Shirts are required on video calls and other learnings from working from home

The way many of us do business has changed over the last four months due to Coronavirus. For those employees like me who are non-essential and don’t need to be physically in their place of business, most of us are working from home.  

I have worked from home on and off for ~15 years so I’m not a newbie to this (or a nube as my kids would call it).  Since many people can’t do business in person right now, video calls have become the norm. My amount of video calls has skyrocketed since March and over the last month, I have averaged 21 hours/week of video calls on lots of different platforms- Zoom, Go to Meeting, GoToWebinar, and Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet.  

I am learning a lot of new technology and what to do and not do on these calls. I decided to share my learnings based on my newfound expertise.

Part of the new Coronavirus/COVID world for parents is having kids always home while working. I am mostly adjusting to my kids being at home 24/7. I acknowledge that I am better off than a lot of folks as 1) No one in our house has been sick 2) Both parents are still working and we already had home offices set up and 3) Our kids are used to one or both of their parents working from home.

In a normal year, our three kids would have been at school all day during the spring, at camps during summer, and about to head back to school (in person) again for the fall. Now we are all home during the workweek all of the time. And I mean all of the friggin’ time. 

I have noticed that a lot of people are having shell shock (both good and bad) about their new work situation. I remember near the beginning of this, I had to call my cable company with a question about my bill. The person who answered was what I assume was a 20-something male and he spent ten minutes telling me about how he had never worked from home, had three roommates, did not have a dedicated office space so he’s working at the kitchen table, and how “weird it was to work from home.” He seemed like a nice guy but I really just had a question about my cable bill and I didn’t think he wanted me to tell him what it’s like having both parents trying to work from home with three kids doing distance learning (unless he was getting paid by the hour and had all day to listen).

Most of my video calls are just regular work calls. People show up on time, the technology works, people are dressed (“What?”, you say) and the meeting goes fine. Sometimes, something interesting happens and it’s those video calls that we all remember.  

The funniest thing that happened to me on a video call is when one of my work associates was hosting a webinar for one of my customers and there were ~55 people on the webinar. At some point he said, “I know a lot of you are dealing with kids at home now and I am too. My younger daughter just handed me our two pet mice so now I’m holding them as I’m trying to do this webinar”. I loved it and it made everyone realize that we are all just trying to get by right now and that real life is still happening as we are trying to work. Just imagine trying to run a webinar holding two pet mice!

The most bizarre thing that I have heard is something that happened to my wife. She and her business partner had a call with someone who showed up not wearing a shirt. Yes, let me say that again. He was on a work video call shirtless. And my wife and her business partner were the clients. In case you are even thinking about it, please don’t go shirtless on any video call (even if you have been spending a lot of time in your garage gym and want to show off your new rockin’ bod). I will admit that I have taken a few early morning conference calls in my pajamas, but I have not done that on any video calls. 

The toughest thing I heard was from a work associate who was having a video call with her customer, who was a principal. The work colleague said that the principal had one of those cool fake backgrounds that was a forest and she was loving his background. Something happened and his background stopped working and she realized he was having his call in the bathroom (and not Demi Moore’s huge bathroom where she sits on a couch to have her video calls). He had kids and she realized he probably didn’t have any other place in his house or apartment to take work calls and he usually works at his school. She didn’t comment that he lost his background and just continued on with the call but she said it was a good reminder that many people are doing the best they can working from home as they normally work in an office, school, etc. 

Lots of folks are being creative about where to have video meetings. Garages, cars and bedrooms are all now doubling as work spaces. I read recently in the San Francisco Chronicle that the new trend in real estate is to say you have a “Zoom room”, which is a place for you to take Zoom calls. Apparently this is a real thing. If you want to sell your house, fix up a closet to make it a good place for video conferences–maybe you can get more money for your house. I won’t even take any commission for that advice. 

Here are more thoughts on what to do and not to do on video calls:

  • Never share too much information. Assume that everyone has life happening around them but you don’t need to tell everyone what is happening in your life on every call. If you do, you may bore your audience (sorry, it’s true) and you’ll never get any work done.  The cable guy was nice and all but I really was just trying to get my cable bill down. 
  • Pants and shirts are required.  Shoes are optional. 
  • If it’s an important work call, put on a nice shirt. It’s ok to rotate between one or two nice shirts as long as you don’t see the same people. It doesn’t matter what pants you are wearing but you must wear pants and, again, I can’t believe it needs to be said, a shirt is not optional. My eight year old walked in my office last week and saw me wearing a nice shirt (with shorts) and said, “You should just wear a normal shirt on conference calls because that shirt looks weird on you.” Thanks for the feedback. 
  • Don’t apologize if a kid or animal “Zoom bombs” your work video call. Try to minimize the disruptions but please don’t apologize for life happening. If we do, we go back in time to where we acted like we didn’t have a life outside of work and that’s moving us in the wrong direction. As a feminist, it makes me mad when parents, especially women, have to act like they don’t have kids in the house when we all know that they are there (where else would they be?). I hope everyone reading this is a feminist, whether you are male or female. If you are not a card-carrying feminist, please re-examine your values and see a therapist. 
  • If you are not familiar with presenting on video, do a dry run with a friend or family member first to make sure the technology works and you work out some of your mistakes/nervousness before the real call. I do this with my wife when she has a big  presentation and I think it’s been helpful to her (and she always rocks her presentations!).
  • Take quick breaks in between video calls (if possible) because being really present on video calls can drain your energy. I like to try to walk the dog around the block, get a snack or say a quick hello to my kids (who I have probably been ignoring during my calls).
  • Be kind to video presenters. I hope you always try to be kind in any scenario but remember that folks are learning new things every day now so cut folks some slack if the technology is not working, kids “Zoom bomb”, birds chirp, dogs bark, etc.  
  • Don’t focus too much on someone’s office space if it’s not a real office, such as someone has a bed in the background or they are working in a closet, hallway or at their kitchen table. If they had a better space to work, they would be there. Please don’t embarrass them by mentioning it. If someone has cool artwork, family photos or something interesting in their background, feel free to mention that.  
  • Don’t overshare. Even though it’s good to let people get a feel for who you are outside of the office, don’t share minutiae of your life that isn’t relevant to your work unless someone asks you a direct question. No one at work needs to know when you last washed your hair, that you forgot to brush your teeth this morning or that you haven’t changed your socks in three days. 
  • Be kind to yourself as parenting is really challenging right now.  Kids are probably going to watch more technology than normal now since there is little or no daycare, in-person school, camps, babysitters, etc. That’s ok so let’s not beat ourselves up over it. 
  • Getting exercise during your workday can improve your mood. I walk my dog as much as a can and my ten-year-old likes to take a walk with me when she wakes up (which can be up to 3 hours after I get up). My wife has a treadmill desk so when she’s not around or doesn’t need her office, I sometimes use it. It’s perfect for a conference/video call when you are not expected to talk or put on your video and I can get 1-2 hours of walking in while working productively. 

Some of life will go back to normal when we get this pandemic under control but I think more companies, as Facebook and Twitter have already announced, will allow their employees to work from home full time so get ready to possibly work from home for a long while. Get used to video calls, follow the basic rules above,and always wear a shirt. 

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