Online etiquette: What not to wear for a video call

Just because we're at home doesn't mean professional standards go out the window in work time.

Just because we're at home doesn't mean professional standards go out the window in work time. Photo: Getty

Many workers across the country are wading through uncharted territory as they conduct their daily 9-to-5 grind online.

Zoom is up there with ‘pivot’ and ‘unprecedented’ for the most-used word of 2020, as we adjust to conducting meetings via the awkward world that is video chat.

There’s also the up-and-up of the email communication, plus the ‘look busy’ chat platform that is Slack.

And while 82 per cent of Australians say they want to continue this remote work into the future, two out of five of us are stressed about how we communicate online.

The figures come from the Adaptavist Digital Etiquette survey, released on Friday, and show – surprisingly – it’s the Millennial workers who are most anxious about how they appear online to colleagues.

Should I iron my pyjamas?

Forty six per cent of Millennials (aged 35 and under) worry about their virtual communications, compared with an average of 38 per cent for workers across all age groups.

Am I too direct? Too enthusiastic? Do I look like I’m not doing enough work?

The waters are even murkier when it comes to video call etiquette – for example, 88 per cent of Aussies reckon it’s OK to be dressed in activewear for a work video call.

But Zarife Hardy, director of the Australian School of Etiquette, says this is 100 per cent a faux pas.

Ms Hardy told The New Daily our personal packaging matters in the virtual world just as much as it does in a face-to-face corporate environment.

“Unless you are meeting with your PT, best friend or family then keep the activewear away from the virtual meetings,” Ms Hardy said.

“We must remember that just because we are at home doesn’t mean we don’t treat it like a normal work meeting.”

Leaning into our laidback culture, half of Australians think swigging back a beer on a work video call is absolutely fine, according to Adaptavist’s data.

Three-quarters of Aussies think it’s OK to have a snack or even a light meal in a video meeting, and pretty much all of us would not even blink at a colleague sipping on a cuppa.

Ms Hardy absolutely ruled out any alcoholic beverages on a work call – it’s a professional environment, after all – the same to eating.

As for tea, coffee or water, she said, it’s acceptable, but if it’s just a quick meeting, just hold out until afterwards.

However, we can all agree that conducting a video call from bed is an absolute no-no.

Curiously, more Australians think it’s OK for a pet to appear in a video call than a child.

Setting the tone

Now that so much of our communication is done via email or instant messaging, we lose the benefit of watching the recipient’s reaction.

Likewise, they lose the benefit of seeing our emotional state.

This has resulted in a third of us misinterpreting the tone of a message sent digitally, and a quarter of us have even had to apologise for (or been apologised to) for that misinterpretation.

The first step to avoiding an awkward online interaction?

Remember the written word can be very, very misinterpreted, Ms Hardy said, so write clearly, politely and concisely.

Eating your lunch while on a video conference call? Absolute no-no. Photo: Getty

“Really watch your spelling and grammar,” the etiquette expert said.

“Re-read before pressing send and don’t ever press send if you are angry.”

To really make sure you get your personable self across, she also recommends adding a warming touch.

A “hope you’re having a good week”, or a “lovely to hear from you”, can go a long way, she said.

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