nude spouses and no muting: when video calls go wrong

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

I recorded a piece for the BBC about the many conference call and video call mishaps and misjudgments people are encountering, from people who won’t mute to nude spouses.

It’s three minutes long and you can listen here (my piece starts at 22:45).

{ 32 comments… read them below }

  1. Free Meerkats*

    “BBC Workplace Commentator”. If you don’t have that on a coffee mug or t-shirt, you should.

  2. pleaset cheap rolls*

    That’s kind of NPR voice.

    I have to add that my 8-year-old raised his game on video calls online in the six months (he went from zero to competent actually). Adults should be capable of doing that too.

  3. Lady Heather*

    To be fair, the problem with hold music is hold music.

    I don’t get hold music – it makes it impossible to have a conversation with someone else while on hold, or to listen to music you like while on hold, or watch tv while on hold.

    1. Mouse*

      I thought this too until I was on a customer service call the other day on hold with no hold music. I kept thinking they had hung up on me, or my phone had lost connection. Now I appreciate hold music for letting me know everything is okay!

    2. Pipe Organ Guy*

      It sounds like endless vamping to me. There’s never an actual tune that arrives, just endless vamping. And when the vamping ends, there’s a moment’s pause, and it starts all over. Then there are the constant interruptions while the company tells me, in a sickly, syrupy voice, how important my call is to them.

      I understand why it’s always endless vamping; the hold music is a service bought, and the idea is to not have any copyright obligations that have to be tracked and reported.

    3. Dasein9*

      The aim is, in part, to annoy you into giving up and thus relieving the company of the obligation of addressing your concerns. Especially when it’s Customer Service!

    4. BubbleTea*

      I was on hold today and every 15 seconds the music was interrupted with an apology for making me wait. It was far more infuriating than the music! I would have been quite happy to just be told once that they were sorry, and then left to sit quietly listening to the music and thinking about other things until a real human was available to talk to me.

      1. Evan Þ.*

        I agree. If they want to tell me something, they can give me some useful information like “You’re #274 in the queue; your estimated wait time is 79 minutes.” Otherwise, there’s no point to breaking in with a human voice.

        1. Stormfeather*

          Even worse is when it’s, like, 10 seconds of hold music, then the interruption, then it loops back around to the start of the music clip, ad nauseum. It’s like a special circle of hell.

          Just… staaahp. And the thought of being subjected to this sorta thing while in a video call and multiple people being captive to it is horrifying, although hopefully you wouldn’t have that particular type of hold hell in a conference call.

          (But yeah, this and the “helpful” robo-answerers where you have to speak what you want to be connected to are a nightmare and one of the added reasons I really do not want to have to call places anymore.)

          1. Artemesia*

            The ‘your call is important to us’ just sort of kicks off a 3 second surge of rage — so every ten seconds not good — I always say ‘obviously not’ often out lour.

            It is like the companies that do horrendous things to clients, employees and customers (like hospitals, nursing homes, workplaces with dangerous conditions) and then in their press release after people are dead or injured start with ‘Your safety is our number one concern. . .’ Which is why they didn’t provide PPE or jammed sick patients into rooms with well ones during COVID, or failed to provide a safe workplace, or sold a dangerous project ‘ because ‘our safety was their number one concern.’ (or put an airplane into the air they knew was not safe and then , wow, crashes and death). ‘Passenger safety is always our first concern. —-eeeeeeeeeehhhhhh

            1. Elenna*

              Exactly! Like, I didn’t believe you when you said that the first time, repeating it every 30 seconds isn’t actually going to help your case!

      2. Not A Girl Boss*

        Yes, that’s the worst, it always makes me tune in thinking its my turn… but nope.

        I almost went postal when I had to spend a total of 18 (no exaggeration) on hold with my alma mater one week… and it was the trippy drunken elephant music from Dumbo. Except every 5 minutes was an ad about how I should donate (honestly, I might have donated if it meant they’d hire more people to the transcript department). AHHHHHH I still have nightmares from that.

      3. Gymmie*

        AHHHH, I have had that too and it drives me insane, especially when I have it on speaker and trying to do other things for the hour or so I’m on hold.

      4. short'n'stout*

        yeah, every time the voice starts, I’m expecting it to be someone who can actually deal with the reason for my call. And every time, I’m disappointed again :(

      5. Junior Assistant Peon*

        I can’t stand medical office phone menus where the recorded voice slowly rambles rather than getting to the point so I can choose my menu option. “Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, hang up and dial 911. Blah, blah, etc.” I feel like they have zero respect for my time, and I’m sure a doctor would be pissed if I wasted his/her time by rambling about irrelevant crap when they ask me questions.

    5. Nanani*

      I wouldn’t mind just music.
      What gets my goat is when the tune is interrupted every few minutes by a robot letting me know about the self-service website. My robodude, if your website was functioning properly (or had the thing I need to do on it at all) I would definitely not be phoning.

    6. Can't Sit Still*

      Real hold music is fine, annoying, but fine. I remember in the 90s, some companies used the local classical music station for their hold music. It was great – no distracting lyrics so you could tune it out, but you knew you were on hold.

      I’ve spent a lot of time on hold at the vet and the local veterinary hospital this week, and they have a one minute loop of instructions if you’re bringing your pet in, which is aggravating once they actually have my pet in their possession. Eons ago, when I was a (terrible) receptionist with a 25 line switchboard, people whose call was being routed went into a different hold queue than new callers. I don’t understand why that’s not possible now, when a computer or tablet is the “switchboard.”

      Anybody else remember camping on someone’s line? Sending calls into orbit? Having 15 lines light up at once and have your boss on the intercom, yelling at you because there are 15 incoming calls and no one is ever supposed to go on hold (lolsob)?

    7. e271828*

      Anyone else still traumatized by “Rhapsody in Blue” after United Airlines beat it to death as their hold music?

      1. Emma*

        Ahaha. In the UK the DWP, which is the government department responsible for benefits (welfare) and state pension, used to use this particular bit of Vivaldi as their hold music. The music itself was inoffensive but it became completely synonymous with the hours-long hold times and eventual getting-messed-around-by-a-jobsworth experience.

        In 2016 a film called I, Daniel Blake used the music as a repeating theme to signify, basically, bureacractic abuse of the protagonist, an older man who had had a heart attack and was struggling through the process of trying to get sickness benefit after his doctor told him it was no longer safe for him to work. The film was hugely viewed in the UK, was raised during Parliamentary debates, inspired a huge quantity of grafitti etc. I thought they’d change it then for sure, but no!

        Finally in February of this year they changed the hold music… with the explanation that “many benefit claimants find it distressing”. No! They find the entire godawful system distressing, changing the hold music is not going to solve that problem! *bangs head on wall*

    8. Ace in the Hole*

      I’d rather have hold music than silence… that way I know I didn’t get disconnected or something.

  4. pleaset cheap rolls*

    We both have to be more tolerant of people not having ideal environments AND also raise our own game.

    Some examples:

    – If people or companies are going to spend, spending on sound is generally more important than spending on a better camera.

    – Accepting that not everyone wants to be on video and that being on video all the time is not good. AND having people put headshots in that show if video is off – which is much friendlier

    – Improving meetings in general. Some of the problem is that bad meetings in physical space are HORRENDOUS online. Too long, disorganized, not well-facilitated, etc etc. Video calls are surfacing problems that existed before.

    – Picking up some advantages of video call – a parallel chat is actually a good thing in many cases, not a bad distraction.

    1. Elise*

      I love the chat because I notice that we hear from people who aren’t as vocal normally that way.

      1. allathian*

        Yes. There’s also some anecdotal evidence that people who don’t like speaking up in meetings feel heard when the moderator reads their posts out loud. I thought it was odd the first time it happened in one of our team meetings because I don’t have a problem speaking up, but I kind of like it.

  5. L*

    You have the most amazing voice ever. Really missing the podcast.

    Well, maybe it’s been so long that I can go back and listen, having forgotten most of the contents anyway.

    1. Maxie*

      I’ve never listen to a Podcast before but I really liked hearing Alison’s voice. It just made it feel more connected. I particularly had fun when Alison was talking about specific letters and I remember reading the letters and responses. My favorite was the poster whose husband was naked in the background for an entire long break..

  6. Tuesday*

    I always like it when I see or hear Alison on another site. I always feel like, “Hey! I know her!” like when you recognize someone you know on the local news or something. This was way better than the local news though – such a good piece about this weird part of our work lives that we’ve had to adapt to.

  7. staceyizme*

    I wonder if it would be helpful to document her criticisms and any follow up? SHE seems incompetent and SHE is doing a LOT of projecting about being defensive and sensitive. Eventually, you’re very likely going to have to deal with her more firmly. You could push back as a group, go to HR, or polish up your resume. But this seems intolerable, longterm.

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