Netiquette: 7 questions to ask yourself before attending your next online class or meeting

As schools, universities and businesses across the globe moved face-to-face interaction online during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, there were bound to be a few hiccups. During our “new normal,” how can we cut down on some of the frustrations that online classes and meetings can bring? One answer is to mind your netiquette!

Internet etiquette, or netiquette, refers to the current code of accepted online behavior. And there are more rules than you may think when it comes to having good netiquette. From making sure your microphone works BEFORE your meeting to remembering humans are behind your screens and everything in-between, these tips will help you navigate the waters.

Here are the seven most important questions to ask yourself before attending your next online class or virtual meeting – use them to keep your netiquette in check.

What will I do if I experience technical difficulties?

First, let’s clear one thing up – technical difficulties are to be expected as everyone transitions to working and learning in an online environment. And we all have to accept that. However, what’s netiquette rule number one? Don’t announce that you’re having technical difficulties to the group. Especially if someone is in the middle of speaking – don’t interrupt. Instead, work to troubleshoot on your own by finding the “help” or “support” page for your platform.

For example, here are the support pages for two popular platforms:

The only exception to this rule is if you’re the one running the course or meeting. In that case, you’ll want to let everyone know you’re working quickly to fix the issue. Of course, you should test the platform before your start time to prevent issues, but that’s not always possible.

Am I arriving late?

If you’re arriving late, don’t barge in on an ongoing conversation to announce your arrival – unless you’re called upon. This is as rude online as it would be if you did it in person and can be very disruptive to the class or meeting. Aside from showing up early or at least on time, proper netiquette is to wait your turn and refrain from interrupting. Once others are done speaking, that’s your queue to contribute to the discussion.

Is my camera on? Should it be?

You should ALWAYS know whether or not your camera is on. Not knowing your every move is visible to the group can lead to some very embarrassing moments. So, if you have anything distracting going on around you, if you’re eating, if there’s anything inappropriate in the background, etc. – turn your camera off!

On the opposite side, in some meetings and courses, proper netiquette is to make sure your camera is ON. If everyone else has their camera on, you should too. In that case, you need to keep a few things in mind:

  • Know what’s showing in the background – even if you’re at home, you’ll need to find a way to keep it as professional as possible. We’d recommend using a lightly decorated wall or bookcase that has no glimpses of dishes or dirty clothes in the background. Yuck!
  • It’s also always a good idea, especially if you’re calling in from home, to let everyone around you know that you’re about to hop on a video call, so they too can make sure they remain professional and out of the camera’s view.
  • Lastly, make sure you stay engaged in the conversation – once you’re on camera, don’t forget you’re on camera. If you’re not engaged in the conversation, it’ll be very obvious to the group and can be seen as disrespectful and unprofessional.

Am I muted… or not?

This one is huge. Those who are familiar with online classes or meetings know this all too well: The leader of the discussion asks someone a question, which is followed by an awkward silence. Then, “Sorry, I was on mute.” It happens to the best of us but that doesn’t make it less disruptive. Likewise, the opposite occurs: There’s a dog barking, baby crying or some other distracting background noise coming in, making hard for everyone else to concentrate.

How can we prevent both of these situations? Here are the basics:

  • First, pick the right place to attend your class or meeting – somewhere that’s reasonably quiet and predictable.
  • Stay present in the discussion and be ready to unmute yourself to answer questions or contribute to the conversation.
  • Mute your microphone whenever you’re not talking. You should also mute yourself if you need to: cough or sneeze, shuffle around papers, quiet your barking dog or anything else that will make enough noise to interrupt the group.
  • Also, please don’t breathe directly into your microphone – no one wants to hear that!

Am I speaking (and typing) at a normal volume?

NO YELLING PLEASE! In most situations, speaking at a “normal” volume is appreciated and it’s no different online. If you get feedback that the group can’t hear you, it doesn’t mean you need to immediately start speaking at an abnormally loud volume. First, make sure you’re close enough to your microphone. Then, take your volume up a notch or two, test it out and revise. The key is to refrain from shouting.

Similarly, typing in all caps isn’t appropriate because most readers will perceive it as shouting. Even if what you have to say is insightful, others may not read it that way when you type in all caps. Use sentence case for proper netiquette.

On the other end of the spectrum, some of us need to speak up – especially online. If you’re normally soft-spoken, you may need to increase your volume quite a bit for everyone to hear you clearly. This doesn’t mean you’ll need to shout, but you have to speak loudly enough for the microphone to register all of your words.

Will I be able to stay focused here?

Another key component of netiquette when attending an online class or meeting is to stay focused and engaged. It may be tempting to check your email, respond to a text or start a side conversation with someone else but do your absolute best to avoid this – just as it’s rude to start texting in the middle of an in-person conversation, it’s rude online too. Ensure you’ll be able to stay focused by choosing the right setting to log on, eliminating distractions around you and preparing to engage in the discussion.

Did I check my spelling and grammar?

Are you posting something for discussion or commenting in the meeting chat? Check your spelling and grammar before you post. It’s easy to forget that you’re in a formal setting when it’s online, so make a conscious effort to put your best foot forward. You’ll begin to lose credibility with your peers when your sentences don’t make sense or if you have words spelled incorrectly. Using the correct spelling, grammar and formatting will also increase the readability of your posts and make for better discussion.

What’s next?

The biggest thing to remember is this – if you wouldn’t do it in person, don’t do it online. Now that you’re up to date on your netiquette, it’s time to shine. Check out these 5 tips for succeeding in online classes >


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