Those regular working meetings — the type where we sat six to a table rather than six feet apart — are so early 2020.
Now, in the age of coronavirus, we convene on Zoom (or fill in your video-conferencing software of choice here) and look at each other as if we live in the title sequence of “The Brady Bunch.”
But here’s the kicker: Although we’re now meeting miles apart, we’re learning more about our co-workers and bosses than we ever have before, and some of it isn’t pretty. Zoom is giving us unprecedented access to our colleagues’ homes and habits. Look behind Karen from marketing’s head and you can see her open concept living room. It’s like a poor man’s “House Hunters.” The voyeurism is unprecedented.
Sometimes that voyeurism is unwanted. Exhibits A through Z: the current viral video of “poor Jennifer,” who, on a Zoom conference call for work, somehow didn’t realize her laptop’s camera was on and gave her co-workers a ringside seat as she yanked down her knickers and took a seat on the porcelain throne. As she realized her error and disappeared from the frame, one of her co-workers tried to smooth over the situation by saying “I saw nothing.”
In addition to learning about décor and bathroom habits, we’ve also observed that many of our co-workers have no idea how to behave on a video conference call, and this is a problem. No doubt you’ve noticed it, too. For some the technology is new, and it shows. Perhaps in a few weeks they’ll get the hang of it and their behavior will stop getting on our nerves. In the meantime, come commiserate with us as we pull together a list of the 12 most annoying types of people we see on Zoom.
The “I Couldn’t Be Bothered to Pick Up”: No one expects your house to pass a white-glove test, but there’s always one co-worker on Zoom who appears to be living in squalor. Perhaps she hosted a “Grey Gardens” or “Hoarders” theme party the night before, but couldn’t she at least throw away all those empty yogurt containers and tuna fish cans, or at least herd her six cats out of the room before the meeting started? Remember, it’s not just your face in that frame.
The Consummate Professional: Like her real office, her home set up is suspiciously perfectly. It’s as finely curated as her Instagram account. The lighting appears almost theatrical, the plant in the frame is a flowering orchid, and it’s real, and the bookshelves are filled with an impressive mix of first-edition novels and lengthy biographies of obscure historical figures. Is it a CNN backdrop or is it real?
The Tech-challenged: This colleague never mastered the fax machine, or Windows 7, and, no surprise, Zoom is not going any better. Unable to figure out how to mute their microphone during meetings, they inadvertently broadcast the sounds of their households to colleagues. Unable to figure out how to get their entire face in the frame, they attend meetings via forehead or torso.
The Poor Internet Connection: Just try to follow along as this co-worker explains the Anderson report, but keeps freezing up mid-phrase. The distraction continues as you try to speak, and out of the corner of your eye you see the flickering and freezing of the Poor Internet Connection’s Zoom square. Even worse are the moments when the video seizes up, leaving a pained expression on the co-worker’s face, straight out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting, that is certain to haunt your dreams later that night.
The Proud Papa: At the office you dreaded his endless stories about his kiddos’ adorable exploits or getting cornered by him as he endlessly scrolled through family photos on his phone. But on Zoom it’s even worse. Now the tykes are live, bopping in and out of the frame, demanding meeting-pausing snacks, or being summoned to answer for-show questions: “Tell everyone what daddy does for work!”
The No Bra, No Shoes, No Problem: Working from home means different things to different people, and if no bra and bedhead is your work from home jam, then live your truth, sister. But sometimes a little grooming goes a long way. Please, out of respect for your coworkers, quickly run a comb through the hamster nest on your head, or toss a jaunty pashmina over your shoulders as a comfy cover-up. Please note: A fleece throw from the back of your sofa does not a pashmina make.
The Clueless Cameo: In real life, this partner always says the wrong thing to your boss or co-workers. On Zoom, they’re caught unaware in the background. Folding underwear, reading a “How to Save Your Relationship” manual, striking revealing yoga poses.
The F-U Cameo: This isn’t the spouse caught unaware in the Zoom frame. This one is ticked off because you live in a small studio and they have nowhere else to go while your meetings drone on, so they’re aggressively going about their life, chatting on the phone, crying to Adele, striking revealing yoga poses.
The Multi-Tasker: Back in her cubicle, the multi-tasker was on a perpetual onsite personal day, mixing personal and home chores with work. She’s still at it during Zoom meetings, cleaning the bathroom, visibly texting with her college pals, regularly caught unaware when she’s called on for input.
The Hijacker: In the conference room, this person dominated meetings with rambling, self-centered stories unrelated to work, and constantly interrupted others. He will not be silenced on the small screen, droning on as other members text about him off screen and pray his Internet will go down.
The “I Thought This Was a Lunch Meeting”: Back in the office she was always snacking, generally in the loudest way possible. Carrot sticks? Check! Apple? Check! The more cacophonous the better. Zoom isn’t going to get in the way of her grazing schedule as she digitally munches her way through important conversations, often speaking with her mouth full.
The Dressed to Impress: Zoom is his personal runway as he suits up and slips on a tie for a video meeting — from his sofa. While his colleagues are casual and comfy in sweaters and pull-overs, the Dressed to Impress has pulled it all together, making sure he stands up during meetings so people can see the crisp pleat in his trousers. He’s also known for playing to the camera to show off the the unnecessary fleur-de-lis print pocket square folded smartly into the equally unnecessary hunter green blazer.
And finally, one that isn't annoying.
The Invisible Co-worker: This co-worker may be in bed, vacuuming, or might be sitting with perfect posture at in an immaculate workspace. You’ll never know because they opted for the voice-only Zoom feature. Instead of a face, you see the black box. It’s romantic, it’s intriguing, and most importantly of all, it says to the world: “I still work here, but there’s a chance I may have joined the witness-protection program.” What’s going on under the cover of Zoom darkness? Speculate all you like, but unless the Invisible Coworkers accidentally put themselves in video mode, we’ll assume this is a fabulous mystery that not even Jessica Fletcher could solve.
Christopher Muther can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him @Chris_Muther and Instagram @chris_muther. Beth Teitell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @bethteitell.