First rule for Zooming: wear clothes

David MoonBlog

A young friend of mine recently interviewed for a job via Zoom. His suspicion that the interviewer was conducting the meeting from a bedroom was confirmed when from underneath the comforter behind the interviewer crawled a t-shirt clad female, who walked out of the frame – followed by the sound of a toilet flushing.

A congressman in Argentina wishes that’s all he had broadcast to the outside world. During a virtual debate about pension fund investments, Chamber of Deputies member Juan Ameri was seen onscreen kissing his girlfriend’s bare breasts, explaining afterwards that he thought he’d lost his internet connection and wasn’t broadcasting.

Common sense suggests that we shouldn’t need rules for conducting business in a Zoom world, but apparently, we do. My general rule is this: if you wouldn’t do it in a conference room, don’t do it in front of a webcam. Most basic protocols fall under that broad category.

Other rules are just common sense. Dress for the occasion. Conducting business or school from home is naturally casual. Don’t let that change your attire. It is embarrassing that some school systems have found it necessary to tell students to wear shirts to online class.

Always be a few minutes early. Don’t eat during meetings unless it is specifically an eating meeting.

Check your tech. I recently sat for 15 minutes while the organizer of a multi-attendee Adobe Connect online meeting tried to get his microphone working. It set the tone for the entire meeting. It is better to wear a bulky headset/mic and look like an air traffic controller than to use cool earphones that only occasionally work.

If the meeting has four or more attendees, mute your microphone unless you are speaking.

Show your face. Discussions between names on a black screen are disturbing and awkward. Unless the meeting protocol requires it, turning off your camera is rude.

Position your camera in front of your face. If you are referring to information on your desktop computer but using an iPhone sitting on the edge of your desk as your webcam, people will soon grow tired of staring at your ear.

Clean your virtual office. Make sure that whatever is in your camera’s field of view is orderly and not so busy that it is distracting. Make sure that only people needed for the meeting are in the camera shot and that everyone is clothed.

Of course, purely social Zoom meetings are different from job interviews and Argentine congressional debates. For an early pandemic Zoom visit with some college friends, I used a nude beach photo as my virtual background and joined the meeting shirtless. My friends immediately implemented a fully clothed rule for all subsequent webchats.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. A version of this piece originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.