In the new era of Zoom meetings, Skype sessions, or Microsoft Team get-togethers, a frequent problem arises: how to leave an online meeting politely.
Sometimes you just have to go, whether because of prior commitments, unexpected emergencies, or errantly-scheduled appointments (you may even just be suffering from Zoom fatigue and don’t feel like sitting through another endless meeting…).
To retain your social standing, not appear rude and not alienate those in the meeting, whether they be co-workers, family, or friends alike, it’s important to know how to leave an virtual meeting.
When you want to leave an online meeting, first thank everyone for taking the time to attend and emphasize how much value it added. Then, express your regret for having to leave along with the reason why.
The Rise of Online Meetings
Since the recent pandemic sent workers into the remote realm, and as many workers have been opting to continue to work remotely, online meetings have seen a surge in usage. In 2020, Microsoft teams saw the organizations using its services rise to nearly 500,000 , a ten-fold increase in 3 years; in November 2020 alone, Zoom recorded over 300 million users.
Online meetings have created a new means of conducting work that has been essential for sustaining out-of-office operations but which is not without its challenges: when to schedule a meeting during the week, how many people to include in the meeting, how to ask them to attend the meeting, how long the meeting should last and what level of video interaction is desired all influence the outcomes of online meetings, particularly about maintaining engagement and morale through remote interaction.
Given that scheduling meetings remotely can lead to scheduling conflicts, and that high levels of online meetings that increase with management responsibility lead to “Zoom fatigue” , it’s understandable that many meeting attendees may find themselves needing to politely leave such a meeting.
Fortunately, there are a variety of tactics you can implement so that your departure will go over smoothly.
Be Honest in Your Reasoning
Honesty is the best policy, whether in dealing with business associates or just friends. In a business setting, honesty is promoted as a means of fostering team development and creating a cohesive and collaborative environment that maximizes productivity. 
Given that remote work is inherently challenging to the nature of fostering teamwork, as team members working in separate environments may not have the same motives, incentives, or ability to collaborate as before, honesty is still important in maintaining the team dynamic.
As online meetings have only increased in importance with many managers being well aware of the impacts and challenges of online meetings, being honest regarding leaving a meeting is a good first step towards successfully leaving a Zoom meeting.
For example, if something has come up, such as a child being sick and needing care while out of school, a parent who needs help, or an appliance breaking and needing urgent attention, just address the problem honestly.
You can say:
“My child is sick and I need to make sure that they are doing okay.”
“I’m struggling with a bad internet connection right now, are any of the other participants having the same problem?”
“I need to go over and help my mother since there’s no one else to help her right now.”
“My water heater is leaking and I need to call a plumber.”
“I’m so sorry for leaving the meeting early. I received an urgent call early this morning and had to attend to it right away. Please forgive my sudden departure.”
Most managers will understand that it’s difficult to perfectly coordinate a meeting in a remote work setting. It may also be enough to turn off the camera and do one thing instead of leaving the meeting completely.
That being said, it’s also important to be aware that your reputation rests on how honest you usually are; if you usually create exaggerated stories to get out of work and meetings, sharing an emergency as a reason to leave a Zoom meeting early may sound like “the Boy who cried wolf.”
If you are usually an honest and reliable employee, then being honest about emergencies won’t hurt you.
Being honest is just as applicable in social settings, too. If you have a zoom family meeting and something has come up (maybe you have work to do!), and especially if a meeting is stretching on for a long time, then sharing what your other concerns and commitments are will provide a quality reason for leaving a Zoom meeting early.
You may receive more condemnation and guilt from family if you say “I have work to do and need to leave the meeting”, but most people will understand that an online meeting is second to a meeting in person and we only have so much time to perfectly coordinate with other people.
If anything, it’s worse to lie to your family because they are more likely to find out, which will probably make things more complicated. So, in the end, just be honest about why you need to leave.
5 Steps to Leave an Online Meeting
Whether you’re being honest or not, manners matter. Sometimes, meeting organizers aren’t always aware of how off-topic the virtual meeting can get or how long they are speaking unless they are reminded.
Etiquette when leaving a meeting of any form is always important, especially if you are a junior employee and still rising within the organization. Rather than burn your bridges and bluntly acknowledge how long a meeting has been or that you prefer, or need to be, somewhere else, politely excusing yourself is a best practice to use whenever you need to leave a meeting.
Tips for things to say when politely leaving a meeting include the following:
1. Thank Them for Their Time
Thank the meeting participants for their time, especially if it is a small group meeting.
“Thank you very much for taking the time to organize this meeting…”
2. Show Your Gratitude
Say how much you appreciate what was discussed.
“I really like all the points that were discussed today and found them really helpful…”
3. Express Regret
Try and sound apologetic that you are leaving.
“I’m sorry that I have to leave the meeting early, but I can’t wait to discuss this further.”
“I must politely excuse myself for personal reasons. It was nice talking to you – waving goodbye to everyone!”
4. Give an Honest Reason
If you have an honest excuse, then now is a good time to mention why you need to leave. If you are just trying to get out of a meeting, then you can just end your departure here or provide an excuse if you feel it is necessary (though you should try to make something believable without being too vague), for example:
“I have another project I need to address and I am already late.”
5. Wish Everyone a Successful Day
It’s always a good idea to wish everyone in the meeting a farewell so that you seem like you are genuinely interested in their welfare.
“It was great meeting with everyone today and I hope that you all enjoy the rest of your day!”
When meeting with family or friends, some may tend to be impolite given that the nature of the interaction is less formal, but it’s always a good idea to be polite with whomever you are meeting with so that they will want to meet with you again in the future!
Recommend a Time to Continue the Meeting
Scheduling meetings for remote employees can be a challenge when there isn’t a central meeting place or you can’t confirm meeting preferences in advance. Sometimes managers may schedule a meeting that conflicts with other projects and responsibilities, and sometimes they may unintentionally schedule appointments or other obligations that conflict with a meeting.
Since the age of online meetings and remote work coincides with an increase in communication possibilities overall, and many meetings offer overviews, summaries, and meeting guides to review or address the meeting’s talking points, it’s always good to obtain this information in advance or after the meeting so that you can show that you are interested in staying informed.
Likewise, if you need to leave a work meeting early and there is still valuable information to be discussed or your input is needed, recommend a preferred time soon that you know you can attend.
Saying something like “I’m sorry I have to go, but I’d like to discuss this further” and mentioning the date will assure your colleagues that you are invested in the conversation.
The same advice can apply to meetings with any other organization or group, whether it’s regarding volunteering or a family get-together. If your input is valued or information needs to be relayed, confirming when another meeting is going to be held or recommending another time to meet will allow you to stay connected despite your need to leave early.
Sometimes, you can even meet with the meeting organizer in person or via a private phone conversation to quickly recap any thoughts and information shared after you leave which saves you the time of attending another meeting.
Try and Expedite the Outcome of the Meeting
The rise of online meetings and online meeting fatigue has prompted meeting organizers to stick to several guidelines to hold successful meetings. Having shorter meetings that stick to specific guidelines and that include fewer people helps to keep everyone engaged without suffering from the dilemma of staring at a screen while waiting to talk.
That being said, sometimes meetings get sidetracked as people try to catch up with one another or if someone goes on an extended discussion of a certain topic. Redirecting the meeting to the meeting topic or reminding the attendees of time constraints, even if you are a junior employee, will help to keep the meeting on track and may even help to end the meeting early so that you won’t have to feel conflicted if you have to leave early.
You can say something like:
“Wow, this is a really interesting conversation, but maybe we can finish going over the core points and then get back to it at the end of the meeting.”
You can even be more polite and say:
“I’m sorry to intrude, but I have a feeling that we all have a lot of work to do and it would be great if we could address the main points before continuing the conversation.”
This way, you are concerned with the group’s welfare and not trying to interrupt the meeting before leaving.
If the meeting keeps going and you still need to leave early, you at least tried to get as much as you could while you were attending.
If you’re honest, polite, and concerned with the outcomes of the meeting, you can leave early knowing that future meetings will be just as pleasant, informative, and perhaps worthwhile for attending the whole time.
Katie Holmes is a senior author at everyday-courtesy.com with over 15 years of experience in marketing and psychology. As a freelance consultant, she also supports companies and executives in overcoming communication challenges. Katie is a passionate digital nomad working on her first book on the art of communication.