In this week's Don's and Don'ts, Zara Castagna tackles the very contemporary topic of video calls.

Even though video calls have been around for quite some time, I only ever used them to call friends and family when abroad. However this, like so many other things, has completely changed over the last few months, and suddenly video calls have become an important part of many people’s everyday lives. Even my grandparents have learned how to use the technology. Video calls have probably never been more popular than right now, and they allow us to keep a lot of things going whether in a working, educational or private setting. With the rise of this  technology we had to get used to a new etiquette in meetings, here are some tips how to best get through your video calls.

DO familiarise yourself with the software you’re going to use. Before Covid-19 I knew exactly two ways to video chat, now that larger in-person meetings are no longer really a thing and working from home is still very prominent, more and more platforms have emerged. Even though most of them work in quite similar ways, it is always a good idea to familiarise yourself with the software that you need for your meeting — especially if you’re using it for the first time. This can save you a lot of stress shortly before or during your meeting.

DON’T be late. Just because it is a video call that doesn’t mean that it is suddenly acceptable to be late. Treat these calls like regular in-person appointments, especially if you are the host and need to let people into the meeting.

DO mute your microphone when you’re not speaking. Whether your meeting is large or small, it is always best to mute yourself in order to cancel out any background noises so you’re not interrupting the meeting. The accumulation of a couple of people’s background noises can be very annoying and disruptive to a meeting.

DON’T get distracted. It is very easy to get distracted on video calls because you can have another page open at the same time, while still looking, and thus pretending to pay attention, at your screen. Try not to have any other web pages open and focus fully on the meeting to get the most out of it.

DO make sure that your name is displayed correctly. If you are in a meeting with people you don’t know that well, they are likely to rely on the display of your name to identify you. Changing your name to something funny is good if you’re talking to your friends but it isn’t appropriate in other, more professional, settings.

DON’T be in a noisy environment. Background noise is very distracting for video calls, so if you can, go to a rather quiet place. At the same time everyone understands that this might not always be completely possible if you are working from home, just do your best.

DO make use of the chat box. If it is a larger meeting it is often easier to use the chat box if you have a question or want to raise a point. It can be harder to get people’s attention because you can’t be sure if the speaker is currently looking at you or at someone else. If you use the chat box, everyone will be notified that you wish to speak.

DO make sure that you are dressed accordingly for your meeting. Just because you are at home doesn’t mean dress codes are completely out of the window. You can be a little less strict and dress more casually than you normally would but you should still make sure that, at least your top half, is dressed for the occasion.

DON’T have too much going on in the background. Find a spot with a relatively neutral background, such as a plain wall or bookcase. A busy background can be distracting and can appear unprofessional if one happened to see an unmade bed or a pile of dirty dishes behind you. Most platforms also let you set a background, if that is what you prefer.

DO use the camera function, especially if it is a small meeting. Sitting in front of your computer and constantly seeing your own face while talking is awkward but turning your camera off isn’t the best option either. Having it on is more respectful if everyone else has theirs on too and it comes slightly closer to the feeling of in-person meetings. When you are in a large meeting or presentation where you do not really need to actively participate it is okay to turn it off.

DON’T forget to send everyone the meeting information if you are the host. A lot of platforms require access codes for meetings which only the person organising the meeting has. Make sure that you send these out in time to everyone joining the meeting.

DO be prepared for connection problems. WIFI connections are far from being perfect and not everyone’s connection will be equally strong. People freezing or a lag in their speech shouldn’t bother you too much because most of the time these problems are beyond anyone’s control and we have to deal with them now.

DON’T eat during the meeting. This seems to be pretty obvious but recently I had someone eat a sandwich during a seminar which was really strange. You wouldn’t do this in a normal meeting so it is not really appropriate to do it in this situation. If you absolutely have to eat you should at least turn your camera off to make it less awkward for everyone else.

DO use headphones. If you struggle to hear people or to be heard, headphones can often make it easier for you to understand people and for them to understand you, especially if there is some background noise going on. They might even help you to focus more on the conversation.

DO make sure that your computer is fully charged or have your charging cable nearby. Video calls drain your battery and having to get up to get the charger is not only annoying but also distracting.