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17 Mistakes to Avoid When on a Video Conference Call

These mistakes you're making could hurt relationships, cost you money, and make you come across as less than professional. Career experts discuss proper video etiquette in the modern world.

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Navigating a video conference call

The coronavirus pandemic has shut down offices around the world and forced people to set up work at home. Most people know the proper etiquette rules for being in a meeting with co-workers, but things change when that meeting is moved to a video conference call. Here’s everything you need to know about being professional and polite during a video call.

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You’re not prepared for why you’re on the call

Have you ever been in a meeting or on a video conference call and not sure why you’re there? So you simply dialed in and sat there, mostly in silence while another person ran the meeting? “Many people don’t know what the agenda of the call is, so they’re not prepared to contribute,” says Sarah Kaler, co-founder and CEO of Soul Powered, a women’s leadership and education and research company. When you’re unaware of the meeting agenda, you’re not able to fully prepare in advance in a way that will add value and make the meeting productive and efficient, says Kaler. In order to maximize your time and everyone else’s on the call, request information via email from the call initiator to get a sense of the purpose and desired outcome of the call so you’re prepared.

Smart Working in Pajama Pants and SlippersSeanShot/Getty Images

You think you can wear pajamas

“Although it is tempting to wear your pajamas or loungewear when you’re working from home, it’s important to wear appropriate clothing when you’re in a video conference for work because you never know if you’re going to have to get up suddenly or if your camera falls off your screen and shows that you’re wearing a t-shirt with ketchup stains on it,” says Bonnie Tsai, founder and director of Beyond Etiquette. “It’s important to dress as if you’re in a face-to-face meeting and see it as you’re representing your company on these calls.”

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You don’t mute yourself

If you’re joining a video conference meeting with a lot of other people, make sure to mute yourself before joining the call. You can unmute to say hello, but then let the person leading the meeting talk and keep yourself on mute until you have something to contribute. “By leaving your microphone on the entire [meeting], you may be distracting others with background noises and it could slow down or stifle the meeting’s flow,” says Tsai. “Instead mute your microphone when you’re not speaking so everyone can focus on the person that is talking.”

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You’re not primed to take notes

If you’re on a work call, always have a pen and paper, or your notes app open, says Sharon Schweitzer, founder of Access to Culture Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. You want to be ready to jot down information quickly without subjecting your colleagues to listening to you frantically search for pen and paper because you’re not prepared. Note-taking goes further than getting a phone number, explains Vicki Salemi, career expert at “Taking notes is incredibly helpful as it gives you something to refer back to and follow up with questions you may have on your mind,” she says. Here are some things highly organized people do every morning, so you’ll always be prepared.

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You take a bathroom break

“We would never conduct our in-person meetings while we’re sitting on the toilet, therefore our video conference meetings shouldn’t be any different. It would be embarrassing if you forgot that you’re on a video conference and set your laptop down on your bathroom floor while you use the toilet,” says Tsai. If the meeting is a few hours long and you need to use the bathroom, just let everyone know that you have to excuse yourself for a minute or two and then mute your microphone and leave your laptop in your workspace before you go use the bathroom.

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You’re typing and responding to e-mails

Since you’re already on your computer it can be tempting to browse email and try to get other work done while in a video call, but it’s important to keep your focus on the meeting. If you plan to take notes during the video call and need to be off mute, let the person on the call know ahead of time. “Although the person you’re speaking to may not say it, the click-clacks on your keyboard are definitely discernible,” says Schweitzer. Otherwise, they might think you’re checking e-mails, commenting on social media, or not paying attention. “Don’t embarrass yourself by sending the message that your e-mail is more important than the person on the call. Your e-mail will still be there after the phone call ends,” she says.

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You position your camera at a weird angle

“It’s important to position your camera so it’s not too low, high, or on another screen because weird camera angles can become very distracting during a video conference and it’ll take the focus away from the person speaking,” says Tsai. Before starting the meeting, test your camera to make sure your head is clearly in the frame and that the camera is not too close or far from you.

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You forgot to turn off notifications

Have you ever been on a work video call and then suddenly you start receiving a billion emails and messages? Yes, the caller on the other end can hear that. “There are more distractions than ever in our world,” says Kaler. “Take the time to eliminate those distractions, whether that’s Slack, Facebook, Twitter, or notifications on your phone.” This is super important if you work remotely, and don’t have that advantage of having the visual cues, reading facial expressions, or seeing body language, she says. “It’s more important than ever to be able to eliminate distractions and have your ability to listen really turned on,” she adds.

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You don’t check your connection and equipment beforehand

It’s frustrating to other members in the meeting if they have to wait to start the meeting while you figure out how to fix your connection or set up your headset. Test everything beforehand and make sure that you have a strong WiFi connection so that you don’t waste time in the video conference. If you’re nervous about something going wrong, ask a co-worker to set up a test call with you a few hours before the meeting.

Happy adult man having a video call with a laptop at homeSpace_Cat/Getty Images

You don’t take pauses in talking to check-in

“We all know it’s important to listen, but also when you are speaking in the meeting, you really have the ability to take pauses, check-in, and check-in for understanding with the people that you are communicating with,” suggests Kaler. “When we’re speaking on a video call, one of the most important things is to take intentional pauses to check-in and ask a few questions to check for understanding on the other side.” Communication is just one of the soft skills you need to have in the business world.

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You forgot to confirm the time zone

Whether you’re traveling and you have a scheduled call to make, or you have clients and business associates across the country and globe, verify the time zone for the video call. “It’s important to communicate and re-confirm the call the day before with your counterpart, via e-mail,” says Schweitzer. Confirming prior to making the phone call helps to avoid any misunderstandings.

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You’re not aware of your surroundings

Having a pile of dirty laundry, or kids and pets running around behind you during a video conference call can be extremely distracting to others in the meeting. Even if you’re on mute, there shouldn’t be anything going on in the background. Find a clean, simple space to use as your backdrop. These are the secrets your boss won’t tell you.

Confident businessman in his 50s working from home with laptop and paperworkJohnnyGreig/Getty Images

You’re not listening

Ever zone out on a video conference call and then realize your name is being called and you don’t know what’s going on? (Bueller? Bueller?) Sometimes you’re asked to speak up on a call, but when you’re not listening you could miss the context, says Salemi. The classic “Sorry, I had you on mute! Would you mind repeating the question?” cover-up can only go so far. “If you miss the background of the discussion, your answer could miss the mark and leave you looking clueless or bad at your job. It can happen to the best of us, but it shows your client and/or colleagues on the line that a work call isn’t a priority,” she says.

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You’re not in a quiet enough place or on a spotty connection

“Communication is key and when you hear static on the line or background noise like a barking dog, it’s a sign of unprofessionalism,” says Salemi. It’s a reflection of you even though sometimes things are outside of your control. Plan accordingly and, if you can, have a quiet backup location in mind to take the video call if things unexpectedly get noisy. “If you are going to be in any environment that is out of the norm for the day or for that moment—like driving and taking a call—give people the heads up in advance,” suggests Kaler. “And if you don’t have that opportunity to at the top of the meeting, just let the person who’s running the meeting know and your peers.” Depending on the noise levels of the situation, you may want to mute yourself and let them know so that they’re not concerned about you being more quiet than usual, suggests Kaler.

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You don’t have a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door

Just as you’re trying to impress a client, your boss, colleagues or all of the above, someone loudly bursts into your office. “Treat every video conference call, even if it’s a low maintenance 30-minute check-in with your team like it’s a Skype job interview,” suggests Salemi. Find a quiet place and put a “do not disturb” sign on your door, shut off your cell phone, and get in the zone for that small amount of time, Salemi suggests. Make sure to also follow these golden rules for working from home.

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You’re chewing gum or eating

Taking a sip of water is one thing if you’re very thirsty, but ditch the gum and hold out on eating your lunch, suggests Salemi. “People can hear you! And even if you’re on mute, what happens if you’re asked for input?” Salemi explains. “Again, treat this like a Skype job interview. Would you chew gum during it? Eat a sandwich? No. The next time you’re tempted, simply refrain.”

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You ended the call without checking that you’re understood

Closing the video conference call on a professional note is crucial for maintaining good business relations. Before wishing your counterpart well, and saying goodbye, confirm that you’ve fully answered all of their questions, noted the action plan for following up and addressed their concerns. When you’ve verified that all points are addressed, wish them a good rest of their day and say, “Goodbye,” rather than “Bye-bye” or “Talk to you later,” suggests Schweitzer. When it’s time to relax, check out these funny working from home cartoons we can all relate to right now.

Diana Kelly Levey
Diana Kelly Levey is a journalist, author, and freelance writing course instructor in Long Island, NY. She covers health, weight loss, nutrition, career and pets topics for Reader’s Digest. Her work has also appeared in Tom's Guide, Real Simple, Apartment Therapy, The Bump, and Centennial Media Publishing magazines. She earned a BA in Journalism and Anthropology from Rutgers University. Follow her on Facebook @DianaKellyWriter and Twitter @DianaKelly.