: ‘Sorry, internet threw me out! Did I miss anything?’, is more than sufficient and will not disrupt whoever is speaking at the time, while alerting the host to the fact that you might need a quick recap at a suitable time.
Don’t be Shy
It’s not a beauty contest, no one’s judging you – and if they are, sod ‘em, we’ve all got better things to be worrying about right now! It really doesn’t matter what you look like, we’ve all been deprived of actual company for months now. It’s coming up on a year, believe it or not (and what a year it’s been!) – and people want to see your face, hear your laugh – and maybe sneak a peek into a room other than their own! (Just kidding about that last one! Teams has a modest selection of backgrounds you can use if you don’t want people judging you on the size of your flat!)
For tutors it is slightly daunting to be faced with a series of silent black boxes – it can feel very much like speaking into the void with the unshakeable conviction that the void is silently listening – and judging!
Or sometimes they might feel as though they’re being punked and there’s really no one there at all… Put yourself in their shoes and try to keep your cameras on if you can.
Who Are You?
In meetings, especially bigger ones, saying something like, ‘Jess here, just wondering about X, Y or Z’ can help the meeting host quickly identify you on the screen, especially as Teams is one of those apps that shuffles people around on the screen as they speak up or fall quiet. It can be hard to see who is talking, and by the time you’ve spotted them and begun to pay attention, they’ve stopped again, which can make the conversational flow bitty and broken.
As a Host
A Word of Warning
When planning to host a video call, never ever do so cold. No one wants to be summoned into a meeting with no warning, quite often for the above reasons: checking tech, making sure they look presentable, and rounding up and shooing away pets, children, and partners for the duration. But also, because it is quite rude these days. You wouldn’t arrive at someone’s house without warning, and you shouldn’t simply open a video call without a quick text or email confirming that they are available and willing!
Managers Must Manage
You must also be prepared to manage the meeting more proactively than you would have to in-person – if two people start talking at once, and neither wants to give way, pick one to go first, and then allow the second to follow up. Or you can stop chatty Kathy from dominating the conversation and giving out all the ideas without letting the more introspective members of the meeting have a go. This will prevent a quieter person constantly being shouted down – something that happens all too easily on video calls. As an inveterate interrupter myself (I don’t mean to be rude, I’m just so excited that I want to share my ideas immediately!) I find myself having to be very careful not to dominate the conversation too much, especially in video meetings with shyer people.
Give Everyone a Go
And this is, again, where active hosting can come into play: pick on people to give answers, just as you would go around the room in a real-life meeting. This ensures that the shy people who can’t bring themselves to speak up without impetus get to have their say, and it holds back the extroverted, chatty people until it’s their turn. In this way, the meeting gets the benefits of everyone’s ideas; a win-win scenario.
So there you have the two sides of Teams meetings: attendees and hosts. Hopefully, now you will be a bit more confident when it comes to turning your camera on, shouting out an answer, and managing your meetings so everyone feels energised and heard, ready to … uh… stay home and do their best work!
Written by Liz Milne