Etiquette for Virtual
Breakout Rooms

Virtual Breakout Room

Virtual breakout rooms offer an opportunity to feel recognized during video conferences and meetings.  It is all too easy to feel overlooked or unheard, and the chance to take part in a small conversation helps participants contribute to the overall experience and purpose.

Teachers, leaders, companies, presenters, church groups, big families and more, employ breakout sessions on virtual conference platforms.  The newfound popularity of this practical technology calls for down-to-earth guidelines on presenting your best self – respectful of the great art of etiquette.

Unhelpful Behavior

Participation is vital in making virtual breakout rooms successful during a video conference. In addition to providing the opportunity to enjoy small-group conversations, peers typically are given a task to complete and to report back to the main group when it’s time to reconvene.

However, interviews with several teachers, instructors, and business executives reveal undesirable etiquette observed in small groups.  

  • Turning off the video.  It’s impossible to fully participate with a blank screen.  Whether using virtual breakout rooms to take a full-on break or simply refusing to be a part of the small group, a blank screen does not show your best self.
  • Put yourself on mute.  Much like turning off your video, this tells others in your group that you don’t care to participate and makes them wonder why you are there at all.
  • Complain about the task.  We all know that complaints only breed negativity.  This is the time to show your can-do attitude, even if you don’t like or agree with the assigned task.
  • Don’t pay attention when people are introducing themselves or show no interest in others.  Etiquette calls for us to show respect to other people – always.
  • Discourage the sharing of ideas.  Whether disregarding others or refusing to share your own ideas, you are sabotaging the task at hand.  And people will notice.
  • Speeding through to finish early.  As a participant, you have a responsibility to put forth the effort needed to help your group complete an assignment and contribute appropriately.
  • Hostile to being corrected.  Disagreement is inevitable when people are in groups of any size.  But how one responds to disagreement is a test of true character.  How do you want others to remember you?

The reasons to separate from the main group and the structure when doing so varies, but every person can choose a leadership role by acting as a host would during sessions in virtual breakout rooms.

Etiquette-ful Virtual Breakout Rooms

When viewed in a positive light, being a member of a small group presents the opportunity to get things done.  In the case of virtual breakout rooms, you have the opportunity to contribute something meaningful to the conference.

And the best way to make that contribution is to participate to the best of your ability in an etiquette-ful manner.  Just as you might do on a daily basis and in any other circumstance.

“Breakout rooms, with specific tasks or topics assigned to different groups, provide a psychologically safe space to test ideas and build relationships.”  
~ Amy C. Edmondson, Gene Daley

Etiquette-ful actions of a breakout room participant: 

  • Welcoming in attitude with a smile and greetings.
  • Make sure everyone is introduced.
  • Volunteer to be the notetaker or spokesperson.
  • Invite the quiet person to share a view or input.
  • Speak well of others.
  • Aim for mutual understanding and encourage questions.
  • Listen to help clarify.
  • Discourage reticence by intervening with encouragement to complete the task.
  • Keep your eyes open for new ideas to share with the larger group or management on how to improve breakout room experiences.

Anytime we can encourage others to be themselves and help them feel valued, we are being mindful that empathy and compassion are always needed in every world we inhabit, virtual and otherwise.

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