Workplace doctor: is it okay to eat a sandwich during a video conference?

I have a new job that requires regular video conferences with clients and colleagues around the world. The sessions can be long and I have to remind myself I am on camera all the time. I’m sometimes tempted to have my lunch during the sessions or do some work on the side. Are there any etiquette guidelines I should follow? BZ, Dubai  

I used to really enjoy meeting clients in their swanky offices for our coaching sessions but now the majority of my coaching work is spent sitting behind my desk on video conferences. The coffee was always much better at their place!

Maintaining the other person’s attention is also a lot easier when they are sitting in front of you. I remember even asking one of my virtual coaching clients to sit back in his chair slightly away from the laptop to stop him tapping away at the keyboard. And I have lost count of the number of times another client has pretended to drop the Skype connection so they can answer their mobile phone or send a text message.

Even though this can be challenging, we are fortunate that the way in which we can communicate at work has moved on so rapidly in recent years. We started with chatting face to face and then moved to telephone, to emails and now to live video conferences. These virtual conversations have also evolved rapidly. They started with shaky one-to-one conversations via Skype and now increasingly we have groups of people in different locations all coming together virtually as part of project or management teams. We can hear each other crisply through audio and see each other clearly through HD video, all while spread across various pockets of the globe.

I understand that these video calls may be long and by being at your desk it can be terribly tempting to get through your backlog of email or attend to other tasks, but it is of utmost importance that you treat this virtual meeting just the same as if it were a face-to-face meeting. Being at your desk in front of a small screen may feel informal, but it is not.

I would imagine that what is being discussed, and the people involved in the discussion, are no less important just because the meeting is taking place virtually. You must ensure your focus does not slip. Being fully present and engaged on video conference calls can present a big challenge, so work hard to ensure you invest all of your attention in the meeting. Eating your lunch and doing other work while on a call are both big No’s. Instead be extra attentive and avoid distraction, and remind yourself that this chat could be saving you a trip through a crowded airport. It has certainly done so for me.

As this mode of communication becomes the norm it is useful to set up some rules of engagement for when you have video conferences. I also suggest these ground rules are shared with those with whom you speak with regularly. Having this list of do’s and don’ts for yourself and your fellow video conferencers will ensure everyone is fully engaged.

Firstly, I would suggest treating punctuality as a priority. Make sure everyone joins the call a few minutes early because it allows the technology time to load up (and sometimes freeze and unfreeze). Then introduce yourself before speaking so that everyone knows who is talking and can address you by name. This also acts as an audio check. Take note of speakers you do not know so that you can likewise address everyone by name. It is also important to make sure you are in a quiet space.

Once you have created the conditions for a good-quality call, I would encourage you to maintain eye contact into the screen so you do not appear distracted and you can see who might be planning on talking. Try to avoid interrupting people. If you’re really listening and observing others you should sense natural pauses and anticipate when others are about to speak.

I would also recommend staying off your keyboard during the call. Typing during a video call not only creates distracting noises but also indicates you aren’t paying attention. Others on the call might assume you are working on something unrelated to the conversation. Even if you are taking notes, the sound of the keys can be distracting to others. It is similar during face to face meetings when you see someone using their phone. They could be listening attentively and making succinct notes of your every word, but the thought that they are distracted is distracting for you.

Doctor’s Prescription:

The world is connected, embrace it by making the most of it and use this technology to your advantage. By being present and setting ground rules for video conferences they should be a productive communication tool that can save on flights, travel and long email trails. Treat them like you would any other important meeting. Otherwise the camera might not show those on the other end your best side.

Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter


Share This Post