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Due to COVID-19, my company has gone completely remote and all of our meetings are conducted over voice-call software (e.g. Skype, Zoom, Teams - usually without using video) that allows any invitee to mute themselves and others. Usually, my colleagues will mute when they are not speaking. However, I have experienced some cases where someone's mic is making feedback, or someone has background noise, but has not muted. Typically, the call organizer will remind others to mute, but this doesn't always happen.

I think there are a couple of things to consider when answering this:

  • If I am the call organizer or not
  • How many people are in the call

Is it appropriate to mute others in a call if the noise they are making is disruptive?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – DarkCygnus Jul 25 at 3:28
  • Can you add some explanation to your question about why this might be inappropriate? Most of my experience with amateur teleconferencing is with everyone muted, unless they hold down the push to talk button. – bobsburner Jul 26 at 17:18
  • Don't you think the Question would better Ask, how could it not be appropriate? – Robbie Goodwin Jul 26 at 18:52
81

As the meeting organizer, it would certainly be within your scope to mute the offending party, and you should send them a private message notifying them of that so that they don't attempt to speak and are thus excluded from the meeting. It's not great etiquette, but the meeting must continue without disruption.

The technique we use in our company is to pause the meeting, announce everyone needs to mute, and then if they continue unmuted they are called out by name and instructed to mute. We have yet to go beyond that level of attention on it. Most people are generally willing to mute, and the ones that don't are usually under the impression they are muted (though aren't).

My personal preference is the second one for two reasons. The first is that it signals the intention that the meeting is a serious event and should be paid appropriate attention. The second is that it establishes an order and respect to the group at large that will lead to a better meeting experience. When people see a leader taking the event seriously, they will be more inclined to participate in a serious and engaged manner.

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    It may depend upon the level of formality of the meeting, and on the number of people involved. If it's just a few people who know each other well, it can be simpler all round for the organiser to mute someone directly, and mention it briefly, e.g. “…and John, I've just muted you because of all the traffic. So anyway…” Most people have got very used to online meetings over the last few months, and won't mind being muted in a small, informal meeting. – gidds Jul 24 at 14:54
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Absolutely appropriate if you are the call organizer to mute someone in this situation. I think it would also be polite to inform them on the call or via chat so that they are aware that they have been muted and perhaps why.

In my opinion, the number of people on the call is irrelevant; if noise is disturbing the call then there is nothing wrong with muting them.

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    This has been our approach, too. Not just the organizer but anyone will mute someone who's mic is causing problems, if they aren't currently speaking. Usually followed by a quick note either verbally or in the chat window: "Sorry soandso, your mic was causing interference so I muted you". No one has had a problem with it yet. – Steve-O Jul 23 at 19:12
  • We do mute others if they belong to our team. If they are of different team or organization or client then we request them to mute. – Gopi Jul 24 at 13:40
  • @Gopi that is a good point. – Steve Jul 24 at 13:56
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Note that at least Zoom lets you (as the organizer) select that everyone starts muted by default when they join the meeting.

That is in my experience the least controversial approach, because it teaches people that being muted is the norm, not a punishment for background noise. There's no need to interrupt the meeting to call people out and ask them to mute themselves or to risk offending someone by force-muting them.

People tend to learn very quickly that they need to unmute themselves whenever they want to speak. Muting yourself once you are done speaking then also comes naturally. Essentially, everyone just adapts to a "push-to-talk" mode.

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  • An astute point. – Fattie Jul 24 at 10:57
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    I can't believe this isn't the ONLY answer. For all meetings larger than a handful of people in a semi-informal huddle, 1) participants CANNOT be counted on to mute themselves reliably and 2) it should be the unquestioned and universal default that everyone is muted. Organizers should have the absolute power to universally (or individually) mute participants without judgment. Remote conferencing simply does not work by any other method. – Alex M Jul 24 at 18:18
  • I know from experience that Google Meet automatically behaves like this when you get above five people in the meeting (the sixth and all subsequent participants who join start out muted by default). This has, however, been rather irritating for me because I use the hardware mute button on my mic in preference to any software 'mute' functionality, so I often find myself having to unmute two different places after joining big meetings. – Austin Hemmelgarn Jul 26 at 20:47
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Yes.

Speaking as a participant, I think it is useful in your scenario. I once adjusted my webcam in an open discussion forgetting to mute myself and my boss muted me. I found it totally okay and was sorry for not muting myself. I could unmute myself afterward.

It is another case when you mute someone, because he should not speak. Then there is a conflict about who was about to speak that usually should be resolved by the persons "oh, you were talking" and may need some clarification on team call etiquette when the problem happens more often.

When muting because of technical issues like mic feedback loops, you should probably send a short chat message describing what you heard, so the person can try to solve the technical problem on their side (e.g. switching from speakers to headphone).

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That depends why they were unmuted. Are they actively participating at the time, or did they just forget to go on mute when they were done speaking?

As long as the participant you muted wasn't actively speaking at the time (i.e. they just forgot to mute), I don't think that there's any problem with it. In fact, if I forgot to mute, I'd personally prefer it if someone else muted me; if I had something going on in the background, I don't necessarily want all of my colleagues to hear it.

On the other hand, if they were actively participating at the time, it would most likely be rude because it could imply that you didn't want to hear what they had to say.

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I think the most appropriate thing to do is to mention in the call that a person is unmuted. Depending on culture you can mention who is unmuted. You can do this no matter if you are the organizer or not, if it's a problem for you it's most likely a problem for other persons as well.

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  • I'd like to know why this got voted down, to learn for future answers – Polygorial Jul 30 at 8:50

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