It’s middle of 2020, COVID precautions have sent many of us (who are lucky enough to still have jobs) to be working from home, and hoping that we can be half as productive as we were in the office. For many people, this isn’t an IDEAL situation. You may have kids who are out of childcare and running around at home, pets that don’t know the difference between play time and zoom calls, perhaps you live with multiple people who are ALSO working from home and quiet space is hard to come by. And then we add on top of whatever you’re experiencing because of the space change, on top of any challenges you push through during a regular work day, the fact that it is significantly more draining to spend your day focusing on virtual meetings vs in person meetings. Shifting to FORCED work from home vs choosing to work from home is no cake walk.
I currently live with my fiance who is doing her schooling online, and our roommate who is constantly in team meetings in her final internship for school. I have a couple virtual tutoring and therapy clients, teach virtual yoga, am part of a few organizing boards and volunteer at virtual summer camp with Camp Oochigeas. We have to balance all of these separate conversations in a small apartment, and recognize that our office houses our cats’ litterbox which means we can’t close the door all the way. It’s been challenging to say the least, and we don’t even have children.
Last night I read an article that was shared on Twitter called “Seven Rules of Zoom Meeting Etiquette from the Pros” (can be easily googled), and saw the bold privilege in this post, coming from a Senior Writer at The Wall Street Journal who has been named in a 1997 Fortune Magazine article saying that corporate manuals should carry a warning saying if you want to have children you need to be “very talented, or on very solid ground, to overcome the damage of a family can do to your career.”
In the article she starts with saying that as we continue to work online, we have to “grow up”. “No extra canine and cats; no extra avatar stand ins. It’s time to enter a distant assembly as if it has been a convention room.” The issue here is, it is NOT a convention room. Most of the people currently working from home did not apply originally to work from home. Whether their house is not set up for WFH lifestyle, or they need to leave the house to focus and get work done (I am definitely one of those head to a library or cafe to concentrate types), this is not something they predicted they would be doing. As colleagues, managers, clients etc, we have to shift our expectations to be more understanding of the situations people are in and understand that the capitalist work force is going to look different from home, and productivity might look different too.
So lets go through the suggestions together (feel free to leave your comments and opinions in the comment section below)
Don’t be late
I don’t know about you, but I have been to MANY meetings (even the meetings I’m hosting!) that have started late due to technical difficulties alone. One marketer she mentions in her post recommends locking the video cal after 5 minutes of it starting – I’ve been in office meetings that have been started later than 5 minutes… let’s cool our jets. Internet browsers and video call technologies are not perfect so why are we expecting perfection from our colleagues? Outside of technology, shi* happens when you’re at home. Children need a snack, someone else’s call is going long and you need that space, the door bell rings … you can fill in the blanks I’m sure. Better late than never, let’s start being a bit forgiving
Activate the “digicam”
This suggestion is pretty interesting to think about. For certain meetings I try my best to ALWAYS have my video on.. but those meetings are usually when I am one on one with a client. If you have something going on at your house that is distracting (ie children, animals, house repairs etc), is it not better to turn that video off? What about people who don’t have the internet speed at their house to have video going without their sound being glitchy? I have gone to national conferences and most professionals kept their videos off. Again, let’s cancel the judgement there Karen.
Sit Nonetheless (nonetheless of what?) & No Consuming
(these are two suggestions combined)
Don’t move your body on camera because your other colleagues stop listening if they start watching you. A COO quoted here assumes that moving around while on camera means that you aren’t taking your work seriously or paying attention. You also are not allowed to eat on camera (mainly for the sound, but we aren’t new here, the mute button exists). Yet, the above point says we’re not allowed to turn off our camera. As an individual who’s anxiety shines in fidgeting and movement, and my blood sugar plummets quick and causes dizziness, I am someone who shuffles a lot and may need a snack during a 2 hour team meeting. I would imagine sitting completely still and not snacking might also be an issue for people juggling parenting and work, as well as individuals with various conditions that may make sitting still for so long a challenge. In person meetings often have snack or drinks, and breaks to move around, that in my experience are often forgotten in virtual calls. Please don’t forget that we are all human and we are all different. Just because you might be able to sit statuesque and not eat or drink for hours at a time, doesn’t mean everyone else can. People need to look after their physiological needs and the needs of others. Be compassionate and forgiving if someone shuffles, or puts themselves on mute/turns the camera off to take care of something.
Get good at interrupting
Typical etiquette has always been “Don’t interrupt”. This article suggests that asking permission to speak through the chat or raising your hand is awkward and annoying. As someone who has a loud voice but also respects other people’s voices, and has been on MANY video calls lately with over 20 people, or calls where everyone has brilliant ideas to share… interrupting is the awkward suggestion. Sure if it is you and 3 of your colleagues, maybe it’s easy to “know volley by way of conversations naturally” and maybe a great moderator can get people to volley the dialog back and forth so that just coming off of mute is your sign that you want to speak. But making such a bold suggestion when some professional meetings are large and busy, shows that you are not considering the larger majority of workers.
Shut the workplace door
This suggestion is more than just saying we should be locked in our office for our meetings (which is privileged already in the suggestion that everyone working from home has a spare room they can lock themselves away in. As I mentioned before, 3 people in one 2 bedroom apartment, and the cats needing the litterbox, makes for no “true” privacy). The writer goes on to saying that pets and children are no longer cute to see in meetings and no one wants to hear your housemate unloading the dishwasher. That’s cute, but this is assuming that your children are being taken care of by someone else, perhaps assuming there is a babysitter, nanny, or one parent who is not working. This also assumes your workspace is separate from your kitchen. Our office is right next to the kitchen. If someone in our house is in a meeting all day, the other two people are not going to tip toe around and not do anything during the day to please one person. Things need to get done. As an employer or colleague, if you can’t respect that life goes on for other people around your meeting, perhaps it’s time to sit down with yourself, consider other people’s living situations and check your privileges.
FINALLY, this one saved for last because it drove me mad. The gif on this point is a girl shopping for shoes during a video call, with the starting sentence; “It’s actually tempting”. Sure, it might be tempting to buy shoes on a boring video call in which you are not participating in a certain part of the conversation, but most multitasking is not rude, it’s functional. As a fidgety person, I often am jotting ideas down or typing things on my computer to help me focus on the things people are sharing. Sometimes someone says something in a meeting and I pull up google to get a better understanding of what they talked about, or to fact check something that I want to share. I am still listening, just in my own way. I already have a hard time focusing on in person meetings sometimes, so my strategies include keeping my hands busy… for many people focusing on a virtual meeting is significantly more challenging. Why do you think our children are having a hard time with engagement in online learning? I’ve heard similar stories but where people come to meetings with knitting or doodling to do to keep themselves focused. I could dive deeper into this topic, but I’ll wrap this up with the sentence quoted at the end of the writer’s piece about getting everyone to close all their browsers before a meeting – “This helps our perception that you just’re invited to a gathering for a purpose.” Yes, employer, colleague, whomever, you have invited this person to your gathering for a purpose, and whether or not you believe they are behaving to your etiquette standards, they are probably getting something out of it. At the end of the day, if they can join into the conversation to the best of their abilities and pump out the productivity in their work that they need to, let’s be gentle and compassionate to their situations. Just because we have been in quarantine in March, doesn’t mean working from home as changed or gotten easier for everyone. Be compassionate, be kind, be accommodating.
Here is the tweet I found the article on – the comment section has a lot of great conversation about ableism, parenting and other opinions on negating this article. I thought I would add it here in case you would like to be part of the conversation. Since last night, Dr. Barry Rubin has learned the opinions of others and has apologized for sharing this as a pushy article during a pandemic when people are just trying to do their best.
What’s your experience with zoom/video conference calls during COVID? Professional or personal with friends, what are your etiquette pieces that you TRY to keep (whether its always possible or not)