The Unspoken Rules of Zoom Etiquette


Work-from-home life is a privilege; however, it’s also a delicate lifestyle, really, that could easily cause any sane human to spiral (if not done right).

If you’ve been working from home for the past handful of blurry months, ask yourself:

  • “Am I experiencing ‘human’ interactions?”
  • “Am I on the road to burnout?”
  • “Am I separating work from actual life?”
  • “Am I muted?”

Yes, this is the verbiage of the pandemic age in which we’re Zooming. As we play it safe and ride it out at home, we’re meeting, collaborating, checking in, circling back, and semi-socializing from a distance. This is GREAT news if you bought Zoom stock, and logistically doable if you’ve got a working computer and WiFi.

So, how can you make working from home as frictionless and livable as possible? It’s time to enroll in etiquette school—“Zoom etiquette,” that is. You surely know a thing or two about virtual conferencing at this point, but it’s likely that at least one of your coworkers is breaking the unspoken rules of how to make Zoom calls not… suck.

The following sections will break it down, Zoom 101 style, with a healthy dose of real talk, comical commonalities, and hope for virtual hugs all around!

How Do You Feel?

Five months into the effects of COVID-19 across the world, the US still has work to do—thus, many of us are still quarantining and working from home. So, how are people feeling about this?

In a survey of 1,123 remote workers by The New York Times and Morning Consult, 86% said they were satisfied working from home. 47% said they were “very satisfied.” 1 in 5 said they wanted to go back to the office full-time. 1 in 3 said they would move to a new city or state if remote work continued indefinitely. Stress was lower overall. 40% said they were taking more walks and breaks. 33% said they were exercising more.

So, this shift is actually positive for most people, it seems. Everyone can thank their meditation apps and athleisure ‘fits for always being there! But, there are still plenty of people out (in) there who can relate, hard, to this meme:

Tempting… but a better plan would be to improve the virtual work environment as much as possible, so you’re not stuck feeling frustrated, isolated, edgy, or (literally) unheard. Start by following these often untold, but crucial, rules of Zoom—and you’ll be practically a Zen master in the blink of a blue light-blocked eye.

#1 Display Deep Respect for Time

When hosting or attending a Zoom meeting for work, time is everything. Because you now can’t do quick drive-bys or even simple water cooler talk, every discussion has to be scheduled as a virtual conference. What does this equate to? MANY meetings on a typical day. So be a pal and keep it concise and productive!

If you are running late—especially if it’s your meeting to run—give other attendees a heads up and an accurate estimate of when you’ll be available. If other employees are late and holding up the meeting, send them a Slack, Skype, Teams, or any other instant message type of your company’s liking. This will help confirm whether you can go ahead and dive into the fun stuff.

Once everyone is on, keep things moving! If possible, avoid tangents, distractions, and sidebars with a crowd. Remember, you can “offline” about anything not pertinent to the discussion at hand. And if sometimes, a 30-minute meeting can be wrapped up in 15 minutes; that’s great! If you’ve covered everything, there’s no reason to draw it out to the top of the hour. Short and sweet is appreciated. It’s polite, in fact.

And if for some reason you do have to go over the time allotted, confirm with attendees if that’s okay with them. It’s always helpful to set timing expectations so everyone is on the same page and can get to the important points punctually. A great example of this is announcing something like, “Okay, so we have five minutes left. Does anyone want to cover anything else before we break?”

As they say: “When you gotta go, you gotta go.” In this scenario, you probably have back-to-back Zooms to grace with your presence—so if you have to jump, let your fellow Zoomers know. Whether that’s seizing a pause in the conversation to announce your departure, or more subtly bouncing by messaging, “Sorry guys, I have to jump to another meeting.” in the Zoom chat. Just remember that if you’re the meeting host, you’ll likely end the meeting for all if you leave first. Just make sure they’re cool with that.

#2 Present Your Best Self

Do you even Zoom, bruh? If you do, A LOT, you’ll appreciate these pointers for carrying out your conversations like a pro—unfazed by the forced digitization of every interaction and the glitches that often join.

“Hi guys, can you hear me?” That’s a good place to start when hopping in the Zoom. Sound check is number one. Make sure you’re not muted and that you’re not having connection issues. Once everyone has filed in and is audible, suss out the “video on” vibe.

First of all, did you remember to take off your face mask? Okay, check. Is your hair passable for a working professional’s? If it’ll do and you’re feeling fine to show face, turn that camera on! If you’d really rather not, it’s totally fine to keep video off, but adding a professional headshot to your Zoom account is a solid idea (so people remember that they’re talking to a boss!). If everyone else in the meeting has their video on except you, maybe consider joining the club—but you shouldn’t feel pressured to. It’s your work environment, and as long as you’re present and participating, you’re contributing to the team handsomely.

So you’re able to be seen and heard. Great, now you can ease into business by kicking off with some light small talk, maybe even a mild joke. Once that ice has been broken, do your thing! Fun Zoom backgrounds can be a nice touch, but make sure you read the room. Maybe don’t have an image background of Kevin from The Office spilling chili for a board meeting or the company All-Hands. Who knows, maybe that would land splendidly—but it’s in your best interest to play it professional for certain occasions.

If you’ll be screensharing during the meeting, jump right in as the host and share your screen right away to keep things moving. If you’re not screensharing, Gallery view is the clearest way to see everyone in attendance (especially if they have awesome backgrounds that are worth viewing larger!). If you have reference links or information to share, drop it in the Zoom chat and announce that you’ve dropped it in the chat. The goal is to be helpful, presentable, and as buttoned up as you can be while slyly sitting in your most embarrassing pajama shorts.

#3 Avoid Awkwardness

While Zooming from home can be real comfy, it can also be… awkward.

Sometimes you just can’t win with WiFi, and you just can’t seem to get in sync with coworkers the way you would if you were in the same room. But, that’s okay; we do what we can. For starters, if someone’s screen keeps freezing or there’s a lag, recommend turning video off so at least their audio does the job. If you feel like you’re speaking clearly and loudly but still your meeting attendees think it sounds like you’re whispering, the answer might be that your headphones aren’t in! For some reason, wearing headphones seems to always solve weird volume issues, even though it’s fun to loudly speak at your computer freely and not care who hears it.

Another fabulous thing about working from your environment of choice is that you can totally just sit out in your yard or on your porch or deck if you have one. Soaking in that vitamin D and breathing in fresh air will definitely make you a more pleasant person to work with—but keep in mind that it might not always be worth it if your connection is rough, or if no one can hear you over bird squawks. But definitely work outside until it’s not possible to.

You can’t spell “awkward” without “war,” so try to not awkwardly talk over people or interrupt at inopportune times and make meeting mates perturbed! Everyone understands that there will be some shoddy tech moments, so it’s on you to be a little extra sensitive and aware of people getting a word in. If there’s a distracting background noise or an echo, ask everyone but the current speaker to mute themselves so people can effectively communicate and listen. Chime in as much as you’d like, but with Zoom, there’s more of a need to speak in turns, so it’s just smart to keep that in mind. Your coworkers will feel that mutual respect, so give them a little muted nod as they go to town on their quarterly numbers.

#4 Show Your Human Side

Last but certainly not least, show your humanity as much as, well, humanly possible. We all have lives, we all have diverse homes, we all have basic needs. So, if you’re on a Zoom call with a coworker whose house is under construction while their three young children are yelling on their lap, be nice! Laugh it off, show your compassion and understanding, and work with them in a way that seems healthy for everyone.

If, on the flipside, you don’t have a home office and your spouse is doing a loud jazzercise routine in the background, consider either shutting your door or moving to a quieter workspace during the meeting. Even if there’s a coworker’s kid in the frame blankly staring at you while you’re trying to stick to the agenda, address this is a humorous yet polite way. This is the situation we’re all living in!

Sometimes we’ll have to scarf down some sort of a lunch during a virtual meeting, and sometimes it’s okay to pause and tell other attendees that you need to take a “bio break.” That’s essentially the most professional yet real way to say you’re a human first and a Zoomer second.

These four unspoken, yet wildly necessary, rules of Zoom will help you keep this way of life running smoothly, as we continue to navigate the strange road again. Ultimately, it’s a blessing to be able to fully work and make a living remotely, so give thanks each day by Zooming with style and grace—and sometimes face.