Remote Meeting Courtesies

With an increasing prevalence of meetings done over Skype, Hangouts, and similar, I feel that everyone (especially remote workers, but this isn't specific to folks who primarily work remotely) should know a few basic courtesies involved with this young form of interaction.

In decreasing order of importance:

  1. Mute yourself unless you are speaking. - I know you're being silent while on the call, and that's fantastic. The problem is that your computer is picking up the faintest sounds, amplifying them, and sending them to the server anyway. Unless you're actually trying to speak to the group, use the mute feature of the software. This always reduces the background noise of the call, even if you're not making any.
  2. Don't interrupt. - While this may seem like an obvious carry-over from in-person meetings, it's far nastier over these VOIP services. In-person it's pretty straightforward to interject and add to a teammates comment, as more nuanced communication such as body language can come to your aid and broadcast your intent. When all you're left with is your voice (often, the primary video being displayed is the person speaking, so video doesn't cut it outside of the accompanying voice), it's extremely difficult to cleanly add to another's statement without creating noise and frustration. You're statement is still valid and wanted, but the noisiness of interrupting mid-sentence is not.
  3. Pause often while speaking to let others interject. - Because it's such a noisy ordeal to interrupt someone while speaking, you should pause between ideas. That way, anyone else wishing to speak can interject and add their own two cents. Going back to the lack of body language, you should treat VOIP meetings as miniature speaking engagements, and the same advice applies: pausing allows the other folks in the meeting time to digest your salient arguments. If Bob abuses his ability to interrupt, most VOIP systems allow you to mute others...
  4. Use the chat for out-of-band conversations. - Continuing the trend of not interrupting, if you have a sufficiently-small or unrelated point to add, consider using the built-in chat feature. A separate, minor discussion can occur and be resolved in the chat while the major discussion occurs over VOIP.
  5. Avoid using chat. - It should go without saying, but abusing the chat feature is distracting and rude. Any time and energy spent in chat is detracting from the person speaking, and is unfair to both that person and their ideas.

The first point is by far the biggest and most important, so I'll reiterate: Mute yourself any time you're not addressing the group! Following that rule alone will vastly improve meeting online.

That, or you could just hold meetings like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYu_bGbZiiQ

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