Online Meeting Etiquette Mistakes You Might Not Know You're Making

. 4 min read

Over the past year and a half, online meetings have become the norm. Yet, alongside this shift has come a whole slew of new social rules to adhere to and faux pas to avoid.

For some, especially those who aren’t well-versed in tech, the transition has been hard to manage at times. But even young professionals who fancy themselves tech-savvy are still prone to make mistakes every now and then.

To help keep you from ending up all over the web like the infamous ‘cat lawyer’, we’ve put together this list of top online meeting etiquette mistakes you might not know you’re making.

Not Testing Your Video Beforehand

Before you turn on your video, test your camera to ensure you know exactly what’s going to be broadcast to your colleagues. Failing to do so can lead to some embarrassing situations.

For example, let’s say you’re using your Zoom account to meet a group of friends for a virtual movie night. You’re all joking around, so you slap on a silly background and some funny filters during the call. Or perhaps you let your kid use your account to meet their friends, and they changed the participant name that’s visible during the meeting.

That’s all well and good, but what if you forget to take off the filters or change your name back? Now, when you use that same Zoom account the next day for a work meeting, the effects stay on or the incorrect name appears.

In addition, checking your video first shows you what’s going to be in the frame. For instance, no one wants to see the dirty gym clothes lying on the chair next to you that you thought would be out of view.

Not Using the Mute Button Properly

Chances are, you know you should keep yourself muted when you’re not speaking in most meetings. But in some cases, muting yourself can actually be the wrong move.


Although keeping yourself on mute is generally the way to go, in very small meetings, staying muted can make the experience feel sterile and cold. Little utterances like “right,” “mm-hmm,” and even brief laughs help add human connection to the room. In large meetings, those same sounds can be distracting, but for a small group, they can have the opposite effect.

Of course, no matter what size group you’re meeting with, if there’s a jackhammer right outside your window, keep yourself muted. Use your discretion as you feel out the situation.

Eating on Video

This one may come as a surprise for some — after all, it’s totally normal to have a glass of water or a coffee with you while on a call. So why not a sandwich or a bag of chips?

Sorry to break it to you, but eating is a lot messier and more involved than drinking. It also makes a lot more noise. Sure, you can mute yourself while you chew, but what happens if someone asks you a question right as you’re taking a bite? Do you talk with your mouth full? Or do you awkwardly hold up one finger to ask everyone to wait as you finish chewing?

And don’t forget your hands — no one wants to see you fumbling around trying to find a napkin to wipe the ketchup off your thumb before you hit the unmute button on your computer.

In short: don’t eat during meetings. If you absolutely need to, at least keep your video off and choose a time when you’re relatively sure that you won’t need to contribute anything for a while.


Using Inappropriate or Distracting Backgrounds

Backgrounds on video call software serve two purposes: they can create a better or more professional look while on a call, and they can hide your living space if it’s messy (or if you don’t want anyone else to see it for some other reason).

Overall, there’s nothing wrong with using backgrounds, even during a meeting. However, you want to make sure that your background is appropriate for the situation. Judging that can be difficult, but this litmus test can help: is your video more distracting with or without the background? When possible, choose the less distracting option.

Getting Distracted By Other Tasks

Don’t be so sure that no one notices you’re browsing Reddit during the boring parts of your meeting. As sly as you might think you’re being, it’s usually pretty easy to tell when someone is doing something else based on their shifting gaze and the changes in lighting on their face as they swap tabs. Plus, if you wear glasses, your coworkers may even be able to see what you’re doing in the reflection.


Even if you’re not wasting time and you’re actually doing important work in the background, it’s still best to leave it for after the call unless it’s an absolute emergency. After all, your coworkers deserve your full attention.

Not Clearing Your Screen Before Screen Sharing

Just like you’d clean your living space before getting on a call, make sure you clean your digital space as well. There are few things more invasive than sharing your screen during a meeting and having your inbox on full display, confidential information, and all.

Some issues can be harder to notice, like a tab open to Facebook or Instagram, but they can still give off an unprofessional impression. To avoid this, close out of all unnecessary windows if there’s even a chance that you’ll be sharing your screen.

Not Taking Notes

Have you ever logged off an online meeting and realized that you can’t remember what was said or what action items were agreed upon?

Joining online meetings doesn’t always have the same sense of formality as gathering in-person around the conference table. Of course, even in online sessions, you can’t let note-taking and other meeting best practices slide, but you can leverage technology to help automate some of them.

With Otter, for example, you can automatically record and transcribe your online meetings across various platforms, including Zoom, Teams, and more. Even if you don’t pay perfect attention during your meetings, Otter has your back with the notes you need to stay on top of post-session follow-up.

See Otter in action by getting started with a free trial today.