Your Most Pressing Zoom Etiquette Questions, Answered

Photographed by Jessica Garcia.
As quarantines persist in much of the country and work from home interactions and socializing sessions continue to be relegated to video conferencing tools like Zoom, there has been a major uptick in memes that bemoan the most awkward parts of video calls. I can't tell you how many "why is leaving a Zoom meeting so hard?" memes I've come across in my nearly-constant scrolls through social media, and despite the fact that it's the same joke being recycled again and again, I find myself laughing out loud and hitting "share" every time. This joke always lands because the struggle with Zoom meetings, virtual parties, and even one-on-one video chats is so real and relatable. We're all having to learn how to socialize and communicate effectively and politely in this new era of existence, and that, of course, comes with obstacles and questions.
With that in mind, we reached out to Lizzie Post, etiquette expert and co-president of The Emily Post Institute, for her insights on navigating this new world of virtual social and professional interactions. From how to decline a virtual party invite when everyone knows you probably don't have anything else going on to making sure people in a Zoom meeting aren't talking over one another, Post has the answers. And, yes, she even shares how you to make exiting a Zoom meeting a lot less awkward.
Refinery29: How do you politely leave a Zoom meeting?
Lizzie Post:
Parting well is still good etiquette, and there are two ways that I've seen it done really well. At the very start of a call or even in the email or text setting up a call, you can let people know, "Hey, I might have to drop out if the baby wakes up or when my so and so arrives." Whatever it is, you're setting up at the very start of the call that you may have to drop out early, and you'll just give a wave and leave the meeting. That is totally acceptable.

If you haven't done that, it is definitely not a good idea to just hit "leave meeting" and drop out of the call without saying anything. You really should, at the next break in conversation, raise your hand and say, "Hey guys, I have to take off but take care" and then just click "leave meeting." If you can, wait for a few goodbyes and acknowledgment, but that particular piece of advice is need-dependent. There are some meetings where you can just give your "Okay guys, I gotta go. Take care, bye" and then you're out. And there are other meetings, where you really actually are going to politely wait for the responses of the other people to acknowledge that you're leaving. You're going to have to use your best judgment based on your circumstance. 
How do you politely decline a Zoom invite?
I feel like this whole thing is forcing us all to have to deal a little bit better with saying no, and I think that that's a really good thing. We've always maintained at the Emily Post Institute that you do not have to give a reason for declining. You can just simply say, "Oh, bummer. I won't be able to make it" or "Oh, that's not gonna work for me, but I hope you all have fun."

I've had some friends give Zoom burnout as a reason they're declining a virtual hangout, and I don't think you even need to do that. It kind of gives the impression to the other person that it would be a chore to hang out with them and that's not a good feeling. It's totally reasonable and understandable because I think we've all experienced Zoom burnout at some point, but telling someone, "No, I'm too tired to talk to you" does sting a little bit. 

You want to be a little bit sensitive to the person that you're declining too. Right now, people are in really different situations based on whether or not they live with someone else or don't. I have a friend who, like me, is single with no kids and doesn't have a roommate, so she's alone a lot. She and I made a pledge to each other that it's not like we're going to be available all the time, but we are two people who could really use connection from time to time. If you're in that fortunate position of having other people around, try and make sure you do make time for a Zoom call with your friend who's single and has no kids and no roommate. And this goes both ways. When you're a person who doesn't have anything distracting you around your house, be really sensitive to and aware of the fact that someone else is dealing with kids and spouses or partners or roommates, and it's just a lot harder for them to make time.
How much lead time should you give when inviting someone to a Zoom meeting?
If you randomly just want to see if your friend is available, I don't see a problem with just sending an invite right when you want to chat. But send that as a part of the message. You can say, "Hey, here's a link. I'm going to be around for the next half hour. If you want to hop on, now is a great time. If not, no worries!" I think we're used to that a little bit from services like FaceTime, but I agree that Zoom has a little bit more of that invitational, formal feel to it. I can't believe I'm saying that, but it does. Zoom, to me, is a little bit more of a schedule-ahead-of-time thing as opposed to just dropping a call on somebody. Whereas you could FaceTime or whatever the equivalent is on Android, no matter what, any time and someone can just decline it.
What should you do if you're going to be late to a scheduled Zoom call?
I don't know about you, but when someone's like five to 10 minutes late for a Zoom call, is it just me or does that feel like way absurd compared to just being five to 10 minutes late to someone's house? It totally depends on whether it's a one-on-one or a three-person call versus like my family did one to celebrate what would have been my grandmother's 100th birthday and there were I think 25 of us on the call. Two people were really late to that, but it was fine. We were so excited once they joined, but I've had appointments with people, and they were late and it felt really late. I was sitting there wondering if there were technical issues, wondering if they were ever going to show up, wondering if I had the right link and right password or if our meeting had gotten hijacked. I think I'm probably speaking more to the business side of it now, but even in a social situation, text your friend and say I'm running late. Text them, reach out via email, via messenger, whatever it is that you use, and let them know you're late for your Zoom call. That's really good etiquette right now.
Since only one person can be talking at a time on Zoom, how are you supposed to negotiate that without it feeling forced? What are your thoughts as to whether it's better to have a structured activity for a group Zoom or just a free for all?
I've seen it done all the ways. For that call with my family where we really wanted to toast to our grandmother and recognize her and also just have a moment where every single one of us was on the call, that was one where my aunt Cindy took the lead as the person doing the inviting. So she was our host and she laid out how she wanted the call to go down. She ended up going around and giving each branch of the family a time to toast and share a special memory. And when each group had the floor, she muted all the rest of us and unmuted each person in the individual branch. So that was super structured and it worked really, really well. Everyone paid attention to her and let her direct where we were going. And when people showed up late, she was fair about getting back to them. 

When I'm on with three of my girlfriends, though, that's one where there's much less structure. We just try to take turns talking and stay mindful of how long we've been talking. I do mute myself and unmute myself just so that there's no background noise while other people are talking. I really encourage the leaders of a group, if you've got a slightly messy situation going on, to do that. It cuts down on noise big time. Use features like the hand raise feature, too.
What do you do if you're having technical difficulties during a video call?
If you are a person who is experiencing a delay, really listen to the rest of the group. If they say to you, "Hey, you're not coming through clearly," drop off and try to find a different connection because listening to someone talk in like slow motion is brutal. The other thing is, if the vocals aren't working for you, this might be a call where you listen more. If your connection isn't great, just think tonight's not the night for me to try to interject a ton. It's really the time for me to just listen to everybody.

If the video chat isn't working, switch to a regular phone call when possible. Don't try to force it. One of the cool things about a lot of these services is you can actually just dial into the call. I know you sometimes don't want to be on a 25-person conference call, but it makes it so much easier if you're just willing to say, "this isn't working today and so we'll move to this other method." It'll be faster and easier.
Is there etiquette around whether everyone should have their video on if it's a video call?
This is one where, at least right now, I'm leaning in the direction of, if it's a work call that has been scheduled, you should probably be showing up in the way that work is asking you to. I fully understand, maybe you don't have the best spot in your house, maybe you might be in a small apartment with multiple children, and you're just like, "trust me, it'll be less distracting for you guys if you're not seeing what's going on in the background here." If you're concerned about those kinds of things, and your boss has made a request in the invitation to see everyone on the video call, I would write back and just say, "I would love to be granted an exception for this and here my reasons why."
What do you do if you have to go to the bathroom and you're in a Zoom meeting?
I would use the instant message feature on the right and just say, "I'll be right back" and that's it. You don't have to be explicit about what you're going to do. People do tend to react better to the word "restroom" than to the word "bathroom," but it does sound weird to say, "I'm going to go use the restroom in my own home." And then, of course, we had the wonderful flush heard round the world so obviously make sure you mute too when you choose to go use your restroom.

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