Etiquette for Virtual Meetings: Documenting Otherwise Unwritten Rules (Rights, Responsibilities, and Community Expectations)

Wikipedia explains etiquette as: “the set of conventional rules of personal behaviour in polite society, usually in the form of an ethical code that delineates the expected and accepted social behaviors that accord with the conventions and norms observed by a society, a social class, or a social group.” In the workplace, we have many ideas of what constitutes good etiquette, and whenever those idea aren’t documented and shared, we run the risk of people being unfairly evaluated based on an assumed “norm” that was unknown and unable to be known because it was unwritten and uncommunicated.

In the shift to remote work, folks rapidly learned the technical how-to for technologies. In many cases, we’ve also learned and shared our community expectations for the way we use technologies. But, not always, and more work is needed. At UF, with our focus on compassionate computing in the Libraries, we started from general assumptions that technology should support people and processes, and should be wielded in ways that help and not hurt.

For one small example, we ensure everyone has a webcam for videoconference meetings, and we also share that our expectations are that folks will use video when they can and will not be required to use video. As we’ve moved into so many online meetings, with work invading home spaces, we’ve emailed to let folks know about using virtual backgrounds, if wanted and if equipment supports for when folks want to use video.  We’ve mainly communicated via emails sent to everyone on our ways/expectations for video conferencing. Aside from a values statement on Accessibility Rights/Responsibilities for Remote Access to Meetings, which was in process before the pandemic, we haven’t yet done more on documentation in support of shared understanding for how we engage in video conferencing.

We’re working on documentation now. In discussing this with technology, HR, and DEI folks, we all want documentation that communicates and supports, with recommendations that always include compassion. Some of the things under discussion: If folks are using video, for that, do we recommend that folks use a virtual background? If using virtual backgrounds, do we recommend that folks use non-animated backgrounds? Do we recommend considering including pronouns after their name? What all do we recommend for meeting organizers, to ensure our expectations are communicated, established, and flexibleas needed to ensure folks are supported?

As we work through these questions, we look forward to having a useful primer on our collective expectations and supports. Our guide/document might look a bit like UPitt’s page on Zoom Etiquette, and it won’t look anything like the many sites that caution people against doing things like having video off and leaving the frame without notice. I certainly agree that it is odd to have video on and leave the frame without saying anything; and, I did exactly that earlier today when my dog ate through a plushy toy to get the squeaker, and I worried about her swallowing it. It’s great to have best practices, recommendations, and considerations, and to have them written and clear so that we can communally refine and improve practices, and so that no one is caught unaware. That said, our best practices will always need to be those that lead with compassion and flexiblity.