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Virtual Meeting Etiquette Guide for Hosts and Attendees

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July 17, 2020 7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Even before COVID-19, remote were becoming increasingly popular. However, amid this crisis, people have spent more than 5.5 billion minutes attending virtual meetings. While some people may still be concentrating on the effectiveness of meeting remotely, prior research shows that video conferencing can boost both productivity and collaboration among teams.

You need to make sure that everyone in attendance is following virtual meeting etiquette. Here are some tips to help you do just that.

Related: Are Virtual Games, Workouts or Happy Hours Most Popular Right Now? (Infographic)

Prepare for your online meeting.

Just as if you were to schedule an in-person meeting, it’s never in good taste to waste an invitee’s time. If you do, this shows that you don’t respect their valuable time. And because it’s not necessary, attendees aren’t going to be engaged with the event.

In short, the first rule of virtual meeting etiquette is to make sure that it’s productive and useful. The best way to guarantee that is by doing plenty of preparing in advance, but it takes two to tango. So, here are some ways that both organizers and participants make the most out of the meeting.

Preparation tips for organizers:

Prepare an .

An agenda, explains Abby Miller in an article for Calendar, “is like a roadmap that you use wherever you go on a road trip. It helps you plan your trip in advance and keep you on the best route to reach your destination.” How so? By answering the following questions:

  • Who is going with you?
  • When and where are you leaving?
  • What’s the purpose of the trip?
  • How much time do you have to arrive at your destination?
  • What happens if there is a detour or your vehicle breaks down?

Before scheduling a meeting, make sure that you create an agenda and distribute it to invitees in advance. And while there’s honestly no right or wrong way to do this, most agendas have the following six components:

  • Agenda header that identities who are calling the meeting, date, time, location, and purpose.
  • The key objective that answers why we’re meeting and what we want to accomplish.
  • Input, such as assigning meeting responsibilities.
  • The meeting work plan, or the body of the agenda that puts in order what needs to be covered.
  • Time allocation for each point.
  • Following-up with participants, like sending the minutes.

Preparation tips for attendees:

Always review the agenda, and any other relevant documents, in advance. It’s the best way to ensure that you’ll be on time and prepared. It also gives you a chance to address any questions or concerns.

Consider volunteering to pull together information, share new information or take the minutes. It will show you’re taking this seriously, and it’s also a great way for you to develop your own leadership skills.

Preparation tips for everyone:

Whether you’re organizing the event or attending, the following advice pertains to anyone involved with the virtual shindig:

  • Work from a quiet room that’s free from distractions like pets or family members. Bonus points if this room is carpeted, since that reduces reverberation.
  • Use a neutral background, like a grey-colored wall. Some tools like Zoom have a virtual background you could use if this isn’t feasible.
  • Make sure the room is brightly lit.
  • Use your laptop and not your phone since it’s more steady and keeps you hands-free to take notes. For audio-only meetings, invest in a decent pair of headphones with a built-in mic. Bonus tip: raise your webcam to eye level.
  • Always test your tech before the meeting. For phones, that means having a strong signal and no interference. On a computer, making sure your connection is working, turning your camera on, and double-checking your mic and speakers.
  • Learn tricks and hacks. As I previously wrote in another Entrepreneur article, you can do some cool things with Zoom. These include using the meeting ID so that it can be scheduled via your calendar and using the chat feature. Other tricks are using host controls so that you can control everyone’s audio, video, and screen-sharing settings. There’s also the active speaker view that “detects which user is speaking and changes the screen to their window.”

Related: This App Customizes Your Background While Conferencing, Presenting, and Interviewing

Make the meeting feel “real” and productive.

Sure. Nothing beats in-person interactions. But, you can work to create the same vibe when meeting virtually.

Dress appropriately.

Without question, one of the best things about working from home is that you can work in comfortable clothing. Even if that isn’t your pajamas, you’re probably in more casual attire that you wouldn’t normally wear to work.

That’s all well and good if you’re on an audio-only call. But if you’re on camera, then definitely dress just as you would for an in-person meeting.

Start the call right.

Before jumping into the meat and potatoes of the meeting, spend a couple of minutes having everyone introduce themselves, regardless of whether the participants know each other. It’s a simple way to let attendees know who’s there, as well as what their roles and responsibilities are.

With the pleasantries out of the way, recap invitees why they’ve been gathered. You can also quickly explain what you expect to achieve to remind everyone what the purpose of the meeting is.

Be respectful.

Even though virtual meetings don’t seem as professional, the truth is that they are. As such, they deserve the same respect and etiquette. That means that everyone should turn off any smartphone or computer notifications, mute their mic when not speaking, and always looking into the camera.

Moreover, give your full attention to the meeting — no multitasking. Now is not the time to clean out your inbox, check your social feeds, or do work. It’s also not the best time to eat, play with your dog or tidy home your workspace. Stay seated and present until the meeting has wrapped-up.

Also, be respectful of other people’s time. If the meeting is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. and end at 3:30, then that’s the allotted time. Personally, I always schedule the meeting five minutes ahead of time to avoid anyone showing-up late.

Make sure that you keep the meeting as short as possible. Follow the agenda and squash side conversations from taking over. Remind everyone to speak clearly and concisely so that there’s no need for repeating what was just said.

Related: 7 Tips for Minding Your Manners During Conference Calls

Keep everyone engaged.

Yes, you can still keep your audience engaged virtually. For example, you could assign everyone a job and ask questions. You could also make it more interactive by using real-time polling, gamification, or have attendees solve a problem in groups.

I would also recommend leaving sometime in the end for casual conversations … as long as you’ve gone through your agenda. Working in isolation isn’t the best for your health and wellbeing. So, this gives invitees some much-needed social interaction. 

Don’t forget to follow up.

“Even the best meetings will prove worthless if no one takes notes or outlines follow-up tasks,” writes Marty Fukuda. “To this end, designate an attendee (not the facilitator) to take minutes.” They should also know that it’s their responsibility to “email a summary to all participants following the meeting.”

“While the notetaker is in charge of minutes, the facilitator should also jot down, as the discussion progresses, the tasks that need to be completed,” adds Marty. “By the meeting’s end, all to-dos, along with hard deadlines, should be assigned.”

Additionally, if there are any questions or concerns that weren’t addressed, add them to the next agenda or schedule a one-on-one with that individual. And since this meeting went off without a hitch, make arrangements for your next successful virtual meeting.

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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.

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The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.

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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.

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The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.

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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.

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As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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