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  • Writer's pictureMerel Elsinga

Zoom Business Etiquette: Are You a Distractor?

If you have been in professional Zoom meetings or webinars you have probably experienced it: participants (or hosts) look like they just fell out of bed, drink straight out of a ½–gallon milk container, knit, clean their teeth with a toothpick. Or the visible part of their background looks like a zoo.

Image Getty Photos

What all these observations have in common is that they distract from the meeting. Instead of focusing on what is discussed, you see a participant use a scratcher to have a go at their itchy back. I have to wonder: would they do the same in a real meeting?

I wonder a lot. I wonder if they are unaware that they are on camera, I wonder if they realize that they are distracting, and I wonder if maybe they don’t care. Whatever the reason, besides being distracting, it comes across as unprofessional.

Dear distractor, I do understand. You might be suffering from Zoom fatigue, you don’t realize your camera is on, or you haven’t had a chance to eat; and yet you are committed to attend. I am sure that you have good reasons. But they should not sabotage the purpose of the meeting; a little respect for and awareness of your partners-in-business goes a long way.

Zoom etiquette

Here are some simple etiquette recommendations based on a year of Zoom, or how to look your professional best:

  • Sit still and sit straight. Look interested. Don’t multitask, wiggle, eat, prune, or scratch.

  • If you must, stop your camera so we can look at your photo instead. The photo is less engaging, but also less distracting. Switch back to camera when you can, to show commitment.

  • Dress appropriately for the occasion; you wouldn’t show up in your PJ’s at an in-person meeting, would you?

  • Keep your audio muted unless it’s your turn to speak. Sometimes you can just unmute and start talking; sometimes it is better to raise your hand.

  • Check whether your video background looks organized. When it looks like a warzone, what does that tell about you? If you don’t have the option to create a nice background, choose a virtual one—no tidy-up required.

  • If possible, close your office door to limit interruptions by partners, pets, parents, or kids. I know closing your door is not fool proof—I had to spell out to my loved one that he should not just barge in while I am in a work meeting unless the house is on fire.

And a freebie tip to not lose network opportunities:

  • Make sure your first and last name are on the screen, and maybe even where you are from. This ensures that people can connect with you after the meeting and even spell your name right—which also comes in handy for minute-takers.

Please leave a comment if you have more tips.


Merel Elsinga is a copy editor, proofreader and an advocate of plain language based in Sidney (BC), Canada. She has a background in Dutch law. Merel has been a professional sailor as well, in which capacity she did not just sail oceans, but also provided international cuisine for guests on board.

Merel is a member of Editors Canada and PLAIN International.

Visit her website at or connect on linkedIn or Twitter.

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1 Comment

Barry Scott
Barry Scott
Mar 09, 2021

Excellent info, well presented.

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