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Ground Rules for Video Conferencing Like a Pro

by Margaret Joy

Video conference calls don't have to be uncomfortable! We show you all the tech tips and etiquette steps to follow to ensure that your calls run smoothly.

You might think that video calls are much simpler than their in-person alternative. After all, only a tiny part of your surroundings is visible, and you don’t even need to wear pants! In reality, video calls can actually garner more scrutiny than office meetings. It’s a glimpse into our colleagues' real lives if they’re taking calls from home. Rogue elements can pull focus at any moment. And at some point, you can bet that your fellow video callers are bored enough to zone out on that one strange art print you forgot was in your background. 

These examples particularly relate to video conference calls from home. Still, there’s a whole book of etiquette that applies no matter your webcam’s location. Use this collection of video call dos and don’ts to keep you as professional as you need to be when that little camera light is shining. 

Check Your Tech

We mean all the tech. That means WiFi, your video calling platform of choice, your specific settings, and any hardware in play.

First, check your Internet. WiFi signal not strong enough for a stable video stream? Connect the Ethernet cable or mute your video to avoid distracting teammates with your jittery feed. 

Second, check the platform. Familiarize yourself with your settings to make sure your camera and microphone are accessible and functional. If there are any fun effects, you should absolutely play around with them. Just save it for non-meeting times, or risk becoming this legendary boss:

We’d bet that no one remembers anything from this meeting except the potato. 

Third, check your specific tech. Video calls take a lot of CPU, so don’t think about it—plug everything in. If you use headphones, headsets, or a speaker, make sure they’re on, connected, and selected for audio input/output. It doesn’t hurt to turn off Bluetooth on other devices for the meeting to prevent connection interference. 

Mind Your Surroundings

Put the Office in Home Office

Working from home is not an excuse for your room to look like the apocalypse just made a house call. Your video conference call backdrop matters. As we mentioned earlier, your colleagues are probably looking around at everyone’s background, and they definitely are if it’s a long or tedious meeting. So clean up any clutter and make sure your background is work appropriate.

An uncluttered home work space.
A masterclass in work-appropriate video call backgrounds: Uncluttered, the same personal accents you might see on an office wall, and nothing overly distracting.

Beware Rogue Elements

Remember when you could reference a child interrupting a video call, and everyone knew you meant exactly this BBC clip? Us, too, but now everyone is video conferencing, and we’re saturated in similar content. 

“I was, and this is true, not paying attention to a single word that man just said.”

Laughs aside, let's try to keep any rogue elements out of our own video conferences. If there’s a chance of small children, frazzled nannies, or well-groomed cats populating your video feed, try your best to get somewhere private for the meeting. Shut your “office” door, or build a maze of household items around your desk. Whichever works. 

If you find yourself in the same situation as our trustworthy BBC friend, learn from his mistakes. Simply excuse yourself for a moment to remove the interlopers. It’s less disruptive and minimizes wasted time.

Work Those Angles

Video Conference Camera

If you're sitting down, have the camera slightly above you and angled down. If you’re standing, have it at eye level. Face the camera dead-on. We know it feels strange, but look at the camera while you’re talking. It gives the impression that you’re making eye contact with your fellow callers. Looking at the screen gives that odd “I’m looking slightly down” effect. 

Video Conference Lighting

Make sure your lighting is bright enough to illuminate your face. Preferably your light is to the side but absolutely never behind you. And vogue.

Backlighting reserved for SPECTRE.
Backlighting reserved for SPECTRE or dramatic reveals essential to business. 

Don’t Be “That Guy” on the Call: General Video Call Dos and Don’ts

Do Wear Real Clothes

Remember when we said to put the “office” in “home office?” It applies to your appearance too, you pajama-wearing layabout. We’ve made our controversial stance on pants clear, but hear us out: What if you need to get up during the call? For video calls at least, be dressed in real clothes. 

If your job requires business clothes, pick shirts and ties that are solid colors. Otherwise, you risk everyone’s focus locking on to the weird optical illusion your torso becomes on screen. Skip any bulky or loud jewelry, too. We’re all for dressing up for ourselves, but noisy accessories are just as bad as loud prints. 

Don’t Ask if Your Coworkers Are Wearing Pants

We’re slightly disturbed that this needed its own header, but here we are. Please don’t ask your colleagues if they have clothes on. It’s weird, and of course they’re not wearing pants (See: previous section). Newscasters already drilled that joke into the ground anyway; you can find better office jokes. 

Do Embrace the Mute Button

The mute button is a good move if you’re somewhere loud, but we err on the side of muting ourselves at all times if we’re not talking. It cuts out ambient noise from your end, plus it’s polite. Just remember to unmute when you start talking. And when it comes to speaking up, don’t interrupt. As with normal in-person conversations, wait for a pause, or visually indicate that you have something to add and let the meeting moderator give you the floor. 

Do Sit Still

When you’re just a face on a screen, it’s fairly obvious when you’re not paying attention or doing other work. Sit still, try not to fidget, and have everything you need with you before the meeting so you don’t have to get up in the middle of it. 

Speaking of doing work on the side during a video call, engage in sidebars with caution:

Screenshot of a Zoom transcript tweet.

These are some pretty broad guidelines that naturally bend with various company cultures and levels of meeting importance. Think a quick daily standup with your team versus scheduled cross-team meetings. When in doubt, just watch this and do the opposite of the receptionists:

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