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17 Mistakes to Avoid When on a Video Conference Call

These mistakes you're making could hurt relationships, cost you money, and make you come across as less than professional. Career experts discuss proper video etiquette in the modern world.

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Navigating a video conference call

The coronavirus pandemic has shut down offices around the world and forced people to set up work at home. Most people know the proper etiquette rules for being in a meeting with co-workers, but things change when that meeting is moved to a video conference call. Here's everything you need to know about being professional and polite during a video call. These little business etiquette rules will help you get ahead.

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You're not prepared for why you're on the call

Have you ever been in a meeting or on a video conference call and not sure why you're there? So you simply dialed in and sat there, mostly in silence while another person ran the meeting? "Many people don't know what the agenda of the call is, so they're not prepared to contribute," says Sarah Kaler, co-founder and CEO of Soul Powered, a women's leadership and education and research company. When you're unaware of the meeting agenda, you're not able to fully prepare in advance in a way that will add value and make the meeting productive and efficient, says Kaler. In order to maximize your time and everyone else's on the call, request information via email from the call initiator to get a sense of the purpose and desired outcome of the call so you're prepared. Get more tips on today's business etiquette.

Smart Working in Pajama Pants and SlippersSeanShot/Getty Images

You think you can wear pajamas

"Although it is tempting to wear your pajamas or loungewear when you’re working from home, it’s important to wear appropriate clothing when you’re in a video conference for work because you never know if you’re going to have to get up suddenly or if your camera falls off your screen and shows that you’re wearing a t-shirt with ketchup stains on it," says Bonnie Tsai, founder and director of Beyond Etiquette. "It’s important to dress as if you’re in a face-to-face meeting and see it as you’re representing your company on these calls."

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You don't mute yourself

If you're joining a video conference meeting with a lot of other people, make sure to mute yourself before joining the call. You can unmute to say hello, but then let the person leading the meeting talk and keep yourself on mute until you have something to contribute. "By leaving your microphone on the entire [meeting], you may be distracting others with background noises and it could slow down or stifle the meeting’s flow," says Tsai. "Instead mute your microphone when you’re not speaking so everyone can focus on the person that is talking." Make sure you don't have any of these annoying co-worker habits.

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You're not primed to take notes

If you're on a work call, always have a pen and paper, or your notes app open, says Sharon Schweitzer, founder of Access to Culture Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. You want to be ready to jot down information quickly without subjecting your colleagues to listening to you frantically search for pen and paper because you're not prepared. Note-taking goes further than getting a phone number, explains Vicki Salemi, career expert at "Taking notes is incredibly helpful as it gives you something to refer back to and follow up with questions you may have on your mind," she says. Here are some things highly organized people do every morning, so you'll always be prepared.

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You take a bathroom break

"We would never conduct our in-person meetings while we’re sitting on the toilet, therefore our video conference meetings shouldn’t be any different. It would be embarrassing if you forgot that you’re on a video conference and set your laptop down on your bathroom floor while you use the toilet," says Tsai. If the meeting is a few hours long and you need to use the bathroom, just let everyone know that you have to excuse yourself for a minute or two and then mute your microphone and leave your laptop in your workspace before you go use the bathroom.

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You're typing and responding to e-mails

Since you're already on your computer it can be tempting to browse email and try to get other work done while in a video call, but it's important to keep your focus on the meeting. If you plan to take notes during the video call and need to be off mute, let the person on the call know ahead of time. "Although the person you're speaking to may not say it, the click-clacks on your keyboard are definitely discernible," says Schweitzer. Otherwise, they might think you're checking e-mails, commenting on social media, or not paying attention. "Don't embarrass yourself by sending the message that your e-mail is more important than the person on the call. Your e-mail will still be there after the phone call ends," she says. These are the office etiquette rules no one follows anymore.

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You position your camera at a weird angle

"It’s important to position your camera so it’s not too low, high, or on another screen because weird camera angles can become very distracting during a video conference and it’ll take the focus away from the person speaking," says Tsai. Before starting the meeting, test your camera to make sure your head is clearly in the frame and that the camera is not too close or far from you.

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You forgot to turn off notifications

Have you ever been on a work video call and then suddenly you start receiving a billion emails and messages? Yes, the caller on the other end can hear that. "There are more distractions than ever in our world," says Kaler. "Take the time to eliminate those distractions, whether that's Slack, Facebook, Twitter, or notifications on your phone." This is super important if you work remotely, and don't have that advantage of having the visual cues, reading facial expressions, or seeing body language, she says. "It's more important than ever to be able to eliminate distractions and have your ability to listen really turned on," she adds.

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You don't check your connection and equipment beforehand

It's frustrating to other members in the meeting if they have to wait to start the meeting while you figure out how to fix your connection or set up your headset. Test everything beforehand and make sure that you have a strong WiFi connection so that you don't waste time in the video conference. If you're nervous about something going wrong, ask a co-worker to set up a test call with you a few hours before the meeting.

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