During a time like this, virtual meetings are a necessity. These can be agonising if not done right.

I used to work from a Dubai office while my extended team sat across many countries. The rules that follow are a result of lessons learned during this time.

Online meetings come with peculiar liabilities. Basic etiquette can solve these. This post applies more to meetings than webinars. Both call for different sets of conduct.

1. The Golden Rule: Treat your online meeting like a regular meeting

Arrange your day so that you can be present during the meeting. If it were not an online meeting, it would be in a meeting room with everyone there and participating. The fact that it is an online meeting does not make it okay to do the groceries while attending the meeting.

Get comfortable in a chair at a desk. Have your coffee or water handy. Are you able to take notes? Use a device that makes it easy to see slides or other content. If you’re not set up well, you could hold up the meeting by asking for data that is visible to all but you. A tablet or PC is usually good for viewing slides, but a smartphone isn’t always.

2. Avoid Background Noise

In line with the Golden Rule, set up for the call in a suitable meeting-like environment. If a regular meeting cannot happen there, don’t do an online meeting there.

It is good etiquette to mute yourself if there is noise. But the mute button hampers the natural flow of communication. A speaker can feel alone when others are too silent. Most attendees are unlikely to unmute themselves to offer a quick “okay.” Yet this would be an expected part of a real-life conversation.

Long pauses usually precede, “sorry, I was talking to myself on mute.” Of course you were and there is a reason for it. It is unnatural for someone to unmute herself during a flowing conversation. And only trigger-happy “mute-police” react badly to a whisper of background noise.

If the meeting space is correct, you won’t have much need for the mute button. This is a good acid test for choice of space.

Speaking of your home-office, arrange for the kids to be as occupied as possible. It is always cute to hear a little baby gurgling into the microphone. It may even be a welcome relief in a serious meeting. No one is ever going to complain about interruption by a child.

It is a basic courtesy to others to commit your time and attention to the meeting while it is happening. Rather do a shorter meeting with full attention than a longer, interrupted one.

3. Arrange a Good Internet Connection

Set up to avoid the “poor bandwidth” situation. If you are driving and are on your cellphone, your fellow meeting attendees will struggle to hear you . Why didn’t you bother to arrange your day better?

Had this been a regular meeting, would you be driving through a rainforest? If you delay a twelve-person call by ten minutes, you are squandering two expensive hours. Imagine if you had to pay for that. Harsh, but true.

4. Use a Good Headset

Avoid a headset that winds up under your nostrils making you sound like Darth Vader.

5. Speak

This actually falls within the realm of etiquette. It is easier for everyone to engage in a real-life meeting. We need to show more effort during online meetings.

As a starting point, if your software and bandwidth permit, always use video. This is the closest approximation to a real-life meeting. Visual elements enhance communication. Attendees will see your agreement before they hear it. This speeds things up.

If your attire is not appropriate for camera, get changed. If a camera makes you uncomfortable, remember that people see you in real-life anyway.

Sometimes, bandwidth, software or even number of attendees make video impractical. In the absence of visual perception, the only evidence of your presence is your voice. For these meetings to work, you have to speak. Not speaking is like arriving at a regular meeting and hiding under the table. You are there but you don’t want anyone to notice.

Find appropriate ways to use your voice to keep the flow of communication alive. Give acknowledgements, ask questions and offer quick comments. Use your voice more than you would do in a regular meeting. This shows that you are attentive and it keeps everyone engaged.

Many people use text chat during online meetings. They seem more comfortable using this feature to speak. Alerts can become distracting, especially when people start asking questions by text. As much as you won’t interrupt someone in real life, don’t text chat while someone is speaking.

It is best to use the text feature at the speaker’s instruction. For example, a speaker might ask a question or run a quick poll and ask for your responses by text chat. Otherwise use your voice to keep the flow as natural as possible.

Use the above to ensure you lead good quality online meetings. Download the PDF Free Guide of this post so you can include it in your calendar invitations so others can follow your lead. Here’s wishing you many productive online meetings!