We’ve all experienced the Zoom meeting attendee whose kids are shouting loudly in the background or the attendee with a chin-and-neck-only camera view. However, these common virtual meeting mess-ups are just the beginning when it comes to Zoom etiquette faux pas. A recent study uncovered prevalent Zoom behaviors that may shock you. We also heard wild Zoom faux pas stories directly from witnesses ― you’ll laugh and wince in equal measure.
Survey data from the video conferencing platform Jugo details virtual meeting misbehaviors that range from expected to shocking. Jugo paired with the market research firm Propeller Methodology to survey 1,000 employees and self-employed people about their virtual meeting habits. The survey revealed some unsurprising data, including the following:
These findings make sense. You can probably recall times when you struggled to focus amid workplace distractions or hearing that obnoxious, unmuted person’s background. Eating lunch out of frame during a day stacked with meetings is also totally understandable. Making eye contact is human interaction 101.
However, the Jugo survey also turned up the below jaw-droppers:
That last one especially might shock you. It’s one thing if you have to go to the bathroom and absolutely must, occasionally, move your Zoom there. That’s bad, but it happens. Sex in any workplace setting, however, including virtual ones, is such an obvious no-no that you might do a double-take upon seeing these figures. Certain activities are strictly off-camera and private. However, some Zoom stories suggest that not everyone agrees.
We asked several professionals for their real-life stories of bizarre behaviors they’ve witnessed or heard during virtual meetings. These are the stories we were told.
Sitting still for a virtual meeting can build up pressure in your legs. It can also make that classic back pain creep in and that’s not pleasant for anyone. But neither is the way that Brian Paget, CEO and Founder of MeetMoji, saw someone address this once on a Zoom meeting.
“Outside board members are often chosen for their experience in the corporate world and are usually … experienced corporate communicators, but in a time before cameras and Zoom meetings,” Paget explained to preface his story. “One of our board members had some back issues and so, after sitting for about 30 minutes, he would stand up and thrust his hips back and forth into the Zoom camera to try and stretch his back without realizing that he was always giving us a board meeting crotch shot, which became a welcome distraction from the normal course of the meeting and a hilarious text message amongst colleagues.”
You can probably see the solution here ― and it’s an argument against forcing a cameras-on video culture. Had this board member turned his camera off briefly, gotten up and stretched and then turned his camera back on, nobody would’ve known. But, instead, with his camera still on, he gave everyone a board meeting crotch shot that became one group of employees’ newest meme.
Speaking of memes: Paget also shared a story about a manager with presumably good intentions that, in execution, made him a team-wide source of amusement.
“Some people get too comfortable on Zoom meetings and overshare their life,” Paget explained, naming “individual colleagues that would always make it a habit to take Zoom calls from awkward locations. One felt it was best to inspire his team by leading a meeting while exercising on his elliptical from what looked like a screened-in porch. Instead, he inspired endless office memes.”
The lesson here: If you wouldn’t take a meeting while doing a specific activity in a traditional office setting, the same goes for virtual meetings. There’s a time and a place for some things and work isn’t always it.
When you’re working overtime and spending excessive hours on projects, it can be hard to find time for the basics, such as cooking. You may consider multitasking ― not just eating during virtual meetings, but cooking. This isn’t a great idea. Focusing on two tasks means you’ll go back and forth between them, giving full ― and then no ― attention to each. It’s an even worse idea if you do it on camera.
“As the CEO of a remote-first digital media startup, I’ve logged countless hours on Zoom and have certainly witnessed some unbelievable behaviors that have often left me amused and, at times, perplexed,” shared Maurizio Petrone, founder and CEO of Win Big. “On one notable occasion, a team member obliviously had his camera on while taking our meeting from the kitchen, offering us all a cooking master class in the middle of project discussions!”
While this isn’t necessarily the most shocking or laugh-out-loud story for anyone who wasn’t there, it does raise an important point. During virtual meetings with the camera on, the most mundane activities can be embarrassing for the person committing the faux pas. It can also be distracting for the rest of the team, not to mention fodder for the office gossip mill. While that can make for some unforgettable team bonding, there are far less humiliating ways to bring everyone together.
Workplace virtual calls can encompass more than meetings. If you create a podcast as part of your income, you might also use virtual calls to record interviews for your episodes. This eliminates the barrier of arranging in-person interviews and expands the pool of experts you can access for interviews. However, it’s not an excuse to use virtual meeting technology in blatantly unsafe ways.
“In 2021, I was giving a lot of podcast interviews on virtual meeting etiquette and skills,” shared Lauren Sergy, a speaker, author, trainer and consultant on virtual communication and videoconference skills. “In one of these interviews, the vlogger attempted to record it while driving down an interstate highway! They said, ‘I like keeping things real life and this is as real life as it gets.'”
Sergy’s words best explain why this shocking moment was problematic for more reasons than its boldness. “It wasn’t just a terrible excuse for poor scheduling on their part,” Sergy said. “It was frankly dangerous.”
Here’s the kicker: “I told them we could record the interview when they were safely back in their office and ended the call,” Sergy said. “They never rescheduled the interview.”
Worried that you could become your company’s next meme? Here are some Zoom etiquette tips worth following to avoid this notoriety.
It’s easier to communicate ― and enforce ― video conferencing etiquette when it’s a company policy outlined in your employee handbook. This way, it’s part of a document employees must read and sign on day one ― and reference again when needed. Policy rules will dictate expected behavior during virtual meetings.
“From an HR perspective, it is imperative to establish clear guidelines around virtual meeting decorum, ensuring that every participant is heard and respected and that the meeting atmosphere remains productive and comfortable for all,” Petrone advised. He also named “maintaining video on for engagement, dressing professionally from the waist up and being mindful of your background” as fundamental aspects of a comprehensive video conferencing policy.
Always take virtual meetings in quiet environments with no background noise. If that’s impossible for whatever reason, go on mute unless you’re speaking. Distracting noise can come from many typical environments, not just unusual surroundings. Noise from your everyday life, including family and pets, can disrupt your meeting.
“Find a quiet place for your call, away from intruding kids, pets or co-workers,” Sergy advised.
You can probably see how, based on your lifestyle, certain types of background noise might be impossible to avoid. In that case, whenever you come off mute to speak, state that there may be background noise and apologize in advance for it. The good news is that your voice might be close enough to the mic to drown out household or outside clamor. But that’s not always a guarantee.
Chances are you look at a person’s face on your screen when speaking during virtual meetings. This may seem like you’re making eye contact with them, but it usually doesn’t appear this way to other meeting attendees. Think about it for a second: If you’re looking at someone in the top right corner or at the bottom, where are your eyes pointing? They’re pointed to the right corner or at the bottom, not directly at the speaker. There’s somewhere else you should look instead.
“Learn how to make eye contact with the webcam so that the people you’re meeting with feel as though you’re looking directly at them,” Sergy said. “This takes practice but dramatically boosts people’s engagement and makes you look more polished.”
To best simulate an in-person environment via your video conferencing platform, you must properly position yourself within your frame. Sergy said that this way, your body language can more closely resemble what it would in a traditional in-person meeting.
“Get your webcam at eye level,” she said, and “adjust its position so that it’s in line with your eyes when you look straight ahead and sit about an arm’s length away from the camera. This gives you enough physical room and enough space in your image frame to move around and gesture, which increases that ‘in-person’ feeling you’re trying to cultivate.”
As with anything in life, practicing virtual meetings can help you come off how you want when your actual meetings occur. Sure, this might sound inane and needless, but Sergy said it can help you feel confident enough on screen that following basic etiquette comes naturally.
“Set up a Zoom meeting with yourself and start speaking,” Sergy advised. “Work on looking directly at the webcam and gesturing so that people can actually see you move. You’ll feel silly, but it’s like dribbling a soccer ball ― you need to practice in order to make it look effortless.”
While most Zoom slip-ups are innocuous, hearing about the big ones can motivate you to master virtual meeting etiquette. This is usually easy ― it requires basic consideration and minor adjustments based on how video conferencing technology works. When you’re feeling inclined to bend the rules, remember how badly it went when the people in these stories disregarded conventions. That’s all the reminder you’ll need to go on mute when not speaking, look right into the camera and be your most confident self.