Employees are being fired for video-call faux pas: don’t let it happen to you

A shocked woman on a Zoom meeting working from home

Working from home became the new normal for many employees when the pandemic reached Australian shores in early 2020. But while many people expected this to last no more than a few months, 18 months on and two-thirds of the Australian population continue to roll straight out of bed and into their home office. 

As a result, video calls and virtual meetings have become synonymous with working from home. So much so, in fact, that daily participants in Zoom calls globally surged from 10 million a day at the end of 2019 to 300 million in April 2020. But it turns out that despite the increase in use, there are still many employees getting it wrong when it comes to correct etiquette in such meetings. According to a recent American-based survey, nearly 1 in 4 executives have fired a staffer for slipping up during a video or audio conference, and most have levied some sort of disciplinary action for gaffes made in virtual meetings. 

While people might have grown more accustomed to virtual meetings, the survey found there are still slip-ups occurring that are leading to the loss of clients, reduced sales opportunities and missed deadlines. In turn, this is harming people’s careers. 

Here, we provide tips on the best way to present yourself in virtual meetings so you can make the best impression. 


To video, or not to video? 

Zoom etiquette has evolved over the last 18 months. While it once may have been acceptable to sit and chat with your camera off during internal team meetings, it is becoming increasingly commonplace to participate in the video component of the call.  

Of course, this will vary from business-to-business, and if you are in a customer-facing role, there’s every chance you’ve always had internal meetings via video just as you do with your clients. But for many, the desire to remain a big black square on the screen is strong: there’s no need to get out of your pajamas and you don’t need to wash your hair. But as working from home orders stretch into the foreseeable future, employees need to think about how they’re being perceived if they choose to sit in a meeting with their cameras off – particularly if everyone else is showing up on-screen. 

As well as being the polite thing to do, appearing on video allows for greater connection with your manager and colleagues, something which is becoming increasingly important as many states remain in lockdown.  

This is not to say that every discussion needs to be held via video conference. For example, if you simply need to ask a colleague a quick question, then a video chat is less efficient than a simple phone call. However, if you are meeting with more than one other person, hosting an external guest, or having a longer more in-depth meeting with a manager, than opting for video functionality is the assumed etiquette. 


Assume you’re always on video 

Even if you’re part of a virtual meeting where participant have their cameras off, always behave as though people are watching. Who can forget the story of New Yorker magazine writer Jeffrey Toobin who found himself being fired for inadvertently exposing himself on a Zoom call last year. And though this is an extreme case, it demonstrates the very serious ramifications that can arise if you’re caught off guard. 

It is important to remember that despite being in your home, you are actually “at work”, and every meeting should be treated thus. Make sure you look presentable, that you don’t have any inappropriate items in the background or sensitive information on display. 

The same care should be taken with screen sharing. Though you yourself might be off-camera, when sharing your screen you are baring all to those on the other end of the call. Make sure you have closed all windows and tabs of non-work-related activity, and have muted any chats that could spontaneously pop up on your screen. 


Choose a quiet, private space 

Throughout the pandemic, we have seen video footage of pets and children interrupting important meetings around the world. And while these may have given you a good chuckle, such incidents can actually harm your professionalism, particularly if it is a frequent occurrence. Furthermore, if this occurs while meeting with clients or third-party stakeholders, you run the risk of damaging your company’s reputation. 

Whether you live alone, in a share house or a home with children and pets, try and find a space that is quiet and distraction-free. We understand that this isn’t always possible, so if you can’t, inform the people that you’re meeting with that you are home schooling, for example, but will do your best. At a minimum, ensure your personal phone is on silent and that there’s little chance of being interrupted. It can even be a good idea to blur or change your background if you are in a space that might be particularly distracting.  


Know when to mute yourself 

If it’s not your turn to speak during the meeting, it is generally a good idea to keep your microphone muted. Even if you’re simply sitting at a desk, sounds of your movement or ambient noise can be picked up by headphones, which can be distracting for colleagues. 

If you are in a training session or larger presentation, it may be that your microphone is automatically muted, however don’t automatically assume this is the case. Just as with video, microphones can capture snippets of conversation or noises that would not be appropriate in the workplace, so it pays to double check. 

Video calling platforms like Zoom have a microphone icon you can tap on to mute or unmute your microphone during the meeting. 


To access the Bayside Group’s range of careers resources, including resume templates and interview guides, visit our website. If you are in the market for a new job, you can search our opportunities here. 

Leave a Comment