The Dos and Don’ts of Video Calls

Photo: Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

With more people than ever working from home, everyone on Earth is kind of getting the same crash course all at once about the myriad number of new and innovative ways that people can totally screw up. Here are a few emblematic experiences that readers submitted.

Do: Keep an Eye on Your Pets

A reader sends in this familiar tale: “I, a lowly baby lawyer, just hung up on the general counsel of a massive bank after yelling ‘NO NO NO’ because my cat knocked over my phone and unplugged it.” The effect of deals lost due to cat-related malfeasance is yet unknown but economists estimate it to be in the tens of bazillions.

Don’t: Leave Your Webcam or Microphone on When Using the Bathroom

I’m not going to link to the video mentioned in that second tweet (it’s not graphic, just invasive) but I assure you it exists. Maybe it’s a hoax, but the point remains — be very careful about sneaking off to the bathroom during meetings. Unless you want your co-workers to hear you let ’er rip, in which case, go with God.

Do: Find Your Angles

One reader sent me photos that I am not allowed to republish for obvious privacy reasons, but that featured a co-worker using his webcam at a very unflattering angle. Our theory is that the co-worker is using their phone to handle the video call, and the phone is propped up against their laptop screen, which is actually situated on their lap. As a result, the shot is at an extremely low angle. Allow me to paint a picture with words: It looks like you are staring up at him from directly on top of his crotch. Again, I cannot republish the pictures, but I can use this menacing New York cover of Bill de Blasio to approximate it.

Don’t: Let Your Roommate Take a Giant Bong Rip

“I accidentally hit video call while chatting in Teams and my boss and two co-workers heard my boyfriend ripping the bong in the background,” one reader told me. “I said it was the dishwasher 🤷🏻‍♀️” It’s unclear whether they believed her, but they all “continued on like nothing happened!”

Do: Mute Yourself Before Taking a Screenshot

A reader sent along this note: “The editors and reporters at my job just did their first 20-plus-person Zoom meeting, and the beginning was filled with telltale screenshot sounds, followed by various people asking ‘Who’s screenshotting???’” He added, “Everyone knows these things are going to be screenshotted and Slacked, but at least have the courtesy to mute your mic before you do it.” Similarly, now that everything is happening in a screenshot-able medium, be extra vigilant about what you say or do!

Don’t: Freak Out When Things Go Wrong

Look, hundreds of millions of people are now adjusting to a work-from-home routine and there are going to be some screwups. It’s important to keep calm, as illustrated by this story from a reader named Vanessa:

On my first day of working from home, I decided to take advantage and sleep in. We had a 10:30 AM virtual call on the books, and since I ordinarily have a very long commute, I figured I’d just do the call in my pajamas. I was certain that when the meeting began I had turned off the video, and needless to say, I looked worse for wear. I was also checking my cell phone during the meeting with my schnoz basically turned downward against the computer video without me knowing it.

I finally received a text from a coworker that read, “I think it’s brave that you’re the only one with your video on in this meeting.” It took a minute to process what the text meant and when I did, I looked up at the camera, let out a huge gasp while screaming, “Oh my G-d” and immediately threw the computer around. I then popped up from my couch to search for a post-it note to cover my computer camera and without knowing it, I walked right in front of the screen for ANOTHER, full view of my pajamas. To top it off, I exposed the entire department to my very messy apartment. I ran out of the frame once again, darted toward the camera and put my finger over it until I figured out how to actually use the “video off” function.

Just as I began to convince myself that perhaps it wasn’t as bad as I originally thought, I received an inordinate amount of side texts from my coworkers insisting that it “isn’t as bad as I think it is” — which basically is code for “It’s exactly as bad as you think it is … probably worse.”

Personally, I do think it is brave to let your co-workers see you for who you really are. Establishing that precedent early sends a message.

If you have an experience working from home that qualifies as funny or horrifying (or both), please email brian.feldman@nymag.com.

The Dos and Don’ts of Video Calls