some weird stuff is going down on video calls

With so many people working from home now, lots of us are on more video calls than we ever were before, and it’s pretty evident we don’t have video etiquette mastered.

I wrote a column for Slate with some of the funniest stories readers have shared here recently about video calls gone very wrong … including an oblivious flosser, a naked husband, and more. You can read it here.

{ 207 comments… read them below }

  1. Slutty Toes*

    I can hardly believe the “I’m just going to let him have his tantrum” person had to be asked to mute the mic!

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Oh, I can believe it….

      I’m starting to collect screenshots of crazy stuff I see on Zoom, albeit most of it has not been in work meetings so far.

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        We use Microsoft Teams and just started playing with the background options and we started to notice that when one of my coworkers leaned forward her arms completely disappeared. Another coworker took a screenshot…its great.

        1. Quill*

          We haven’t done any video stuff at work, though last night my friends dragooned me into watching “the guy who didn’t like musicals”

    2. Dust Bunny*


      My vet’s parrot does this: Barks and imitates the beeping of the timers in the lab, and calls the various clinic cats. It’s hilarious/slightly unnerving.

      My dad was on a Zoom meeting, fortunately only for church, recently and, behind him, one of our cats got worried about all the extra voices and started creeping up behind him with her neck stretched and her head bobbing up and down like a goose, like cats do when they’re curious. The rest of the meeting cracked up.

        1. Windchime*

          Me too. I used to take my old cat to a vet here in town who had a tiny seating area with only two chairs. The chairs were on either side of a giant birdcage containing a loud parrot. My poor old cat was terrified of the giant bird who kept sqwaking and speaking like a person.

        2. JKP*

          It reminds me of the parrots who learn to order stuff from Amazon with the Echo and then their owner’s are surprised by random packages.

      1. Massive Dynamic*

        Ahahaa your dad! One of my cats also insists on joining the zooms to see the people, but she’s never stalked it.

      2. Collarbone High*

        I knew someone as a kid who had a macaw that would imitate their phone ring (back when people answered their landlines). Eventually it started mimicking the resulting conversation, so its entire routine went like:

        “Brrrring. Brrring. Hello? Helloooo? Is anyone there? Oh, not again. Damn bird.”

        1. CupcakeCounter*

          My African Gray did this but since my dad worked from a home office, he would go through his end of the entire conversation (which was especially funny since the parrot had a really deep gravelly voice quite like my dad)
          “Hi its Name. Uh huh, okay, bye”
          and then a series of beeps and boops as he deleted the call from the caller id.
          We had great fun with my grandma one day when the bird kept ringing and she couldn’t figure out why we weren’t answering the phone! We were so used to it we could tell the difference between the bird and the actual phone (plus the bird only rang twice before starting his spiel).
          I was less thrilled when he learned how the mimic the train that ran behind my first apartment.

            1. Quill*

              I had scrolled down to your comment by the time that hit me and I think I inhaled some keyboard dust…

          1. Liz*

            I love African Grays. Not sure I’d want to have one, but they are so smart, and entertaining.

          2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            My mother had a friend whose parrot learned to mimic the answering machine whenever the phone rang. (This was back in the days of physical answering machines for landlines, many of which would play the greeting out loud in the house as well as on the line for what I’m sure were seen are perfectly good reasons at the time.) She’d also, for reasons that probably seemed like a much better idea before she actually did it, trained the parrot to say “help, help I can’t breathe” when the cover was dropped on the cage. So every time you called her, the parrot would be going into the answering machine spiel and occasionally segue into “help, help I can’t breathe” as she tried to answer the phone.

            Aside – we once had a basset hound that would also do the “quiet down when a cover is dropped” thing that some birds will do. When she was sitting in her bed and whining at you because she’d like a treat (this was a regular occasion – she’d taught herself to make a series of noises that sounded pretty close to “green beans” and it often worked to get someone to go get her some because it was so delightfully ridiculous), if you dropped her blanket over her head she’d grumble a bit and go to sleep rather than toss the blanket off. It was adorable and I wish more dogs worked that way.

            1. Bex*

              Re: birds – an ex’s mom has three African Greys. Most terrifying and confusing Christmas I’ve ever had was when we went to visit the family and she didn’t warn me about the birds – nor how clever they were!

              Also, our dog Daisy does that w the blanket! We call it parakeeting – we just pull a blanket over her head when she’s getting too rambunctious and within a few minutes she’s snoring. It’s adorable – and incredibly useful on longer car rides.

        2. hbc*

          I know that a bird like this is a Very Serious Undertaking and they live as long as humans and all that, but all these stories have me ready to impulse buy a parrot.

          1. AnonForThis*

            I had a coworker who had a parrot (not a Grey) that liked her husband more than her, but she had to take care of it. And she took care of it through the plucking and the biting and the scratching because yes they are a long term commitment.

            You should not buy a parrot on impulse.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Look into home ventilation before you do. Bird Fancier’s Lung is a thing you do not want to risk.
            So says the former coworker of mine whose ex-wife came down with it after breeding parrots for many years.
            My favorite African Grey story was the parrot rescued from a bad home who had learned to growl like a Rottweiler… When a friend’s kid visited and went straight for the cage he was supposed to leave alone, the bird growled and the kid jumped back three feet. The family’s other parrot immediately learned the same growl. (Dare I say he parrot ed his new companion?)

        3. Sarahkay*

          I am crying with laughter over the bird not only mimicking the phone ring, but also the resultant conversation.

        4. Argye*

          My parrot, Mango, a Senegal, likes to mimic cell phone rings while hiding behind her toy (though she is completely visible), whenever people visit. If a visitor grabs their phone and says “Hello”, she gives her evil laugh – heh heh heh. Note: she has two laughs, her normal one ha ha ha! which she does when people laugh, and then her evil laugh which she only uses when she tricks people.

          1. Argye*

            Also, she learned, 10 years ago, to mimic a smoke detector any time my sister walked into the kitchen. Thankfully, she only pulls that one out every other year or so, when she sees my sister.

      3. Wendy Darling*

        One of my coworkers has a large-breed dog who’s a bit under a year old. He’s apparently in a difficult phase and also is having trouble dealing with my coworker being at home but not paying attention to him. We don’t use video but I keep hearing the dog heavy-breathing on voice chat as he scoots closer and closer to my colleague’s face (and microphone). I love dogs and grew up with big dogs so I find this both hilarious and relatable — brings back memories of my childhood great dane shoving her face closer and closer to my face when I tried to watch TV without also petting the dog.

        1. HarperC*

          Ah, yes, the teenage phase of dogs. Just when you get them past the puppy stuff and start to think it’s all under control, they decide they are going to push some boundaries.

          1. Quill*

            It’s also when you suddenly have to contend with large breeds navigating the fact that they’re no longer a reasonable size for a lapdog.

      4. Jack Russell Terrier*

        Years ago, my friend had a large parrot who used to imitate her calling her sons to dinner. ‘Boys dinner’ – at the right time no less. They’d come tearing downstairs, all excited for the grub. Needless to say, the parrot was hopping up and down laughing.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Parrots are beautiful and fascinating and I could never own one because I am pretty much 95% sure they’re smarter than me.

      5. KoiFeeder*

        My parents had a friend with a parrot who liked to torture the dogs. The parrot would call the dogs promising a treat, make them do a series of tricks, and then scold the dogs and tell them to go to the kennel.

        I’ve always personally wondered what, exactly, those dogs did to the parrot.

      6. Wired Wolf*

        A cousin’s cat did this yesterday. He didn’t manage to end the call, but we all got treated to Paws of Doom and the Almighty Cat Butt at some point. I should try to find some of our old cat toys and see what happens…

        1. Knock Knock Goose*

          I’m on a call right now and two of my cats have made an appearance already. I’m surprised one didn’t hang up the call. She’s managed to delete emails and schedule meetings for me.

      7. Ace in the Hole*

        A family friend used to have a parrot who could perfectly imitate the telephone ring. She’d only know it was the parrot because she’d pick the phone up and hear the parrot say “Hello Jane Doe speaking”

    3. Data Nerd*

      My colleague did the same thing–her toddler’s been clingy since the quarantine began. Youngling was not happy about our staff meeting two weeks ago and Colleague was so frantically trying to shush and distract that she had to be reminded to just mute the call.

      1. Zsazsa*

        I have a four year old and I got him a walkie talkie. It’s our game during Video meetings for him to hid somewhere (Most often in a blanket fort) and He can only communicate to me via walkie talkie. This method gives me plenty of time to know when he’s coming so I can turn video off and hit mute.

        Works like a charm!

    4. LunaLena*

      I dunno, I recently attended a WebX presentation where one person didn’t have their mic muted, so we could all hear when other people came into their room asking for stuff, their responses, the sounds of stuff getting shuffled around while they searched, etc. It got so disruptive that the presenter stopped mid-sentence and asked that everyone make sure their mics were muted, and the person in question STILL didn’t mute theirs. I think no one wanted to be mean and call out the person publicly (or they did via private chat and the person didn’t notice), but since there was exactly one person who didn’t have their mic muted, we all knew who it was. Some people are just surprisingly oblivious, I guess.

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        I wish there was some way to mute individual people just on my end of a video call. We have a few late adopters who are still not great with muting when they’re not speaking, and nothing of value would be lost if I didn’t have to hear their kids/pets/breathing in the background while trying to listen to the person actually talking.

      2. allathian*

        In Skype for business anyone can mute the mic of anyone else. Very handy when someone’s in a meeting and has forgotten to mute their mic and there’s a distraction.

      3. Hlyssande*

        I’m surprised the host of the webex didn’t mute them – I host them frequently and have had to use that function before.

    5. Random IT person*

      I can hardly believe the presenter actually asked.
      Does not all this conferencing have the option to mute other users (individually or collectively?)

      MS Teams (what we use) has this option – and it a sanity saver.
      Especially with various cultures on a call – with various fitting background noises. (my colleagues in India live close to a busy part of town – with a market and loads of traffic – and have their windows open often…)

      As a tip to all organizers of meetings like this – check if you can do this – and use that mute button!

  2. Opal*

    I almost had the nude husband incident. I was on a video conference when he wandered into the room. Fortunately it was in front of me (not on camera) and I could turn off my camera and mike and shoo him out of the room. That was during the first week of teleworking at my new job. I had visions of it being my last. He’s gotten better.

    The parrot pranking the dogs had me spewing my morning tea.

    1. many bells down*

      My boss’s husband was doing a dance, in her line of sight but out of range of the camera, while she was trying to do morning announcements for a large public meeting.

    2. MySherona*

      My grandboss insists that everyone working from home be in dress code on video calls. My husband was so offended on my behalf that he volunteered to do a nude walk-through. I declined, but the idea makes me laugh to tears.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        That makes me crazy! My company is pretty casual anyway, so no problems, but a friend of mine has to be judicious with her wardrobe because all of her dress code compliant tops have to be dry cleaned. She also feels pressured to be in full hair and make-up. That is just so short-sighted.

        1. anonymous5*

          Not that this is the only reason to have clean clothes, but I have absolutely taken advantage of the wisdom that “they can’t smell you on video” when I’ve recorded some of my lectures…

        2. tangerineRose*

          Does your friend just wear the fancy stuff for the conference calls and then change into casual clothes later?

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            She does, but she can only repeat things so many times (she works for a fashion brand and people notice such things). And she often has several meetings a day and it doesn’t make sense to change between each one.

            1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

              Surely a fashion brand is aware that it is somewhat difficult to update your wardrobe right now…

      2. Teapot Librarian*

        I commented below about an employee wearing a bathrobe on a video chat. On another, he was wearing only a tank top undershirt. I don’t need my employees being dress code compliant, but an undershirt is pushing things a bit too far.

        1. HS Teacher*

          Why? What difference does it make? Other than being unclothed at all, I couldn’t care less what people wear to a video chat. It seems like an odd way to be controlling. We’re in a pandemic. Employers should feel glad we’re showing up at all.

          1. caps22*

            I don’t care if people are wearing t shirts and hoodies, but clothes that belong in the bedroom feels way too intimate for a work video call. If you wouldn’t wear it outside, don’t wear it on a call.

          2. Elsajeni*

            I think it’s fair to expect people to be… maybe “socially dressed” is a reasonable way to describe it? “Undershirt only” or “bathrobe” are inside-the-house looks, or “I’m just running out to grab the paper real quick” looks — things you wear when you’re only expecting to be seen by people inside your household. If you’re getting on a video call with people from work, yes, you’re still inside your house, but you’re interacting with people from the outside world — you should at least be wearing something you would wear to the grocery store.

        2. A*

          I don’t see the issue with an undershirt I guess. But then again, our CEO did our virtual town hall in sweats.

          Bathrobe is definitely a no go.

      3. DragoCucina*

        I have a huge scarf collection and it’s amazing how dressy that makes a plain T-shirt on web camera. I’m still one of the most over dressed participants in any video conference. I do believe I’ll have perfected the no-makeup makeup look when this is done.

    3. Phony Genius*

      Something like this happened recently in California. A TV reporter was doing a report about hair styling from her bathroom. Her husband was seen in a mirror behind her, and he wasn’t wearing anything. Nobody noticed before it went to air. He probably didn’t even know that the mirror’s angle would show him to the camera.

      1. Liz*

        YES! i just posted about this before seeing your post. although I thought it was the shower, but still funny. you could see EVERYTHING.

      2. sacados*

        YES I SAW THAT. I was kind of hoping the naked husband story in the article was going to be that, altho it’s nice to know this lady clearly isn’t the only one that’s happened to, haha.
        He was clearly just standing there silently — I assume he must have been already in the middle of the shower and she just asked him to turn the water off during the segment (since she was only on camera for like 45 seconds), not realizing that you could get a clear view of his junk in the mirror

        1. Liz*

          a VERY clear view. he would have been better turning to face the wall and just mooning the camera.

    4. Kes*

      A coworker’s roommate wandered through the background in a towel the other week. And then wandered back to grab something. Everyone just ignored it.

    5. mdv*

      My boyfriend, too, thinks it is funny to dance around naked out of camera range, or alternately will moon me, while I am on zoom meetings. Good thing I sit with my back to the wall or piano, where he can’t accidentally do it behind me!

    6. A Poster Has No Name*

      My husband made a cameo on a call when he brought me breakfast one morning.

      Fully clothed, though.

      We have windows that face a busy street, and two kids, so we’re not in the habit of wandering around naked. I’ve never been so thankful for that as when reading these posts!

    1. Annony*

      It makes me want to get a parrot. I probably would if I knew that it would be as smart as that one.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I did spit-take of my coffee with that one. I want a parrot that can mimic the sound of a treat bag shaking to rouse my lazy cats a few times an afternoon.

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        My parrot (African Gray) would have learned this. He was incredible with sounds – even better than talking and he had a large vocabulary.
        I posted a anecdote about the bird and the phone above, but our favorite was what happened after my dad built an outdoor aviary for the parrots in the summer. About a week or so after we started putting them out there we noticed there were tons of wild birds all around our yard. We had lots of woods, a large garden, and some bird feeders so didn’t think too much of it until our neighbors started commenting on it. Come to find out my parrot had learned all of their calls and had been calling them to our yard for days. Did I mention it was mating season? There were a lot of very frustrated, very pretty birds all over our backyard.
        Another favorite was when the 2 little birds were fighting (we had 3 total, the African Gray, a Quaker/Monk parrot – if you read another story below that was Sweetie Bird – and a parrotlet) while the big guy was chilling on my shoulder, he got so annoyed with them he walked down my arm onto the table, spread out his wings, knocked them off the table and shouted at them to be quiet. He then walked back over to me, crawled up my arm and went back to sitting calmly on my shoulder. I think my parents might actually have that on video somewhere…

        1. WorkIsADarkComedy*

          One late spring evening, long after most birds had quieted down for the night, a lone mockingbird started imitating the locals. Then all the imitated ones joined in, because what bird can resist trying to out-sing a rival? Suddenly there was a neighborhood concert.

  3. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    I love the parrot story. Apparently they are smart enough to know exactly what they are doing.

    1. Princess Deviant*

      I am absolutely howling at that story, especially the owner’s tired resignation to it all!

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        And very social, from what I understand, so they probably get bored easily and “play with” the dogs for amusement!

        1. Liz*

          that’s my understanding too, the toddler mentality and easily bored.

          My parents had friends who had an African Gray who was a terror. but in a funny way. he would whistle “pop goes the weasel” and go flat on the last note, when they’d tell him it was bedtime, and time to cover his cage, he’d blow raspberries at them, and the husband had a cough one winter that lingered. THe bird imitated him and coughed all the time after that. The best though was his cage was in a big window in the kitchen, and when they’d clean it out, they’d chuck the birdseed etc from the bottom into the backyard for the wild birds. He would see them eating HIS food and go berserk.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I considered getting a small parrot once, so I read a bunch of stuff about owning parrots and cockatoos. They’re loud; always, all the time. They need very large cages. They live a long time if well cared for, so it’s definitely a commitment.

          Also, they are flock animals and require a lot of attention. If they’re ignored, they can actually go insane. Anyone who can’t give them the attention for whatever reason should not get one. I didn’t have the space or the time, so I decided against it.

          1. ShanShan*

            That’s why when we get birds, we always get them in twos! They need a best friend to keep them company.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            Yep. I had several friends growing up whose families had parrots or other similar birds, and they are high-maintenance and sometimes mean. One of my friends constantly had bite and scratch marks from their bird and said the bird flat-out didn’t like them and never had. Her mom described the parrot as “more trouble than the puppy and never grows out of it”.

    2. Free Meerkats*

      Ours would say, “Good Bye!” when you were leaving. But somehow it knew if you were really leaving or just going out the door; If you tried to fool him, he ignored you. Never could figure out how.

      1. MAC*

        One of my best friend’s mom had an African Gray, which I did not know at one time. Some 20 years ago, her mom happened to be staying with her one night when we had plans. As we were leaving, I heard this sweet voice say “Bye, girls!” and I called back “Bye {mom’s name}!” My friend just sighed and said “that’s the bird.” Friend’s mom passed away a few years ago and friend now has the bird, who has since added a catcall whistle to its repertoire, plus some adult language courtesy of friend’s now-husband.

    3. Hey I'm Essential Here!*

      One of our customers brought in his Gray. I was walking through the produce section and could hear the beeps from the registers. I hadn’t seen the bird yet, just thought dang those scanners are super loud today. Finally he did it very loud right as I was passing him and I saw him. Lol his owner had the most annoyed look on his face and told me if he thinks someone looks interesting and wants attention he beeps at them until they come over!

  4. Hello*

    I was trying to be good about reusing my cups so that it wouldn’t be as much dishes to do, but then I realized I was drinking ginger ale out of a wine glass on a zoom call. there was no video luckily but still a bad idea

    1. Elenna*

      At least ginger ale is transparent and doesn’t look like wine? Still probably a bad idea.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I also recommend against fancy root beer if you look tired… somewhere there is a truly unfortunate picture of me at a work function holding a bottle of IBC root beer. So help me I looked totally drunk…I just hadn’t slept well that week.

    1. Zudz*

      My grandmother used to work in a Veterinary office, and they had a parrot living on site. You know those big jugs of water that go in the water cooler? Well, one of them sprung a leak, and glug-glug-glug’d all the water onto the floor. That was everything the bird needed to learn that making that particular noise would make all the humans nearby go bonkers. His perch, you see, was right by the door that the jugs lived in. More than once, my grandmother found someone hurriedly moving all of the jugs they had in storage (usually around a dozen) looking for the leaky one. “I know one of these is broken! I heard it leaking!”

      The parrot also knew how to rile up the dogs, and I seem to recall it traumatizing a troop of girl scouts at one point. It was a very good argument against keeping birds.

      1. GoryDetails*

        Re imitating the leaky water cooler: that’s priceless! (I read a novel in which a parrot at a busy convention-hosting hotel imitated the “elevator has arrived” sound, causing great frustration to the people waiting for the elevator… Fiction, true, but obviously well within a parrot’s capabilities and inclinations!)

  5. ACDC*

    I have a coworker with a daughter who is very involved in music and dance. He has a makeshift office set up in his basement, which is also where his daughter does vocal lessons, ballet lessons, tap dance lessons, etc. throughout the day. Try having a conference call with a tap dance class going on in the background. It’s pretty funny for the first few minutes, then very much not funny after that.

    1. Lisa Simpson Style*

      We had a meeting where the guy’s teenager was practicing the saxophone next door. He waved it off when we mentioned it the first time (before we got started) like “what are ya gonna do, we’re all in this together” but after he started the meeting we had to tell him if anyone was going to be able to pay attention to what he was saying, he had to tell the kid to stop. He was not apologetic at all. “I guess I can ask him to take a break for now.” Yes, yes you can, you are the working adult in this scenario and he is not a toddler, thanks.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        One of my (pre-teen) kids play an instrument, and I purposely schedule practice time when there are no meetings or virtual class sessions for anyone. Kid and their sibling got into an argument because the musician decided to play off-schedule during one of the sibling’s classes and got an earful about it first from them and then from us when Kid decided to argue with Sibling about their “right to practice”. Nope, nope, nope. There are at least five other appropriate times during the day to do that. No “right” to do it right this second.

      2. Sleepless*

        My daughter takes voice and guitar, and she’s been doing her lessons online. Fortunately, some odd quirk of the HVAC in our house makes her room almost soundproof. She and her guitar teacher had quite the jam session the other day and the rest of us could barely hear it.


    We are prohibited from video conferencing as the number of users on the VPN is so large, and the system isn’t built to handle it. IT was very serious in telling us YOU CANNOT HAVE SKYPE VIDEO MEETINGS. As if we would fight it.

    1. Kumajiro*

      I’m so glad that my office has a culture of entering all meetings with video off. If someone needs it on to show something, they turn it on for a few minutes and then right back off. Really helps with my home bandwidth and my work computer’s fritzy camera.

      1. Megumin*

        That’s the culture in my office as well, and I”m so grateful. We heavily used MS Teams before the pandemic, because we’re IT for a college campus and everyone is spread out. But there’s always one person who likes leaving their camera on, and it’s really awkward when we’re having dept-wide meetings about policy or changes or something, and he makes very obvious disapproval faces at everything he hears.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      My boss insists on keeping his camera on even when he gets an alert that he doesn’t have enough bandwidth. This is almost always during client presentations. Everyone else will have the camera off. I would love a blanket no camera policy!

    3. Amanda*

      We’re not using video either. The company left it to each team’s discretion, and we VERY quickly decided audio only was the way to go. As in, seconds!

    4. MusicWithRocksIn*

      That’s where we are. We can barely all be on the server at the same time to access our documents and programs. No way anyone could do video calls.

    5. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      I’m so thankful my company does this too. No cameras, only screen sharing.

    6. Kate H*

      God I wish my company was like that. Instead upper management just ordered web cams and headsets because apparently daily check-ins with our supervisors isn’t enough.

  7. Foreign Octopus*

    Oh god, I’d read this earlier today and kept going down and down the page thinking that the crazy had to end at some point but it didn’t. I loved the resignation in the parrot story like, yes, this is what I have to live with.

  8. Rosalita*

    Call me paranoid but I have a piece of paper tsped over my camera. I also automatically mute myself just in case. The first time I did not mute myself my dog’s nemesis (the mailman) showed up. She lost it and as a result my team heard her freaking out..luckily they thought it was funny

    1. Ego Chamber*

      Samesies. I am paranoid enough that I uninstalled the webcam and mic on my home computer but then the plague happened so I had to put them back. :(

  9. Nina*

    For the toilet incident person – it was actually
    Better that it was a video call instead of having to run out of a room!

  10. Fieldpoppy*

    That parrot thing had me cackling out loud. Along with the wine drinking/joint lighting person.

  11. OhGee*

    A month ago, when my workplace went remote, we had a zoom with over 200 people on it. One very senior person seemed to be walking around his home, unmuted, possibly with zoom on a phone in his pocket? Lots of loud muffled noises. People messaged him, called him, to no avail. Someone finally called his wife, who got him to mute himself. Since then, the host has learned to automatically mute participants.

  12. Philly Redhead*

    Literal LOLs at the dog-taunting parrot!

    My gripe is about a co-worker of mine. She has a toddler daughter, who insists on sitting on her lap during video meetings where our boss gives us updates from the leadership committee. I totally understand parenting toddlers — I have a child myself (he’s 8 now). BUT MUTE YOURSELF SO WE CAN HEAR THE UPDATES!

    1. Rachel in NYC*

      My office has a policy- if you aren’t the person speaking, you have to mute yourself. (It’s just good zoom-tiquette.) One of our first department meetings, we were having issues with extra sounds from people’s apartments and my supervisor refuses to give his update until everyone is muted, specifically a co-worker, S (the only person not muted). Resulting in everyone unmuting to ask S to mute their mike- until finally our boss tells S maybe S should stay on after the meeting to go over how to mute themselves.

      S is our IT person. It’s a wonder.

      1. Megumin*

        I work in IT, and I’m surprised/saddened by the sheer number of my colleagues who don’t know how to operate web conferencing software. And we’re not just talking about people who are “in IT” but not in super technical roles – I’m talking about super technical people like developers and sysadmins. MUTING IS NOT HARD!!

        1. MusicWithRocksIn*

          Every place I’ve worked has struggled with not hitting reply all to company wide emails, so I consider muting during conference calls to be above average tech skills.

          1. Sarahkay*

            You would think mute would be the preferred option, but bizarrely when I was covering a different department their grandboss flowed down instructions that everyone should be actively participating in the weekly regional calls and this included not muting ourselves.
            This was months ago, well before Covid-19 and WFH and we mostly all worked in open offices so not being on mute was absurd. It’s also a big global corp, so we’re all used to taking lots of skype/MS Teams meetings, and mostly we’re all good at using the mute button.
            I figured I had nothing to lose since their boss was a good guy, and also not going to be delivering my annual appraisal, so I spoke up and asked if grand-boss was aware that we were all in open offices, which meant that not muting was not a good idea (I think I managed to avoid saying ‘absurd’ or ‘appallingly anti-social’.) Their boss sighed gently and said something along of the lines of ‘I’m just the messenger, don’t mute if you’re ever on a call with grand-boss’, which we all (correctly) took to mean he also thought it was absurd, and cheerfully carried on our merry way, muting whenever we weren’t talking.

            1. allathian*

              That’s absurd! Good thing the boss had your back. My closest coworker has moderate hearing loss and I have slight hearing loss, but enough that trying to make out what people are saying in a noisy environment gives me a headache. He literally can’t hear you if more than one person is unmuted.

      2. Windchime*

        I think a lot of these people who forget to mute are dialing into the meeting and then just going about their business, not really paying attention to the meeting at all. I hear all kinds of things; talking, shuffling papers , loud typing, dogs barking, etc. All while the person with the open mic is blissfully unaware because they’re not really paying attention to the meeting at all.

  13. Kiwi*

    Unfortunately I know someone who will not take any steps whatsoever to control her dogs, one of which loves wriggling in front of her and showing his butt hole (yes, the hole) to the camera. She won’t move to another room, she won’t put the dogs up, she won’t go outside, she won’t discipline the dogs. It’s for a church/nonprofit group and I think she sees it as less “formal” than a corporate “business” meeting, but it still drives me nuts to hear them barking and to see…all that.

    1. Trek*

      Talk to the organizer and have her removed from the call or see if others feel the same way and push back as a group and force her to address the issue.

      1. Kiwi*

        She is the highest-ranking church person on the call, and the organizer of the call. Her response has always been “Well, there’s nothing I can do about the dogs, they’re just going to be part of this!”

        1. Trek*

          I think I thought you worked for this person or for the organization. Is that not the case? Rather it’s just someone you know that does this on calls? How annoying for her to think she is special.

          I would probably add dogs of my own or some type of annoying back ground noise and if she complained I would say you fix your situation and I will fix mine. Otherwise I would refuse to join the calls or just hang up every time there is too much noise.

  14. DataGirl*

    I’m doing a lot of tech support for my department’s conference and video calls as the quasi IT person. I’m trying to train all hosts to mute the audience before starting to avoid background noise but they don’t always manage it. I’ve heard several inappropriate comments picked up from people who forgot to mute themselves. Thankfully no video mishaps yet.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I get so tired of the listening to the host tell everyone to mute. Instead of repeating yourself 500 times, just mute everyone. I get that video conferencing is new to some, but my company has people all over the country so this is NOT NEW for us.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        ‘I get that video conferencing is new to some, but my company has people all over the country so this is NOT NEW for us.’

        I have to remind myself of this all the time. Conference calls just aren’t a big deal to me, it’s how my employers have gotten work done for 20 years. But for some folks, being on a conference call really is a new experience. Managing the mic and camera will become reflexive soon. I hope.

    2. A Poster Has No Name*

      One of the nice things about MS Teams is if you join a call with more than a few people, it automatically mutes you, so you’d have to toggle mute off manually before joining.

      1. Feline*

        I find that feature frustrating. Sometimes you’re automatically muted, sometimes you have to do it manually, and I have accidentally reached to mute myself when joining and accidentally unmuted. Everyone got to enjoy hearing my lawn service.

      2. Anon4This*

        I haven’t used MS Teams yet but Skype has advanced settings so that when you schedule a meeting, it starts with all participants muted. You just have to set it once and all the meetings you schedule will be that way. But ‘advanced settings’ is way beyond a lot of the people I work with.

      3. Sarahkay*

        It’d be even better if it just muted everyone at dial-in, regardless of how many people are on the call, though.

          1. SarahKay*

            So is our Skype, but we’re in the process of moving (aka being pushed by IT) to MS Teams, which we’re less than thrilled about. Still, at least C-19 is giving us lots of opportunities to get better at MS Teams….

  15. CupcakeCounter*

    I used to have a parrot who would call our dog as well. However, the dog wasn’t very bright and would come every time and stand directly underneath the bird’s cage since that was where the voice was coming from. The bird proceeded to poop on her each and every time and then laugh. His name was Sweetie Bird.

    Unrelated to the bird, I have also muted the mic on a meeting and taken a large dump during a meeting. Luckily not a video call since it was a training meeting about day 2 of the WFH mandate.

    (TMI ahead)

    As freaked out as I was that I did something wrong and everyone would hear all of the associated noises, I was actually really glad it happened during WFH since it was one of those gastrointestinal “gotta go now and this ain’t gonna be pretty” explosions that take a long time, multiple flushes for preservation of both plumbing and olfactory senses, and where having wet wipes available make everything better.

  16. Amber T*

    I was on a call yesterday that I expected to be ~20 mins. I lost track of time and didn’t have time to pee before my meeting, but it was only going to be 20 minutes, so I could hold it that long.

    It was an hour.

    Well, it was an hour until I swear my vision was turning yellow and I was about to cry pee. So, like the OP there, I muted and turned my video off, double checked, triple checked, and made my way to the bathroom. Literally midstream, the head of meeting wrapped it up. I chose to stay on mute instead of tempting fate and accidentally hitting the video button on my phone.

  17. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I am the only person I know who wishes her dog would make an appearance during a video call but the dog basically refuses. He doesn’t like coming into my office, though he does like to stand in the doorway and whine for me to come sit with him on the sofa. He is older and very handsome and a Very Good Boy. Instead people just stare at my red face and my partner’s weights.

    1. Teapot Librarian*

      I want to have more video calls so that my Very Shy cat can get used to seeing other people without the fear that comes from those people actually being in the room. So far no luck on that front, though.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        We lost our exceptionally sociable cat in January, and, on top of missing the hell out of him, I know he would have LOVED this everyone-is-at-home-to-pamper-me time. He was part Siamese and got the curiosity gene from that side of his family – into absolutely everything and offended by being left out or moved to another location when he was in the way. He’d have been the star of video meetings, if he wasn’t stepping on the key that broke the meeting or something.

        Our remaining cats are skittish and weird, so no meeting bombing from them.

        1. Quill*

          My labrador would have been the best / worst right now.

          He was the world’s largest attention seeker .

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      My husbands canoe club was having a Zoom meeting the other evening, and I heard him calling to me, “Mallory, quick — bring me a dog treat! Everyone else’s dog is on camera, and Luna has to get on here, too!”

  18. SomebodyElse*

    For all of the ‘call of nature’ victims out there.

    Here’s what I do if I need a few personal minutes away from a call/meeting. I IM someone else on the call to let them know I need to step away and to cover for me. Then let them know when I get back. I generally just mute everything and use the bathroom without my phone or computer. Nobody cares and it happens all the time in my company that someone has to step away for another urgent call.

    This helps all of the mission impossible potty breaks.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I do the same – I often have back to back to back meetings and I drink a lot of water. Thankfully my bathroom is right next to my office.

      1. 3DogNight*

        Or, if I am an active participant (we rarely use video) here is what I do–could be TMI for some. I plug the tub (so no drainage sounds) and pee there, toss the TP in the toilet and close the lid. Then I scrub the tub after the call. Works pretty well for me, Mondays are my long days on the phone, so about once a week my tub gets scrubbed. No one hears inappropriate noises. I’m female, so it’s a little easier for me to do this rather quietly, not sure how quiet this would be for a man!

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          For a man, if you sit on the toilet to pee, it’s pretty much silent. I’ll admit, I’ve done this without muting myself, but probably not on work calls. We just have to worry about passing gas, which of course gets quite echo-y in that situation….

        2. Scc@rlettNZ*

          Why don’t you just put some toilet paper in the bowl before you pee? Wouldn’t that muffle the sound sufficiently?

  19. SwitchingGenres*

    I assume everyone has seen articles about the newscaster who accidentally showed the world her nude husband in the shower while doing a live segment on cutting your own hair. Nightmare.

  20. hayling*

    The naked husband situation is basically every teacher’s worst nightmare right now—either from their own home or from a student’s. My roommate is a teacher and she has had a lot of bathrobe-clad parents appear in the background, and she gets nervous that it’s going to be worse!

    1. Teapot Librarian*

      I had a bathrobe-clad employee on a call. Luckily it was with just him. Also luckily the only reason we were on a platform that allowed video is because I needed to see what was on his screen, so once he shared his screen, that was taken care of.

  21. schnauzerfan*

    We were on a video call with someone in Boston. She was the presenter. The day of the marathon bombing. When we started she mentioned that she’d put her dog in the other room and hoped the dog would stay quiet, but there were tons of people and commotion outside and so she asked for patience. Then of course all hell broke loose. We heard the explosion and the sirens and …

    1. allathian*

      Oh my goodness. That must have been terrible for all of you.
      Did you complete the video call or reschedule it after the explosion?

  22. namelesscommentator*

    I am guilty of a mute failure last week.

    I did a squat heavy workout far car too many days of being sedentary, and was sore to the point of struggling to sit up/down in chairs. I moved in away that I didn’t think would hurt, but it did and I loudly gasped/moaned in pain. Nobody mentioned it, but the moderator muted me instantly.

    Sorry, colleagues. Quarantine is weird.

  23. Three owls in a trench coat*

    I read “oblivious flosser” and thought it was going to be a kid coming into the room and doing a bunch of Fortnite dances, either not knowing or not caring that their parent was on camera.

  24. Anonymous Dutchie*

    Here in the Netherlands, a teacher was teaching her secondary school class through Teams when her partner became physically violent with her.

    One good thing came out of it – he has been arrested.
    And fortunately we have decent labour laws (and a massive teacher shortage) so I doubt she’ll become a Lauren Miranda over this.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        That’s why you don’t send nude photos to anyone. Ever. Regardless of your gender.

  25. Anonymous at a University*

    I have a parrot, and yes, that parrot calling the dogs could totally happen. I am luckily mostly muted on ZOOM calls until I need to speak in any case, but even with a door closed between him and me, my parrot will be loudly saying, “HIIIII,” in my voice, or, worse, making sniffling noises and saying, “Help! Please help!” If I’m on my cell phone, he’s in the background saying, “Okay, BYE NOW.” Embarrassing as hell (although worse was the time I was on the phone with my bank trying to give them a new phone number and he started shouting random numbers in the background). There is no way to discipline him other than ignore him; yelling at him just makes him happy because it’s attention, and although some people’s parrots will respond to a little squirt bottle of water the way cats do, mine just spreads his wings and takes it for a shower.

    I love him, but he is not a good WFH companion.

    1. Fluff*

      “Just spreads his wings and takes it for a shower.” Your parrot is a complete bad ass. Just don’t tell him that.

  26. Kesnit*

    1) My wife is raising chicks. For lack of anywhere else to put them, they are in a large plastic box with a red heat lamp that is right behind me when I am on my laptop. I keep waiting for a client to notice the red light pointing in a box behind me and think I am growing “plants” in my house.

    2) A client on a voice call did hear one of the chicks cheeping. He asked what it was and I told him the truth. He thought I was joking.

    3) We are in the process of moving in with my in-laws for a few months while we build our house. At one point, we thought our TV (which my wife uses to play video games) would be behind my computer desk – meaning someone could see my wife in Skyrim or Star Wars… We ended up moving the TV, but I am still thinking about building a frame and hanging a curtain behind me so no one would see my wife walk by.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      As a veteran of indoor chick-raising who is now extremely grateful it happened pre-Zoom, I am dying. :’D

    2. Not All*

      I feel you! I had both ducklings and chicks inside for the first few weeks. Of course, everyone knew & I was required to turn the camera so people could see them for a growth update each meeting!

      Also….never ever EVER will I again order ducklings so early in the year they need to be inside for weeks. The grossness & stink cannot be described. I’ve had them many times before but never where they were inside longer than a week!

    3. A Poster Has No Name*

      They sell screens you can attach to the back of your chair that provide a neutral backdrop behind you and would hide anything untoward happening behind you. I don’t know how sold out such things will be these days, but it’s an option.

    4. Jennifer Thneed*

      If it won’t take you more than a couple of hours, I say Build the frame. You’ll be in video calls for at least another month.

  27. Liz*

    The dog and parrot show had me laughing so hard I cried. I can only imagine having to explain that one!

    i saw something posted on FB over the weekend, which supposedly did happen. Not a video call, but a hairdresser being interviewed on the local news, about how she wants to go back to work. In her bathroom. where you can clearly see her husband, in the shower, with CLEAR GLASS doors behind her. oops. Because it went on air with no one noticing. Or so I was told. not sure if it did or not, but the picture was funny and yeah, let’s just say he wasn’t lacking in certain areas.

  28. Wicked Witch of the West*

    Fifty plus years ago, when I was in high school, friends had a parrot. You could be sitting in the living room, hear the phone ring in the kitchen, a female voice answer, carry on a conversation, and then say good-bye. It was all the parrot. Other times he would make the phone ringing noise and then proceed to call each member of the family to answer the phone. They are amazing creatures.

  29. Bunny Girl*

    I was so happy I was muted on a conference call the other day. My department head announced in a meeting that one of our staff members had quit and “he had talked to me” about taking over her job. This was my first time hearing about it. But just out of surprise and anger I said out loud “Are you f***** kidding me you c***.” So yeah. Glad I was muted. Not that glad though.

    1. Paradiddler*

      Omg. Sounds like something I would say. The older I get the more cussing I’m doing, and sometimes forget I’m on the phone with my mom or dad. Ooops.

  30. Youngin*

    Ugh, so wish I could read this. Slate put me behind a paywall :( apparently i like Prudence too much and I’ve been punished

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Here’s 4 stories from the article that I’ve seen a lot of people commenting on. There’s a lot more there (maybe a dozen total?) and fwiw I recognized a lot of them from a recent-ish column. (Alison I hope this is kosher.)

      The person who flossed on camera:
      I was on a Zoom the other day and one of the participants flossed her teeth before the meeting began. It was mesmerizing, funny, and awful. I don’t believe the flosser realized that everyone could see her (which I guess is a better problem than not caring?). The host was pretty new to hosting and was obviously trying to figure out what to say or how to shut off her video; the flosser stopped before either happened.

      The matchmaking grandma:
      A co-worker of mine was on a video call with one of her direct reports, and the direct report’s grandma wandered into the room and thought the manager was his secret girlfriend.
      She kept asking her questions about her suitability for “my sweet boy,” as her grandson tried to wrestle her out of the room.

      The nude husband:
      One of our colleagues, perfectly groomed and dressed, had neglected to close the door directly behind her while taking a video call from home. Call participants were treated to a view of her husband, wandering down the hallway totally nude.

      The kid having a tantrum:
      My colleague let her son screech for a few minutes in the background of a conference call and was like, “I am going to just let him have his tantrum.” It was so annoying as she had to be asked to mute herself so we could continue on.

    2. Snark no more!*

      See if you can open the article using an incognito window. It worked for me with one of the NY publications last week.

  31. KristinaL*

    This was a few years ago, but once when I was on a conference call (no zoom, thank goodness), my cat decided to throw up nearby (very nearby). I think I managed to mute my phone before too much of that sound went out to the whole team.

    1. Exhausted Educator Was Exhausted*

      Yup, that happened while I was teaching live on Zoom a week or so ago. Sigh. I just had to keep talking and hope that a distance of five feet or so was far enough to not be audible. Cats!!

  32. Anon4This*

    This was pre-COVID and not a conference call, but about a year ago I took a call while driving from a recruiter (over bluetooth on my vehicle, hands free). Suddenly some jerk in a huge pickup truck cut me off and nearly took off my bumper in the process. I screamed several very choice 4 letters words then just heard ‘excuse me?!’ from my speaker- I had totally forgotten I was on the phone. I apologized profusely of course and he apologized for calling while I was driving, but yeah, that job did NOT go anywhere.

    1. HS Teacher*

      Something similar happened to me shortly after I met the person I’m dating. She had called while I was driving home from work, and someone in a huge pickup truck almost t-boned me. I let out a string of expletives I wouldn’t normally have let out, especially not two weeks into seeing someone. When she laughed, I knew I’d found a keeper.

    2. Partly Cloudy*

      My co-worker greeted the group with “f— you, you f—ing piece of s—!” on our call. I’m pretty sure he was driving (although I’m not sure WHY he was driving…). The call included all kinds of higher ups and luckily everyone just chuckled but I was mortified on his behalf.

      On another recent call (of only about 4 people, so we were all talking enough to make muting impractical), my co-worker’s dog barked and MY dogs heard it and barked back, so essentially our dogs had a little side conversation.

  33. not neurotypical*

    My workplace is an animal sanctuary at which one of the parrots is both extremely smart and extremely mischievous. Once, when I was out, she called out the window “hellooo? hellooo?” in my voice over and over again until a co-worker ran in from outside, convinced that I was calling for help — and then burst out laughing at the success of her trick.

    Perfectly imitating both the sound and the timing of the beep that a solar-powered gate makes when it needs to be reset — thereby causing me to go outside to try to reset it — is another fun fave, as is the (again pitch-perfect) ringing telephone. She can also read my mood and, if I am caught in a conversation that bores me, will start saying “OK, bye!” and then (if that doesn’t work) “buh-bye! buh-bye!” loud enough to be heard by the person I’m talking with.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      That last bit is hilarious. My friend lived with an African Grey for years, and yup, Agatha used to imitate the telephone and every other local sound. Once my friend was in the next room and she heard the bird very very quietly practicing the baby’s cry. Agatha was smart enough to never actually use that one.

  34. A Social Worker*

    I love the parrot one! I had a client that if I did a home visit and we went in the other room without me stopping to greet the parrot, we would hear a loud, sarcastic “Hel-LOOOOO! Hel-LOOOOO!” until I went and gave it some attention so we could get back to our meeting.

  35. Lizabeth*

    We “used” to do conference calls all the time and I had no problem with that because I just basically listened with the mute button on. Now TPTB are in love with Zoom. I refuse to enable the video part but I can’t keep my mic on mute because it shows up on screen. Grrrrrrrr.

    1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      Can you dial in with a phone for the audio part (as a phone, not an app)? If you then mute on the phone-side rather than on your computer, it may not show up as muted in the interface.

      I used to do this when I lived with someone who had a nice speakerphone set-up because he worked from home and I had occasional weekend Zoom departments meetings for a convention I was working on. I’d use the landline phone for audio and the computer for screen-sharing, and I’m pretty sure it looked like my mic was live even though I had it muted on the actual phone.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Or likewise, a lot of headphones have mute switches and that probably wouldn’t show up on-screen.

  36. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

    did anyone see the news segment that was posted on Twitter today where the reporter was cutting her own hair but you could clearly see her husband (and his uh…soldier) in the shower in the background?

  37. Ciela*

    oh my, the parrot pranking the dogs! LOL!

    While husband and I were on a telemed with his doctor, the cat decided he loved the laptop, rubbing his head along the back of the display. Then it was time to pet the cat, so he stood on the keyboard, and head butted my husband. Not sure about how well the camera focuses at such a close distance, but the doctor may or may not have had a good view of the cat’s… butt hole.

  38. Retail not Retail*

    I learned about wild videos today from the role of the client/patient.

    I could have shut the doors to the space I was in, but that room was an oven by 7:30. So the dog walked in and the physical therapist said oh there’s a dog.

    She had to move her camera so she could show me the exercises. I had to do the same so she could watch me. And the whole awkward thing is this is a hip injury.

    Solidarity with y’all doing your zoom stuff but remember, there’s always something weirder around the corner. face to face seems so easy after that – okay is this the right angle of my hips? This?

  39. Teepee*

    I just had what can only be described as a crying, hysterical breakdown from all of the pressure I’m feeling. Then I read this article and, in all honesty, it cheered me up at least 40%. Thank you.

  40. Cats cats cats*

    The poor flosser. She was just trying to make sure she wouldn’t embarrass herself during the meeting and then it backfired. Too funny. I still feel bad for her tho as I could she myself doing that.

  41. A*

    We have a rule for the time being while we are all WFH – what happens on Teams, stays on Teams. and no screen shots.

    So far the ‘worst’ offender has been my bosses granddaughter streaking in the background, but she’s two so while it was distracting, it was in the most adorable way. Especially because she has one of those Unicorn long hats that she wears… so she’s nakkie…. but also a unicorn. In some ways, I am jealous of her haha.

  42. Square Root of Minus One*

    Alison, I think you have fodder here in this comment section for a future top ten of parrot anecdotes.
    Please? This is hilarious.

  43. LizardOfOdds*

    The naked husband incident happened to me during the early weeks of working remotely. My husband was wearing underwear, though I doubt the executives I was talking to made that distinction as he wandered aimlessly behind me in search of a clean shirt in the dryer. -_- What can ya do? I moved my office into another room so there is no chance of a repeat incident.

  44. JJ*

    This actually happened pre-coronavirus but is still my favorite personal story. Maybe a year ago my company was having a large (250-ish) virtual conference for several affiliated teams across the company. Someone was giving a presentation on some pretty arcane stuff when, during a pause he took between slides, someone could be heard saying “What the *fuck* do you think you’re doing?” in a highly annoyed way. The presenter paused again and then said “I’m going to assume that wasn’t direct at me…” and proceeded with his talk.

    While video wasn’t on, we all knew from the highlighted speaker who it was. I later ended up working with her somewhat closely, but I never asked about it. I figured it could have been innocuous–I sometimes talk to my cats like that when I see them eating packing peanuts or something–but it was a funny moment.

  45. RubyLa*

    Twice now on Zoom calls I have had fuzzy visitors. My setup is such that I have to wear my headset to have mike&audio so the only interruption was a black tail crossing the screen. The sole comment so far was an outburst from the CEO of “KITTY! !! HI KITTY!!! Hey Ruby, bring back the kitty!”

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