We are all navigating uncharted waters as we cope with our new normal due to COVID-19. So many people are facing new dynamics and challenges, whether it’s working from home, homeschooling kids, figuring out Zoom, or just trying to keep busy. This season in life is challenging, and socially different from anything we’ve seen before. I am finding not only are people scared, they are frustrated. It’s hard to break social habits like hugging people or petting a dog, and not everyone is up on the latest recommendations. So I’ve put together some tips to gracefully navigate social distancing, Zoom and video conferencing, and COVID-19 changes to social etiquette.
Top Etiquette Tips in the Time of Coronavirus
Basic Social Distancing Etiquette for COVID-19 Safety
Grocery Store Etiquette
Good behavior in the grocery store matters more than ever. Here is how to be a more considerate shopper.
- Wear your homemade mask (is your mask pattern in your “colors”? 😉 ) to protect yourself and others.
- Prepare a list in advance to limit your time in the store, and plan to go to the store no more than once per week.
- Touch only what you intend to buy—save some TP for others!
- Keep a safe distance from others! As much as they keep telling us this, it can be difficult with narrow aisles. If you see someone coming from the other direction, simply wait in place and let them pass (just like driving your car and graciously letting someone come into your lane). If someone is not being gracious, for your own health, simply take the high road and let them pass.
- If someone is getting too close to you, put your arm out to signal you need space. Most people will actually be embarrassed and move away. If you get that one snarky person who curses you out, take heart knowing they are having a worse day than you.
Etiquette for Walking in Your Neighborhood
Yes, there is actually etiquette for walking around your neighborhood now; you can’t just go barging down the sidewalk like you own it! Here’s how to avoid getting the side eye.
- Cross to the other side of the street when you see someone coming. This used to be rude, now it’s just good manners. Plus you can get in more steps!
- Don’t blast music from your phone or talk on speaker. This piece of etiquette hasn’t changed (people still don’t want to hear your phone calls!). Use ear buds, and please remember to pay attention to cars.
- Do not pet other people’s dogs. This can be incredibly hard while walking with small children, but even the kindest owner doesn’t want your germs on their dog. Simply walk around them, allowing as much room as possible.
- Be friendly. Wave and smile at your neighbors, delivery drivers, maintenance workers—everyone! You have the opportunity to make someone’s day, so do it.
Zoom and Video Conferencing Etiquette for COVID-19
We are all missing our yoga classes, church groups, and family meetings right about now! Online meeting platforms like Zoom let us join in social activities outside our immediate home groups. You may also be using Zoom or WebEx for your work meetings. Here’s how to be a good citizen.
Your Best Zoom Behavior
- Never initiate a camera call (that goes for FaceTime, too) that is not prearranged. Yes, people are probably home, but shoot them a text or call first to avoid putting them in an awkward situation. You can invite them to join a chat, but respect their decision to decline.
- When it comes to webcam calls with multiple people, I interviewed several top executives to discover the key problems and pointers they say are most important to successful video conferencing.
- Like an in-person meeting, the call should start and stop on time. No one wants dead airtime!
- Mute your mic if you are not speaking, to reduce any unexpected background noise or interruptions. Unmute yourself just before you have something to add.
- If you are steaming your live camera, maintain eye contact. In an in-person meeting this is second nature, but on video calls, you can get lulled into thinking they will not notice you’re playing a game on your phone. Trust me, they notice!
- If you are streaming your live camera, do not multitask. No one wants to watch you making dinner during the call!
- Be careful you don’t interrupt the speaker, as it is unfortunately very easy to do on this format. Nobody is heard when people are talking over each other! You can always say, “I would like to add,” or reiterate what the person said in a manner that demonstrates you “heard” them and then go on to make your comment. If you are called to speak during a meeting, wait an extra beat to make sure the speaker is done.
Your Best Zoom Appearance
It has been fascinating to watch celebrities connecting from their homes, in charge of their own lighting, makeup, hair, and wardrobe. Some clearly have it down, and others, not so much! With this being said, I recently had a meeting that was recorded, and when I watched myself back, I was like “who is that”?! It didn’t even look like me! The lighting, camera angle, and background were all wrong, and I had tried! So I dug deeper into this topic and was impressed by these tips shared by renowned artist, photographer, and director Matthew Rolston.
- Lighting. This point has been an enigma to me because everyone says to have “bright” or “good” lighting, but a bright room completely washes me out! The key is to have the “right” light in the “right” place in your setup. Professional lighting devices are great, but even a regular desk lamp positioned centered right over your lens can provide the soft lighting you need. Light only from the front; no backlighting. This technique will give you a nice glow. Close off all other light in the room and close shades that shoot light from the sides or behind you. Stay away from fluorescent light.
- Camera height. Look slightly down, with the camera at your hair line, and position yourself in the center of your device. Do not sit too close, and try not to lean in as you get excited to talk. Your pores should not be visible on camera!
- Where to look. The point of video conferencing is to visually engage with other people, or else you’d have a conference call! So you can look at your camera lens or you can look at the other people’s camera streams, but don’t look at your own (tempting though it often is).
- Background. Ensure a simple background that is not distracting. As the focus should be on your face, this also goes for your clothes—a busy pattern can appear distracting or even garbled on camera.
Social Etiquette for COVID-19
- How do I decline a social engagement when I’m clearly at home? Between Zoom cocktail hour, game night, and yoga class, some folks’ virtual calendars are booked many nights out. And let’s remember everyone is extra busy, tired, or stressed right now, whether navigating work from home, child care, school, finances, or the latest CDC recommendations. Realistically, you can’t accept every virtual invitation, nor should a good host expect you to. To decline a virtual invitation, respectful honesty is best. Try, “Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m going to sit out this time.”
- How do I talk to a loved one with a different opinion of necessary precautions? Everyone has a different idea of how much coronavirus protection is necessary. Some people wear masks and gloves to the grocery store, sanitize packaging, and leave products in the garage for 48 hours, while others live by hand sanitizer and social distancing. Some people are shutting in with immediate family, while others are still gathering in groups. You might want someone in your house to be more careful, or a family member might want you to be more careful. How do you handle these different opinions?
You can’t control other people’s behavior. That “hand sanitizer” crowd isn’t going to wear a mask because you say they should. But you can ask if they know the latest safety recommendations, and then you can move on. You offered your advice, and it’s up to the other person to take it or leave it. Now for those who insist you should be more careful, you can politely reply that you are taking the precautions you feel are necessary.
We will get through this! Let’s do our best to be good global citizens and to be kind and safe during this frustrating, scary, and uncertain time. There is a silver lining to everything! What’s yours?