Skyping is all the rage. It keeps us in touch with family and allows us to socialise with friends. But mistakes are being made, says Melissa Blease, who has documented some dos and don’ts…

Zoom in, Skype up, watch out for a WhatsApp alert! Now that staying in is the new going out, digital videotelephony has become yet another ‘new normal’. Our social lives in the pre-coronavirus world involved diaries, quality social intercourse opportunities and the best choice of venue – and those rules haven’t changed. Today, however, a whole extra set of conventions apply.

Timing is everything

The current situation doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve all got more time on our hands than ever before. Yes, every member of every household everywhere is in, in, all the time – but that makes structure around mealtimes, a respect for personal space and time for the necessary shopping, exercise and dog-walking excursions even more crucial. So, take your friends’ schedules into account before bombarding them with calls at your convenience.

Bear in mind too that space is at a premium. Many of us are working from home and/or living with somebody else who is, so kitchens and living rooms have become temporary offices. Would you want your partner to burst into your ‘normal’ office to have a (very loud) random conversation with their best mate? Would your friends normally expect you to make/take lengthy personal calls while you’re working?

If you’re keeping in touch with a family member or friend who is completely isolated, don’t expect them to be available at a time that’s convenient to you just because they’re home alone – your isolated friend needs you, but needs their own structure too; coming out of the bathroom to find a missed call alert on their phone is simply not supportive.

And remember, there’s no pressure on anybody to be seen if they’d prefer only to be heard, and there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned phone chat.

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Lights, camera, action!

If possible, use your laptop or tablet for video calls rather than your phone: the clearer picture, more reliable, stable connection and larger screen makes for a far more civilised experience.

If you are using a phone, don’t slump on the sofa while it rests on your knee unless you want to look like you’ve turned into Donald Trump on a bad day overnight. And try not to keep moving your phone around as you talk – you’ll make your audience feel seasick.

Don’t sit directly in front of a table lamp when making/receiving your video call unless you deliberately want the recipient to see you in silhouette only (which would be a really weird thing to want). Backlit is good, but properly lit is better.

Location, location, location

It’s behind you! But really, should it be? A lovely painting, an interesting bookshelf, a wine rack or whiskey display are all good. But a sink piled up with a backlog of dirty dishes, a clothes horse laden with damp undies, or an anxiety-inducing, teetering pile of general household detritus? Some backdrops should be kept off-set for good reason. However…

Now is a very good time to offer friends who have never visited your home a tour of your flat/house/wardrobe (because of course, it’s tidier than it’s ever been… isn’t it?) It’s also a lovely opportunity for a pet show’n’tell; few hearts couldn’t be lifted by an on-screen meet’n’greet with Moby.

Modern manners

Confirm your mode of connectivity (Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, Messenger, Google Hangouts, et al) before you start your chat – waiting for recipients to register for services and download apps is the online equivalent of watching paint dry. Similarly, don’t sign in to your get-together if you’re intent on checking emails, responding to texts and sharing funny cat videos on Twitter while you half-listen to whatever else is going on.

Two separate video calls going on at either end of the same table last Saturday evening led to a furious furore of post-video call bickering. We should have known better (the solution was, of course, rather simple: one of us needed to pick up our laptop and change location) but we didn’t. Learn from us.

Only your dentist wants to see a close-up of your gaping maw. If you have to yawn, put your hand over your mouth… or simply take yourself off to bed.

Also note that sitting in the background of your partner’s call, looking bored, is discomfiting for everybody and downright rude.

Don’t eat while on-camera. Even Nigella Lawson has been primped, preened, softly lit, digitally enhanced and directed by an army of experts in order to look hot when scoffing; watching your not-so-glamorous mates do it is enough to put anybody off their food.

Equally public displays of affection, quarrelling and bickering still live where they belong – in private.

And last but not least… if you’ve only bothered to dress from the waist up for your get-together, now is not a good time to suddenly stand up.