what’s the etiquette for people in the background on Zoom calls?

A reader writes:

Can we have a ruling on whether or not to acknowledge people who pop up in the background of Zoom calls when we’re working at home?

My partner and I live in an apartment with two small rooms (living room and bedroom) and two tiny rooms (bathroom and kitchen). I work in the bedroom, and he works in the living room (no space to sit down in the kitchen). He’s in meetings most of the day, every day during the week, including lunchtime and sometimes late into the evening.

I try really hard not to interrupt his meetings, but they’re constant and sometimes if I want to get a cup of coffee or go to the bathroom or our wifi isn’t working in the bedroom so the router needs to be moved, and that means I have to walk across the back of his call. Just in case it isn’t obvious, these are internal meetings, I’m appropriately dressed for my own workday, and I’m not doing anything unusual!

His colleagues always call to me from within the meeting room, interrupting what’s going on to say “hi” and pausing the conversation. I can hear the silence after I pass by! Once he was in a meeting with someone who said to him loudly, “Oh my god, there’s someone behind you” in a tone of total surprise, which I found kind of rude.

This is my home too, and I just want to go about my business without feeling like every time I venture outside the bedroom I’m interrupting a meeting and making everyone acknowledge me. Obviously I avoid walking through meetings that seem like they might be private, like if it’s with only one person or the tone sounds heated, and meetings where he’s asked in advance that I don’t interrupt. I’ve asked him if the other meetings are private, but he says they’re usually just catch-ups and they’re not talking about anything sensitive.

To be honest, I’d prefer it if people in the meetings just ignored me — it’s a few seconds of my being on screen and when someone calls out to me, I feel like they think I’m doing something wrong by being on camera. But at the same time, I know I’m interrupting — I don’t love it when he pops into view on my work calls. On the other hand, I usually just have one half-hour Zoom call a day. If his workplace is going to ask him to be on Zoom eight hours a day while working from home in a very small apartment, surely they don’t expect him to never have anyone else in the room?

Also, do I just have to put up with the embarrassment/awkwardness, or is there anything he could say to his colleagues to get them to ignore me?

My ruling: On work calls, we should all ignore people who are clearly just passing through the room.

You’d do that on a Zoom call with someone who was in an office (at least most of the time). You presumably wouldn’t call out “hello” to every coworker passing by someone’s desk at work while they video-chatted with you. You definitely wouldn’t yell out “Oh my god, there’s someone behind you!” (Did that colleague think you were a burglar?)

It’s something about “home” that’s making people do it … either the novelty of seeing inside each other’s homes that perhaps still hasn’t totally worn off, or the feeling that it might be rude not to acknowledge a family member who has suddenly appeared (like the way you wouldn’t need to say hi to every coworker who wanders by in the office but if someone’s spouse suddenly appeared near your desk, you might feel more compelled to greet them).

But ignoring is best, for many reasons:
* This is your partner’s office right now so it’s okay to apply office etiquette to the situation.
* Even though many of us are seeing directly into each other’s homes, we need to agree to give each other the illusion of some privacy.
* It’s going to disrupt meetings over and over if family members/roommates/other passersby have to be acknowledged every time.
* For all anyone knows, you might be on a call yourself with a tiny bluetooth in your ear.

So that’s the ruling: We should all be ignoring background wanderers.

As for whether there’s anything you or your partner can do about it: I’m not suggesting he use headphones, since this doesn’t seem like a big enough problem to warrant them if your he doesn’t like using them and if his calls don’t otherwise bother you. But you can try simply ignoring the comments and going on your way. (Be the change you want to see in the world!) And he can try saying, “Oh, she can’t hear you” or “I think she’s on a work call herself.” But ultimately it might just be one more thing about These Weird Times that you live with.

{ 357 comments… read them below }

  1. Kasia*

    Not sure about Zoom but Teams lets you blur your background. If he’s able to do that they wouldn’t be able to see you at all

        1. the Viking Diva*

          You can blur background on Zoom if you have a PC – that filter is not available for Macs.

          1. cat lady*

            It is now, as of maybe a month ago! If you update the Zoom app it should be available now.

              1. Annette*

                It depends on the age of your Mac operating system. I can blur use background and photos as the background on my Mac. My sister’s Mac is old and running an old OS and she can’t.

                1. AcademiaNut*

                  Things like blurring and adding backgrounds is pretty computationally intensive, so older machines can’t manage it.

                2. lemon*

                  It’s not really the operating system that’s the limit– it’s the hardware inside (the processor). I think Macs that meet the bare minimum processor requirements for Zoom virtual backgrounds weren’t available until 2016, so if your machine is older than that, you’re out of luck. Mentioning this because Macs as old as 2013 can upgrade to the latest OS (Big Sur), but even if you upgrade, you won’t be able to use virtual backgrounds without the right processor.

          2. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

            *AND* if your background is simple. Where I sit our magnet-covered fridge (among other things) is behind me, and Zoom cannot handle it. Teams handles it totally fine.

            And if you don’t need to hold up anything, neither Teams nor Zoom seems to be able to deal with that.

            1. Joan Rivers*

              Also, there are fold-down wall shelves, and shades that can be hung behind one, physical things like that modify space temporarily.

        2. I take tea*

          How do you blur on Google Meet? I haven’t found that setting. (I can obviously check it myself, this is more an annoyed comment, that it’s really hard to find. I thought it couldn’t be done.)

          1. Freckles McGee*

            It is a bit clunky, all right. In a call, click on the 3 dots in the bottom right of the window. In the popup list you’ll see “change background”, when you click on hat you’ll see the option to blur (the little person icon with the dots all around it). There are 2 options – you can choose to blur at different levels.

    1. LKW*

      This – it makes the person behind you more of a blobby shadow than a recognizable person.

    2. tamarack and fireweed*

      Me three, four or five. You may need to upgrade your Zoom client (I just did it yesterday). Even if blur doesn’t work, a custom background might.

      Blur / custom background may still show the person, but at least if focusses the eye clearly on the main user in front of the camera.

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        This said, on the etiquette question, I agree – the default should be to not acknowledge random other people wandering through. I would, however, head it off with “btw I’m in our rather small apartment and my SO / spouse / cleaner / teen may be wandering through”. If you say this a few times with the key people they should stop remarking on it – because you’ve done so already.

        On long Zoom calls it’s most of the time the person who has other things happening behind them who gives an acknowledgement – which is sometimes necessary because they are taking a small action (“sorry my dog is barking – I’m just reaching over to open the door” “my husband may be popping in to pick up something in a few min”) . And it’s the job of the co-workers not to make a big deal of it. Because it isn’t.

        1. Hazel*

          One time I had to tell people that the groaning they probably heard was my dog, not me! He’s just a groaner (I think it’s adorable).

          1. Keyboard Cowboy*

            Mine does that too! I have “filter background noise” turned on during meetings but I guess he sounds enough like people that once in a while I see my colleague’s head snap away from whatever document they’re reading and towards the meeting screen, presumably to check whether I’m dying.

            “Sorry, that’s just Crash, I guess he doesn’t like very much.”

    3. Artemesia*

      For a professional call without a private office I would use a background; if the bandwidth or whatever or the platform doesn’t allow backgrounds then blur if possible. Otherwise — then of course make a formal rule/norm of ignoring passersby.

      I like to do a custom background from a photo I have taken — you can adjust the formality of that ie. have a book case shot or a canned office shot — or be working ‘from the beach’ or in Paris.

      1. A Poster Has No Name*

        My company created Teams backgrounds for us, including shots from offices around the world.

        I’ve been chillin’ in the Tokyo office these past few months. I might switch to Singapore, but that background is less interesting (doesn’t include any windows).

      1. Emily*

        It might also be helpful for you to switch “offices.” From what I can tell, it sounds like the living room is between the bedroom and the kitchen and the bathroom. If he’s on meetings all day and you only have 30 minutes, if he’s in the bedroom then you wouldn’t have the need to walk by in the background as often.

        1. OhNo*

          If that’s possible, I agree that seems like it would cut down on the frequency of those interactions. But I know some companies have ridiculous rules about home offices, even in pandemic times, so that might not be possible.

          In that same vein, though, is there any way to set up a folding screen or hang a curtain behind him while he’s working from home? Then at least you won’t have to worry about being spotted as you pass by.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            Also working in a one-bedroom apartment. My guess is there’s one place that works for his laptop due to space, light, outlets etc.

            I blur my background, because no one needs to see what the result of quarantine is when 2 people are holed up in a small space for over a year.

          2. DataGirl*

            My guess is the apartment is too small for this, but I also would recommend a room screen if possible. I got a cheap one online (Wayfair, Overstock etc carry them) and put it up behind my chair when I ‘m working, then fold it up and lean against the wall on the weekend to get it out of the way. It doesn’t block everything, but means no one has to see my laundry sitting on the couch behind me, and gives some privacy when the kids/husband walk back and forth through the room.

            1. Tammy Whynot*

              My sister’s husband kept walking through my nephew’s school zooms so she made a super cheap version of a room screen using a rolling clothes rack and a shower curtain.

    4. Nicki Name*

      Came here to say this too. Blur or set a background if he can, and people won’t feel the urge to say hi.

    5. kt*

      Yep, I have several colleagues who share their workspace with others. They blur their background and use headsets. I have never ever said “Hi!” to a non-puppy, non-cat passerby in a Zoom call or Teams meeting. In part, it’s because the headphones would make it totally irrelevant to do so.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I only pay attention to animals & babies. And I’d be just as happy if everyone’s video showed animals instead of people. (Happier, actually!)

        1. Not Rod Ponton*

          Would you like it better if your colleagues used a cat filters for themselves?

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            A lawyer used it once and is now famous, so, yeah, it would be well-received, I suppose! (tongue-in-cheek) (but in reality, even though I know it’s not professional or possible, I’d love everyone on my work calls to be cats) (I promise I am not a cat)

        2. Sharrbe*

          Me too. I admit I totally get derailed if a cat passes by. And considering I work in a library and Zoom with other library folks…..there are a LOT of cat interruptions.

          1. Reed*

            I apologise for my cat, who knows she is a librarian’s cat, and ALWAYS interrupts.

      2. Quinalla*

        Yeah, the unofficial rule with us is to smile at, and occasionally comment on kids/dogs, but when I see or hear someone’s roommate or spouse, I don’t say anything – that would be very odd to say hi especially!

        I too suggest the blur feature if it will work, I use it sometimes and sometimes not depending on how much is happening behind me at the moment (kids and/or husband). If that doesn’t work, I’d just have him say something in the moment while you ignore it and keep on keeping on.

    6. ObservantServant*

      Even my company’s crappy VOiP phone service/meeting space can blur the background. There are even two levels of blur.

    7. Who are you??*

      Or just turn the camera off. So glad my company defaults to no camera for all but “coffee break” meetings.

      1. Koalafied*

        One thing I disliked as a long-time remote worker was when somewhere along the way, the default setting on these things became Gallery View instead of Person Who Is Talking View. I hate feeling like we’re all on display watching each other listen – it makes little things like rolling briefly off camera to grab something from a table just out of reach, someone walking by in the background, pouring a glass of water or eating a snack, fidgeting in your chair, etc., much more visible and therefore distracting than any of them ought to be.

        It makes me feel like if I’m being disruptive/disrespectful of the speaker if there’s too much movement happening in my box – like if I don’t sit and make eye contact with the camera the whole time, it’s telegraphing to all the other listeners that I don’t think this content is worth my full attention, and the speaker will be annoyed with me for publicly disrespecting them in that way. (And honestly, on really big calls it can sometimes take me a while to figure out who’s even talking when everyone’s box is so small.)

        IMO the only person who needs gallery view is the person currently speaking. It can be valuable as the speaker to see everyone’s faces and get that visual feedback on how something is landing, and truly nobody should ever be forced to watch their own self on video full screen size. As a speaker it would be less of a slight to briefly lose one person’s full attention when you’re the only one who can see that it happened, so it’s not reflecting poorly on you in the eyes of the other listeners.

        1. gyrfalcon17*

          If people can still choose to switch the setting, then even if the default were Speaker View, you still might have colleagues viewing you on Gallery View.

        2. allathian*

          Perhaps, but really, that’s their problem. I’ve never paid attention to how others behave in a video meeting and I wish that would become the norm, as long as it’s something reasonably normal you could do in an in-person meeting, like eating a sandwich (we got catered sandwiches at our big quarterly in-person ones with external presenters) or pouring water or sipping coffee. If we have cameras on in ours, nobody bats an eye if someone takes a sip of coffee or even sits right there knitting.

          Some people really seem to work in uptight environments, I’m glad I don’t. If I’m not speaking at a meeting, I’m certainly not focusing on how others may or may not be listening to it. I admit, though, that I’m not a very practiced speaker, so if I have to give a presentation, I certainly have no attention left over to give to the audience, I just want to get through it as soon as possible without rushing through it and leaving my audience breathless.

          This is, once again, one of those things where people think others are more focused on them than they actually are. Most people wouldn’t be bothered by a sip of coffee or water, although they would if they saw someone picking their nose and licking their fingers afterwards, for example.

          Don’t overthink what you’re doing on camera, most people don’t care.

        3. Claire*

          On zoom you can easily toggle between gallery and speaker view, and also hide “self view.”

    8. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Can confirm! I’ve seen both blurred and virtual background on my teammates’ calls, and have used both myself on my own calls after I’d just moved a few days earlier, and didn’t want my coworkers to see the boxes and other move-related mess in the background. It really is a perfect solution.

    9. Esmeralda*

      Exactly my thought. You can do this on zoom. I do it so that I keep my “office” room private.

    10. S. Dedalus*

      I bought a stand and physical screen that’s blue on one side and green on the other. It works much better than the blur or virtual office feature. It keeps my background items from being an issue at all. They aren’t too expensive and really useful if you’re doing lots of online meetings.

    11. MapleHill*

      That’s what I was gonna say too if it’s an option with Zoom (I mostly use Teams). I often see people working at home with others use the blurred feature and it works quite well so you just see a blob. Just ask your husband to use this from now on if it’s making you uncomfortable. My boss’ husband actually walked through her background shirtless the other day which was pretty funny and we all just ignored it & him. Needless to say she turned off the camera and returned with the blurred background on. It’s not her normal workplace and they were preparing to head to the airport; fortunately it was just a few of us and we said nothing while trying not to laugh.

      Overall I think most people do ignore those who walk by in the background even though we are a pretty tight knit group of coworkers and often know family members. Not sure why the OP gets the impression others think she’s doing something wrong. I’m sure they know that’s just par for the course when working from home. Ask your husband to pretend you aren’t there and keep talking like that professor on the BBC lol!

    12. Macaroni Penguin*

      Yup. In most cases Zoom has a blur the background function. I use it in my Zoom meetings to blockout the giant cat exercise wheel. During one meeting, my cat lost traction while running and FLEW MIDAIR behind me. Rocket cats are a bit disruptive for team meetings.

    13. C*

      I ignore all adults that are passing through a room, but enthusiastically greet all small children who pop up in laps (and I acknowledge pets in casual meetings). I don’t think the adults want to be talked to, but little kids obviously do.

      1. Certaintroublemaker*

        My co-workers’ kids occasionally get in the mood to photobomb! I split the difference between acknowledging and derailing by pausing just a moment to wave enthusiastically, then continuing on with the topic at hand.

        1. Hats Are Great*

          When I walk through the background of others’ calls in my house, I give a slight wave and a smile and just keep moving. Seems weird to pretend I’m not there, but it’s a visual medium, waves work.

      2. Empress Matilda*

        This seems to be the norm where I work as well. Sometimes we even make a point of letting the kids say hi! Depending on the kid and the meeting, of course. But often it takes less time to let the kid wave at the camera and have someone on the other end ask how online school is going, than it does to try and stop them.

      3. Mmm*

        Yes, this is me. Blurred background. Blobby husband sometimes walks through to kitchen for coffee. No one comments. 4 year old/baby/cat pops through and people say hi/aw.

    14. Nicotene*

      I’ve also got a colleague who rigged up a sheet or some sort of popup backdrop (a physical one) behind him, for presumably this reason.

  2. Dust Bunny*

    I got on a Zoom call without remembering that I was in my living room and that there was a drying rack full of laundry behind me. Fortunately, it was a towel and not three rungs of underwear!

    1. Just Another HR Pro*

      the underwear? UGH I have been there…and it was a bra. Luckily my coworker pinged me before everyone was on.

      1. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

        Same. I definitely showed my bra to my boss. I didn’t realize until the next day.

    2. tamarack and fireweed*

      I’ve had a co-worker quiz me about my music stand and spinning wheel. But that was on a peer mentoring call where we were talking about how to be social and network across the org in a pandemic.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        If I had had sense enough to move over to the piano bench there would have been a hammered dulcimer in the background.

      2. WantonSeedStitch*

        I would DEFINITELY be like “oooh, a spinning wheel!” and digression would ensue.

      3. Persephone Mongoose*

        As the owner of several spinning wheels, I would definitely be asking you about yours.

    3. Vveat*

      I work from my bedroom and don’t bother to make the bed since Zoom and Teams have these great custom backgrounds. Today I had a call with a company that uses GoogleMeet and in midst of the call remembered the bed and frantically shifted the camera up so that only my head was visible

    4. DataGirl*

      This is exactly why I invested in a room screen, either the drying rack is up with delicates or the clean laundry and other junk is piled up on the couch, either way I don’t want people seeing how messy my family is.

    5. Esmeralda*

      The catbox is in the corner of my “office”… I use a fake background or blur it. Even my colleagues with cats don’t want to see that…

  3. RabbitRabbit*

    I still want to acknowledge pets that show up.

    But since your husband’s coworkers insist upon being super-awkward, maybe he could set up a sheet on a clothesline (or similar, easily-removed barrier) to make them knock it off, or at least use a fake background to hide your passing.

    1. BubbleTea*

      For our small team meetings I typically minute the presence and contributions of any feline colleagues who join us (the only canine team member is mine and he is out on the day of our meetings). I managed to refrain from getting too excited about the cat who popped up in the very large briefing by a very senior civil servant today though! (I did minute the cat for my feedback notes to the team.)

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        Minute the cat? As in “attendees: BubbleTea, Jane, John, Fergus and Mr Snuffleuphagus”?

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          Oo, I could even put them in the “Visitors” section for attendees at our board meetings.

        2. BubbleTea*

          Yup! In the list of who attended the meeting. On April Fools Day we also had an action point from the cat who attended the meeting- she proposed naps all round, and the motion was carried unanimously.

      2. Le Sigh*

        My friend’s cat is so chatty, almost like if she hears talking, she cannot stand to be left out. Fortunately he has good-natured colleagues but sometimes he has to just shut the door on her to finish a call — from behind which she proceeds to continuing chat-meowing as if she never left the conversation.

    2. anonymouse*

      “workers insist upon being super-awkward”
      This. “There’s someone behind you!”
      Like doctors are taught to diagnose from the point of view that approaching hoofbeats are a horse, not a zebra, WFHer’s should start with the idea that people in their coworkers’ living rooms belong there.
      So, OP, tell your husband to block his background, do what you have to do and let this person live in his/her own strange world.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        Seriously, did they think she broke into the apartment to get some coffee? Wow, sometimes WFH means there are multiple people there, just like in an office.

      2. Manon*

        Yeah, being *that* alarmed about someone in the background of a video call is pretty strange. OP’s husband should change the direction of his monitor, blur his background, or get a headset. In any case, OP shouldn’t worry about walking around their own house.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Yeah, that was a ridiculous comment. “oh my god, did you know that you live with other people?”

          1. Koalafied*

            Had the same reaction. I’ve seen people in the background of coworkers’ rooms from time to time and I just think, that must be coworker’s spouse. It’s not even remarkable, let alone shocking.

            1. Krabby*

              Right!? That was my response too. This seems like a co-worker problem.

              I have 3 other adults living with me and they walk through my meetings all the time. I have a little sign I put up when the meeting subject is a little more sensitive so they know not to walk through, but otherwise, it’s just so normal!

              The only time people ever acknowledge them is if we’re having a happy hour or something and my co-workers ask how they’re doing.

      3. Elenna*

        This. Like, sure, OP’s husband could and probably should do stuff like blurring the background or moving or putting a screen up or preemptively telling coworkers that OP is there, but also, who the heck is THAT shocked by someone being in the background?

      4. Certaintroublemaker*

        “There’s someone behind you!” This was so nuts. It deserved the absolutely driest possible, “Unless it’s Freddy Krueger, I don’t care.”

      5. Coffee*

        You could pretend it was a complete stranger… turn around and exclaim “Who are you, and what are you doing in my apartment?!” Bonus points if they pretend you are in their apartment and start arguing.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      My older cat is a brown tabby has a nice, discreet, dark-colored backside but my younger cat is lighter and more variegated and 100% flashed her brilliantly multicolored butt during a department meeting last spring.

      1. metronomic*

        ha, I have a kitten who likes to snuggle on my chest and shoulders during meetings (I only let her do it when I’m smaller/less formal internal ones). She’s a white and tabby mix, and she’ll hop up on my and stand on my shoulder for a couple of seconds before she settles down, with her tail up, butt facing the camera a foot away from it. Her bottom half is white but her butthole kind of has a darker butterfly-shaped splash of color. I always reach up and fold over her tail with my hand to protect my colleagues!

        1. Dust Bunny*

          My younger cat is one of those light gray-brown tabbies so her butt is gray along the outsides/down her outer legs, blazing golden-brown down the middle, and her NSFW bits are very conspicuously black. She’s practically a mandrill.

        2. Allura Vysoren*

          My tabby kitten is the same way! He has an uncanny sense to know when I’m in a meeting, and he’ll jump into my lap and then curl up so I have to hold him with one arm. Then he’ll stretch out a bit so his head is resting over my shoulder. I only let him do it in team meetings, though, because they’re used to it.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        I have a Zoom classmate whose adorable cat loves to share her bumhole with the rest of the class and chirp into the mic. It’s hilarious.

        1. GrumpyGnome*

          Even those like mine that I swear save up all the chaos for the conference calls?
          *crash in the background*
          “It’s ok, it’s just Mowgli. Anyway, back to this spreadsheet….”

          1. Hamish the Accountant*

            For some reason, me being on video calls makes my cat bad at jumping onto my lap. Multiple times now, a call has been interrupted by me gasping in pain and reflexively yelling at Smudge, who has half-jumped onto my lap and then desperately tried to get her claws into my thigh to hold on. WHY?!

    4. PJ*

      Guilty of acknowledging a few pets, but honestly, they were adorable and we needed a break. It was a nice 90 second breather.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        I’ve also gotten a lot of joy from tiny children silently peeking over their parents’ desks.

        1. Jayn*

          My spouse usually keeps the camera off but occasionally our infant is audible and people comment on it. (I take her to another room if she’s noisy during a call, so it’s not like they’re hearing screaming baby)

        2. pagooey*

          My cats have grown famous over the last year of video meetings. But the weirdest outcome for me is that I asked a colleague about, and eventually purchased, the same robot vacuum I saw busily patrolling the den behind her on a call. ;)

          1. BookishMiss*

            I’ve had people buy the chair that i use, just because they see me in it and I tell them it’s comfortable.

        3. Michelle Smith*

          One of my coworkers had a baby last year and he is the cutest little human in existence. I get SO EXCITED every time she has him in our meetings!

    5. DownWithJPP*

      My dog will paw at me at times but is an angel if I allow him to sit on my lap when he’s doing that. I will try so hard to keep him out of view but as soon as someone sees an ear, they can’t help themselves. At first I felt like I was being unprofessional but turns out that having a fluffy dog on the screen gave people a smile in the middle of the day. I saw bring on the pets.

      1. JLP*

        Honestly, seeing everyone’s pets and small kids has been a joy during this whole thing! I refuse to not acknowledge them during a meeting and have in fact asked people to share their pets.

        But I’m not the most professional person in the world…I also say hi to people in the background if I’ve met them before and it’s a one on one call. I’ve done this in the office and at home. But you have to know the audience. I do this with work friends but wouldn’t do it with folks two rungs higher or something.

        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          This is reasonable given the nature of the meeting. If the agenda is tight and you’re just barely getting through it, then I’d be wary. If the meeting is not time-pressed, and fairly free-flowing, then yeah, it’s nice.

    6. pleaset cheap rolls*

      Frankly, co-workers being distracted by what’s in the background is a sad reflection on *them.*

      Maybe an important call with an external constituent would warrant trying to keep other people out, but co-workers, who know you’re working from home? They need to grow TF up.

    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      At the beginning on Covid-induced WFH, my office doubled as a guest room, so my teammates got a full view of a twin bed behind me. I decided to be more professional and get a room divider. Got one with a really nice wicker pattern in a professional-looking dark brown color. Not even a week later, somebody on my call inquired, “Are you calling from inside a laundry basket?” Ugh. (Not a work call, and no one whose opinion I should care about, but I confess it really turned me off using my divider, that I eventually gave to a family member.)

        1. science.girl*

          Once a visitor in my home made fun of my coffee table, which is a vintage style. It made me really upset and I think about it every time I use the coffee table even though it happened two years ago. People are so damn rude.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            What is wrong with people?! That is just not normal. You compliment people’s decor if you like it and ignore it if you don’t. This isn’t hard.

    8. MCMonkeybean*

      I agree with both points!

      I think for most people it probably wouldn’t be worth it but if he is in meetings for most of the day it is probably worth getting a backdrop of some kind. My husband got this like retractable green screen thing he’s been using because his office space is a huge freaking mess haha.

      For the record though his coworkers are ridiculous unless they are doing some kind of confidential work that you shouldn’t really be overhearing. But if it’s happening that frequently anyway it may be worth addressing (depending I guess how much longer he’s expecting to be taking meetings at home)

  4. Just Another HR Pro*

    would a zoom background not work – does their company frown upon it? I am not sure if they block people in the background but maybe that is a solution?

    1. BigTenProfessor*

      Even if they frown on silly backgrounds, something like a plain color should be fine.

    2. middle name danger*

      An issue a lot of people were seeing with that, is that zoom backgrounds require processing power some people may not have at home.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, I can’t do it without being in front of a completely blank wall, and there is just….nothing like that.

        1. Coenobita*

          Same – my home workspace is in front of a large bookshelf with many different-colored book spines, so there is no single color for the background to apply itself to. In fact, since I tend to wear patterned shirts, the largest single-colored space in the field of view is usually… my face. And that’s how I ended up with the zoom background photo appearing only on my skin, with extremely creepy results.

          Also, I’m on a lot of video calls, and people walk through the frame all the time and it’s never a big deal. Little kids and pets generally get acknowledged, but we all just pretend the older kids and adults are invisible.

      2. chewingle*

        Honestly, processing power is why I keep my video turned off most of the time. There are days when it’s fine, but then there are days when my husband and I are both in constant meetings and my computer just goes, “OK, we’re done here” and starts booting me from meetings or causing the sound to skip if I have my video on.

    3. Iowa Teacher*

      I can’t use backgrounds on Zoom because there are houseplants and other things behind me that interfere with it.

      1. Artemesia*

        We found that the two of us couldn’t be on a zoom with a background without my husband appearing and fading in and out like the Cheshire cat — but when I am on alone, the background objects are not a problem — the only time they appear seems to be if very very close — and so we move things that are very very close behind us.

    4. Yorick*

      I couldn’t use a zoom background for a long time either. If you go in the video settings and uncheck “I’m using a green screen,” it might work. It did for me!

    5. learnedthehardway*

      I have to use at least 3 different video softwares – Googlemeet, Zoom, and Teams.

      Only one of them lets you blur the background. Otherwise, they call for you to have a green screen behind you before you can do anything like put in a fake background or blur anything out.

    6. M-C*

      Of course that’s the easiest solution! And they work well enough, even if your hair sometimes does weird things. I’ve had to give up on it for meetings that my partner and I attend together, because the algorithm is strongly skewed to a single person, whoever is closest is the only one detected/displayed. That would imply that someone walking by would be entirely invisible.

      Also, you don’t have to use a picture of your cat for a background (unless you would welcome extended comments and demands for in-person introductions). I have a few handy with plain background color and a corner logo which do just fine for official occasions. Just beware that zoom wipes out the uploaded backgrounds every time it updates the client, so you might have to re-load in advance if you suffer an update.

    7. pugsnbourbon*

      Has everyone seen the Tiktok/Reel/whatever where the guy bought a morph suit so he wouldn’t get picked up by the background?
      He made a rookie mistake and didn’t get the full head and face hood.

  5. Tizzy*

    When my husband walks by when I’m in a Zoom call, my co-workers have only mentioned his presence if he happens to be carrying our puppy. Then the comments are really about the fact that the puppy is cute.

  6. Momma Bear*

    I think of it like if I’m having a chat in the hall and my coworker needs to pass by – I usually ignore them. I think stopping to acknowledge you every time is overkill. I also wonder if some kind of backdrop can’t be created for you to sneak by.

  7. Pucci*

    Since your getting coffe etc winds up being so disruptive to your husband’s constant meetings, would it be possible for the two of you to switch “offices”, that is, have him take the bedroom? That would allow you to relax in the living room when he is in one of late evening meetings.

    1. empyraa*

      I thought the same thing–it sounds like it makes more sense for him to have the more private space.

      1. kvite*

        Me too. Switch spaces – the work dictates it. Also – living room partner could be wearing headphones so that bedroom partner doesn’t hear people’s reactions when they walk by, and it would minimize the noise people on the call would hear in the apartment.

    2. Marple*

      Yes, if he’s on calls all day, he should probably be in the enclosed space. It stinks, but it makes sense.

    3. Fezziwig Knots*

      This is what I came here to add. Since your husband’s meetings are all day, on-going, perhaps it makes more sense for him to be in the room with a door. If he needed to come out into the living room, he wouldn’t be bothering you.

    4. FG*

      That was my first thought. There may be a reason they can’t that LW didn’t mention, but seems an obvious solution?

      1. Observer*

        So obvious that I suspect that they actually THOUGHT OF IT and decided that it won’t work for them.

        And, really, there is no reason this should be such a big deal. Hubby’s coworkers are being really weird. Especially the person who seemed to be shocked that there is actually ANOTHER PERSON in the place.

        1. M-C*

          Sometimes we think of something and it makes sense at the time. But since it’s unlikely the OP and their partner were the only people in the world to envision an entire year of forced work at home, or entire days on zoom, they might still want to revisit the question, now that they’ve had time to examine the pros and cons of the current arrangement.

    5. not all karens*

      I was going to suggest switching, or even if it’s possible having him change the way he’s facing. I get that it might not be feasible if it’s a tight space, but if he could switch perspectives so a wall or window is behind him instead of the path to the kitchen/bathroom it would mean you pass in front of him (with computer screen between you) instead of behind for all to see.

      1. JJ*

        Yeah, turning his workspace so his back is to a wall seems plausible, even in a small space. A quick rearranging of the living room to achieve this might even be a nice refresh to the space after a year of being inside.

    6. Sweet Sunny*

      Switching rooms would fix this problem. If that’s not possible, could he turn his setup around so that the camera faces away from you when you walk through?

    7. Dumpster Fire*

      Everything that has been said so far, about switching rooms….and also, you hardly have ANY video calls, so even if he has to use the bathroom or refresh his coffee, that probably wouldn’t interfere with your (lack of) calls.

      You didn’t say anything about him getting angry/upset when the disruptions occur, but it’s got to be disruptive to YOUR day if you can’t get coffee or use the bathroom or fix the wifi – so switching rooms seems like a win-win for both of you.

    8. hot priest*

      Yes, this was my suggestion also. My partner sleeps late, till about noon, during which time I work on the computer in our living room. But when he gets up and works on his computer, also in our living room, I go to the bedroom where we have a desk and monitor where I can work. Either of us can work in either space (I just prefer the bedroom) so we can switch back and forth as needed.

      There’s also a cheap ($20-$40) device thingy called a KVM switch that makes it really easy to switch back and forth between different monitors/keyboards/mouses, so you don’t have to lug all of your electronic things with you when switching desks.

      Oh god I just realized I hotdesk in my own apartment even though I would quit before hotdesking IRL.

      1. random*

        The difference here is that you know your hot desk partner is not gross, and doesn’t have disgusting (to you) habits.

  8. Enn Pee*

    What’s your advice for when a coworker consistently works from the same room as her (retired) partner, and the partner doesn’t really care that she has a meeting and has the news blasting during the meeting, causing background noise and distractions?
    (She seems oblivious to the distractions – or maybe it’s just no longer a distraction for her. I’ve tried saying “It seems like someone has some background noise” or “I’m having trouble hearing”, but that only works when she’s off mute and I don’t need to hear from her. If she needs to speak, it’s difficult to hear over CNN in the background.)

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      I would call it out specifically. “The CNN noise bleed is distracting; can you find a quieter place?” This might prompt them to spur their partner to be more considerate.

    2. anonymouse*

      Yeah, this is hard. She is stuck with a selfish partner who doesn’t want to compromise, and I feel for her. But everyone can’t be held hostage by it.
      This is not, “my diabetic grade schooler gets off the bus and needs to check blood sugar at 3, and we don’t have an after school person because Covid, and it can’t wait, so can we move our standing meeting to 3:15-3:30?”
      This is, “my husband doesn’t want to let me do my job and I don’t want to fight with him, so can we all just suck it up?”
      No, we can’t.
      Hell, since nobody told her, she may not realize it goes through. If nobody else has background noise, she may not realize that it can happen.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        This. She can’t hear anyone else’s background noise, so she probably thinks it doesn’t filter through. That’s because they have no background noise. Tell her upfront next time that she is being drowned out by the TV and needs a quiet environment during meetings.

      2. chicka*

        Yes this — I wear a headset with a mic when I’m in the office on calls or when my kids or husband are at home when I’m on a call — so I’d be assuming that the noise is not getting picked up. (Jeez I hope not! Not that I could work with CNN blaring in the background anyway and have more than once had to mute and tell them to STFU). But mics can be weird, maybe it’s picking up a lot and making it seem a lot worse than it is in person. Start with the approach that she may not realize the noise is getting picked up by the mic.

        1. Hazel*

          My boss uses a headset, and I appreciate the effort to keep room noise out of the meeting, but I don’t think he realizes that his kids’ Zoom school is picked up by the mic because he can’t hear it with the headset over his ears.

      3. OhNo*

        Doubly true if she’s in the habit of wearing headphones during those meetings. I’ve had trouble figuring out which background noises bleed through the mic in my headset, so have had to ask my coworkers a few times if the background noise is bothering them just to make sure.

      4. M-C*

        Being subjected long-term to loud TV because of a partner’s ego problems over their bad hearing can also damage the hearing of the person not initially deaf. I know several examples.. I’ll just mention for whoever needs it that the most successful approach I’ve seen was watching several British shows with ‘difficult Northern accents’, which allowed captions to be turned on by default..

    3. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      One time I was doing a library instruction session for a history class over zoom, and every time the professor unmuted himself to talk, you could hear his wife watching fox news on VERY LOUD VOLUME

    4. Esmeralda*

      Don’t pussyfoot around it. “Griselda, I’m so sorry, but I can’t hear you above the tv. Could you turn the tv volume down?”

      Griselda’s partner needs to use headphones when they’re watching tv, just sayin

    5. Jlynn*

      I have a boss, in separate office, that has to listen to videos, etc. Even if I’m not on ZOOM he listens so loud it’s distracting. Fortunately, I can shut his door, but sometimes still hear it. Frustrating cause you can’t tell the Judge to stop…. LOL

  9. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

    FWIW, I don’t see a tremendous difference between people in the background of a video call and people walking through a row of cubicles while you have a convo with your cube mate. So many workplaces are shared space anyways. I am fortunate enough to have my own office, but I have a glass wall and sound carries… so again, people are sort of just there.

    I think it also depends on your job, tbh. I work in museums; nobody cares and everyone just wants to see your pets. I can’t speak to other workplaces.

    1. Deborah*

      This. The same rules should apply as if you were in the office having a meeting or impromptu conversation.

      Of course, depending on how casual the environment is, they might mean that they *would* acknowledge everyone who walks by, I suppose, especially for an internal meeting. I’ve worked places like that.

      I might wave and not speak or stop if I was OP, in that case.

    2. 1234*

      I don’t work for a museum but SAME. My boss has children and a spouse. At times, I will see the children in the background. They are grown enough to understand that they must pass by silently/not interrupt my boss while she’s in the meeting with us. If she is meeting with a potential client who does not know her, she may preface the call with “I am working at home and my children are attending school via Zoom” so they aren’t surprised if the kids appear in the background.

      I have been on many meetings myself where other people’s children/spouse have appeared in the background and nobody has pointed it out. All of the family members understand that they must pass silently and not interrupt. At times, the meeting participant will glance over quickly at the passing person especially if they appear directly at their side (but off camera) but that’s about it. We did have someone’s 6 year old appear briefly and wave. Those on camera who noticed the 6 year old waved back. The parent seemed to have said something to the effect of “Don’t you have something else to do?/Go in the other room.” The child did not appear back until towards the end of the meeting, and was clearly looking for the parent’s attention since the meeting was a long one.

      The only distractions have been pets that show up and even then they eventually disappear. Multiple someones had their cats appear at their side and we’re all like “oooh look at the kitty!” without verbally saying it but we all moved closer to the screen to look at the cat.

  10. Office sweater lady*

    Why not switch locations? He can work in the bedroom and you can be in the other area. Since you have limited zoom meetings, he won’t be interrupting when he needs to get to the kitchen or walk around as much.

    1. Allison*

      Came here to say this… seems like the obvious solution if he is the one that needs more privacy.

      1. Office sweater lady*

        Didn’t see Pucci’s comment above or would have added it to the thread there. Seems like I’m not the only one who had the same thought! I guess there must be some reason they haven’t done this already, but if the reason is just inertia from patterns established in the initial days of pandemic WFH, they could reassess now.

    2. Certaintroublemaker*

      I got the impression that the WiFi isn’t as good in the bedroom (based on her occasionally having to go out and adjust). Since he’s the one with the bigger meeting schedule, he gets the stronger signal location.

  11. Allypopx*

    At my small office we all know each other’s spouses pretty well so we will do a quick “Hi spouse!” and everyone will wave and then we carry on. Only once per meeting per spouse, generally. We also do this with cats though.

    1. Mr. Cajun2core*

      I was about ready to say the same thing. If it was a casual meeting and I knew the spouse I would say “Hello”.

      1. Allypopx*

        We have also taken to gentle “ope delivery time!” or “did you bring enough for everyone??” if someone gets like a coffee brought into them or something. It’s nice, it makes the endless zoom meetings feel a little more like an in person meeting might. I get that’s a cultural thing though.

    2. Lunchtime caller*

      I work on a close knit team too so there’s usually at least one or two shirtless men passing by on our meetings that we just ignore, various cat tails waving of course, but if a child wants to say hi we usually do all pause for that :)

    3. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, we all like to call out to people’s kids and the like. One coworker’s SO does occasionally wander through and ignores us, though. He’s no fun.

  12. PT*

    Can your husband sit so his back is against a wall? That way there is no “behind?”

    This is how my husband handled Skype meetings when we lived somewhere with no good place to Skype from. He’d sit with his back or chair back flat against the wall.

    1. The Original K.*

      I live alone and don’t have pets so people or animals wandering through the background doesn’t apply to me, but I tend to work at my desk and do video calls from my couch. When I sit on my couch, all you see behind me is my couch and the wall behind it. When I sit at my desk, you can see my whole living room behind me. I prefer as little detail as possible when I do video calls.

    2. Office Palonium*

      Came here to say this. I hate having my back to an open room anyway. Can’t stand the possibility of being startled by someone behind me which would be more embarrassing on a zoom call. I turn my desk around so my back is facing the wall, even though I lose about 2 feet of floor space.

    3. Thursdaythrowback*

      I agree that this is something to consider. I fully, completely understand that not everyone has the ability to make this happen, but the peace of mind during work-from-home is absolutely invaluable. There is no possibility for embarrassment if no one is able to walk behind you. In our extremely tiny 1 BR apartment, my back faces one of the living room walls and my partner’s back faces a bedroom wall. We also went nuts with fun green screens (paint in one room and a pull-down screen in another), but that is entirely because we wanted to do so. I think our back-to-the wall plan helps us stay focused and calm which is important to both of us.

    4. Willow*

      I rearranged my WFH setup to do this too, mostly so I don’t have to worry about tidying up my living room. But I also found it’s nicer for me to look out into the room rather than at the wall.

      1. BookishMiss*

        Same. My original setup had me looking out the widow and watching all the doggos walking their people, etc, but flipping the setup around is honestly better for me and Spouse overall. If i ever get back into the office, I’ll put the desk back against the wall, but for now this works well.

    5. TootsNYC*

      This is what I did for my setup. Fortunately I have a large TV-tray-style folding table, and space beside the bed.
      I’ve noticed how many people are clearly working at desks pushed up against the wall. There are a few of us who have a desk or work table set so that we can have our backs against the wall, but not very many.

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      My family is a bit too much into roughhousing. I briefly thought about putting my desk in the middle of the room, and then imagined my monitor getting knocked off the desk by silliness. Just not worth it.

  13. Tuna Casserole*

    This won’t work for everyone, but I have rearranged my furniture so that when I’m on a Zoom call, all people see behind me is the wall. The only issue I’ve had since doing that is my cat jumping up on the table and shaking the camera.

    1. Lacey*

      Yup. For the first few months you could see half my house. I rearranged it so I can have a wall behind me and not constantly be worried about how my house looks or what’s happening in the background.

    2. BugSwallowersAnonymous*

      I did this too, because my manager would always stop to mention that he could see my spouse whenever they popped up in the background of our studio apartment to go about his business. It made me feel weird and self-conscious, but we don’t have an office space so having my back to the wall ended up being the best solution.

      I know this is a super (super) minor gripe but I do wish people in upper management at my company who make more $ and have houses with multiple rooms would be a little more understanding about the fact that entry level folks who make way less $ might not have spaces that are optimally set up for WFH.

  14. Marny*

    As for etiquette, I err on the side of ignoring people who pass through the background and think the passersby shouldn’t expect to be acknowledged either.
    But as for the LW, it sounds like it would make much more sense for her and her spouse to switch work locations since that would likely alleviate the problem of you having to travel through background of his all-day meetings.

    1. Clorinda*

      A month ago, some naked person walked through the viewing area of a student’s Zoom call with me. I never said anything about it to her, and I never will.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      That’s useful info for her (and other people) as well – ‘hey, you meant well with the army crawl, but the camera’s depth of field foiled you; might want another solution next time.’

  15. Old School HTML*

    Blur Background or fake Zoom Backgrounds are wonderful!

    My husband has a lot more meetings than I do, so when I go to the kitchen for tea (which means I cross behind his camera range), I don’t appear at ALL! Plus, since most of his Fake Backgrounds are from his own pictures (one is his own office’s hallway, but rotated 180-degrees — takes people a minute to figure it out; many others are also from his campus where he works as a project manager for renovations and new buildings) or from NASA, he uses them as a way to do the small-talk getting-to-know-you chitchat when waiting for the last attendee. “Was this building here when you last visited? The really cool/challenging thing about it was…” or for NASA, either info about recent missions/discoveries, or generic things like “Did you know all NASA photos are public domain? Wanna appear to be on Mars?”

    1. Old School HTML*

      I acknowledge that it may take processing power that’s not available. Often companies and organizations have some Official Backgrounds to use. We have a choice of BG1 or BG2 (Agency name and flag in each, one is grey, one is bright blue) — but only certain situations *require* their use.

      1. M-C*

        Even a phone can do virtual background these days. Your hair may look a bit odd at times, but that’s all par for the course

  16. Foxy Hedgehog*

    I assume the background characters are harder to ignore if you are in an industry (e.g., law, medicine) that has personal privacy drilled into you in training after training. I certainly wouldn’t exclaim “there’s someone behind you,” but I might stop talking just as an instinctive reaction if I saw somebody who wasn’t in my company who might be listening to the call.

    I am completely aware that spouses & other live-in relatives are assumed to be privy to all secrets, but still–privacy develops into an instinct.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Uh, I’m relatively comfortable speaking for both law AND medicine that spouses and live-ins are most emphatically not privy to all secrets from a professional standpoint. I absolutely can’t talk about a particular claim that I’m working on in front of anyone who is not authorized by my employer to have that information, including my spouse or my coworkers’ spouses, because (unlike many of the claims floating around the internet these days) that would absolutely be a HIPAA violation. (And I had to write an essay on my legal ethics final last week about among other things, how spouses are not an exception to requirements of confidentiality in the practice of law either.)

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        (On re-reading, it occurs to me that I may have linked your first and second paragraph more closely together than you intended – if I mis-read, apologies!)

        1. Foxy Hedgehog*

          Thanks–I certainly did *not* mean to imply that my spouse is privy to any true professional secrets that would violate (say) HIPAA or attorney privilege. That would be against the law!

          However, there are things that are against company policy for me to disclose (like the name of an unreleased product) that my spouse might be able to learn by seeing my computer screen while walking by or by overhearing my conference calls.

    2. BadWolf*

      Me too. We’re rarely on video, thankfully, but I’d probably be doing the same. Pausing, perhaps being surprised. Hopefully, if we were regularly on calls together, I’d get used to seeing someone pass by and figure out you share an office.

  17. Elizabeth West*

    I don’t have this issue currently since I have a separate space from the relative with whom I’m currently staying, but if I didn’t, I think I would turn the desk/computer/my seat around so I had a wall behind me, if possible. No one can suddenly appear in the background (either naked or clothed!) or accidentally disrupt the meeting.

    Except cats. This doesn’t help with cats.

    1. Esmeralda*

      Haha, yes, one of my colleagues has a cat whose butt we are all VERY familiar with now.

  18. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I’m just horrified that OP’s partner is in meetings all day, every day.

    If it’s the same bunch of people, you’d think that they would be used to OP by now.

      1. Esmeralda*

        At some points in the year, that’s what I do: Staff meeting, team meeting, team meeting, student, student, student, mentee, student. Or just students all the way down…

      2. Aggretsuko*

        Yes, that’s literally what our top boss does. One of them did a presentation of what he did all day and it was “I go to X meeting and Y meeting and Z meeting….”

      3. A*

        I’m in a project based role and yes, it’s meetings all day everyday. Not uncommon in my line of work (or PM roles in other industries).

    1. Jennifer*

      I always wonder about people whose entire job seems to be to attend meetings. When does the work actually get done? The middle of the night? Do they have “people” for that? Inquiring minds want to know.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        At this point in WFH, I’m in meetings most days for 6 of the 8 hours. Most of those meetings are working meetings because no one has time to work between meetings (there is no between!). But that works for us because the nature of this particular work is team-based and requires us to go line by line in various documents and get everyone’s concurrence. We’d have to do the same thing in conference rooms most of the day if we were in person. The attendees are stakeholders only and everyone participates, no one attends just to listen in. It’s inefficient but faster than trying to send the docs via email, get everyone to read them within some reasonable time frame and send comments, then consolidate feedback, and then discuss. We tried that first, no one had time to review the docs anyway.

        On the plus side, we have very few meetings that are just ‘status’ or ‘information only’ anymore because no one has time for that, and definitely no “pre-meeting to plan the meeting” type nonsense.

        That’s just my teams’ experiences though, there are people who get to work independently and they are definitely not stuck in meetings all day!

      2. The Real Persephone Mongoose*

        It gets done in the evenings, on weekends, at lunch, multitasking while on calls. This is my life. For several months out of the year, my primary day time job is to attend meetings. But those meetings are where I provide all the guidance etc that others need to do their jobs so I tend to have fewer actual deliverables myself.

      3. Kes*

        For many people the meetings *are* the work, if their work involves gathering information or coordinating activities or doing broader planning that is done as a group. Individual tasks may not be part of their work, or may be a smaller part. This especially tends to be true in leadership roles, where you need to check in with the individual contributors you supervise and communicate status to those above you and coordinate initiatives and planning with others at your level

        1. BubbleTea*

          Yes, we have a partner organisation and their staff pretty much just attend meetings and deliver trainings. They’re doing important work that our day to day work feeds into, and that informs our work. So of course we also have intermittent meetings to share information! Thankfully I’m not senior enough to need to attend most of them. I like our balance of a weekly team meeting, a monthly partnership meeting, and an intermittent whole-office meeting.

      4. ALM2019*

        I work in project management so most days for me are back to back meetings for 6-7 hours. I get work done between 7:00 and 9:00 am – most of my coworkers don’t sign on until 9:00. For them the work gets done after 5:00. It’s just how it is. There are certainly meetings where I’m just listening (happening as I write this..) where I can multi task and work.

      5. A Poster Has No Name*

        The people I know who are in meetings all day are the managers and people who are meeting with those who do the work to help direct the work, check on how things are going, discuss any changes, setbacks, etc. Also, they meet with the higher ups to share what’s going on with those teams doing the work.

      6. Jennifer*

        Thanks for the explanations, everyone!

        I would be so drained. Seems like a good job for more extroverted people. Even long Zoom meetings drain me.

        1. WellRed*

          Agreed. Still horrified on folks’ behalf but this has been an interesting thread.

      7. Aggretsuko*

        I think the top managers don’t actually DO work, that’s what underlings are for.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think this is a joke but because some people really think this: Managing is work. It’s hard, stressful work, at least when it’s done well.

          1. TechWorker*

            100% but also useful to note that it’s sometimes reasonable/appropriate for a manager not to do anything that some would consider ‘work’ in terms of a concrete deliverable. I definitely went through a phase of feeling guilty for not doing enough ‘work’ (my job being split between management and small percentage of more concrete work). Had to go through the phase of feeling like I’d got nothing done because I’d been talking to people and in meetings all day… but realising that’s actually my job and that’s ok :p

            1. Certaintroublemaker*

              There is a reason I don’t want to go into management, and that’s it right there! I’m so glad advancement paths for individual contributors are more recognized these days.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yes! I’d argue the deliverables are things like your team meeting their goals (and those goals being the right ones to set in the first place), problems being addressed and resolved, excellent people hired and retained, etc. They can feel less tangible, but they make the more tangible ones possible.

      8. A*

        For me it’s either done during the meetings/multi-tasking, or after ‘hours’. But I’m in a global position and manage three different time zones, so I don’t have a typical 9-5 type schedule – so it’s not quite as bad as it probably sounds.

        Was a bit of an adjustment coming from task oriented roles, but I like it!

      9. allathian*

        Some people get their jobs done in meetings by delegating tasks to others. The former like meetings because they get their work done during them, the latter don’t because the meetings prevent them from doing the tasks they’re assigned.

    2. Kyrielle*

      My husband is on meetings for most of his workday, but he’s usually talking to clients/coworkers/stakeholders as they work through an issue on a system they’re all connected to.

      He has his back to a wall. I don’t – people pass behind me – but I have only three meetings most weeks, and those are video-off, so.

  19. CaptainMouse*

    I’m sure that OP and their partner have good reasons for why OP works in the bedroom and partner works in the living room. But if not, can you switch work rooms? Then you will only very rarely need to walk through partner’s meetings and problem is solved by a change in location without having to worry about etiquette.

  20. The Other Katie*

    Get a screen. Seriously. They’re not that expensive and they create the illusion of privacy, even in a small space. A shoji screen can easily be folded up and put away when not in use. It’s the best of both worlds – no meeting interruptions, no confined to bedroom, and no worries about accidentally being caught on film in one’s skivvies.

  21. Catalin*

    >”Oh my God, there’s someone behind you!”
    1) Were you dressed as a horror movie character?
    2) Were you less-than-completely dressed (obvi not from LW’s assurances)?
    3) Were you waving around weaponry?
    4) Was anything on fire?
    5) did it appear you had just broken into the apartment?
    6) are you Big Foot?

    Frog’s sake, it’s a person in a zoom frame, not convenience store robbery footage. Calm down.

    FWIW, my pandemic work team all came to know one another’s families and pets in zoom meetings.

    1. Fergus the Llama Juggler*

      I know right? I would so have wanted to troll that person and say “that’s ridiculous, I’m the only one in the apartment right now”.

      1. BugSwallowersAnonymous*


        “Really? Wait, where?”

        And then it could be the start of a whole elaborate pretend ghost situation.

    2. Reba*

      ITA, the coworkers are being weird about this!

      My spouse and I work in the same room most of the time (it mostly works out).

      I do not think that OP or her partner should change a dang thing.

    3. Jennifer*

      I think they were trying to be funny. Emphasis on trying. Jokes like that were old one month into the pandemic.

      1. Denver Gutierrez*

        Sounds like they think it would be rude if they didn’t acknowledge you somehow? Except for the “There is someone behind you” guy, not sure what is problem was.

        Since their saying hi interrupted the meeting anyway, could you just go over and breezily something like, “Hi everyone! While I appreciate your friendliness, I know how busy you all are, so feel free to pretend I’m furniture when I pass through. It won’t hurt my feelings, I promise. ” Or if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, maybe have hubby say something similar at the beginning of the meeting?

    4. Jean (just Jean)*

      Thank you for these, especially the comments about waving around weaponry, dressed as a horror movie character, or being Big Foot. I really needed a laugh.

    5. Elenna*

      you mean there can be… multiple people? in a room??? shocking! *clutches pearls*

    6. Observer*

      >”Oh my God, there’s someone behind you!”


      Frog’s sake, it’s a person in a zoom frame, not convenience store robbery footage. Calm down.


      The problem is not the set up or the OP passing behind husband, but very weird coworker(s)

    7. Wisteria*

      Sometimes when people are surprised, they exclaim out loud. It is not helpful to assign nefarious intent to what was probably just surprise at realizing that the shape/motion in background was a person.

  22. TWW*

    If I lived with someone who was on Zoom all day, I would put up a curtain or room divider behind his chair

  23. Jennifer*

    I agree that we should just pretend the person in the background isn’t there – unless something truly outrageous is happening behind them that your coworker needs to know about.

    I also want to point out that depending on what the person does for a living, blurring the background may not be possible. For example, I take fitness classes on zoom. The instructors teaches the classes from her home and before she moved to a bigger place her husband used to walk through all the time to get to the kitchen to make his dinner to just to grab something. If she blurred the background, it’s possible we wouldn’t have seen her entire body when she demonstrated an exercise since that feature be a bit glitchy. We just waved and went on with class.

  24. A*

    Not sure if these are viable options, but just some suggestions:
    – If the bedroom is more private, could you swap work spots? Sounds like he is on calls much more often, perhaps him being in the more secluded space would help alleviate some of this strain?
    – Blur or image background
    – Can he rearrange so his back is facing a wall?
    – Not ideal, but for the first half of the pandemic while I was still in a tiny apt I had a posterboard propped up on a music stand behind me to create a fake wall
    – Does he need to be on camera?

    Ultimately you aren’t doing anything wrong – and you’re right, this is intrusive. Unfortunately those are the times we live in right now. However, I would caution against interpreting his colleagues behavior as ‘rude’. It’s annoying and unnecessary, but these are not typical times. Granted, I am biased because I live alone and if my colleagues ever saw someone behind me I’d 100% want to know – but the reaction of ‘omg there’s someone behind you’ does sound like an over reaction if they are aware that he is married and you are both WFH. If they don’t know, they most likely have good (if misguided) intentions. They aren’t trying to invade your space – they are most likely just trying to do the best they can with these unusual circumstances the same as the rest of us.

  25. SJJ*

    I will respectfully disagree on one aspect:

    If a dog (or other pet) pops into the frame – meeting should pause so everyone has a chance to say Hi and tell the pupper what a good boy/girl they are.

    1. Elliot*

      Buffy and Clark, my puppers, completely agree with this. They add that anyone else should hold up their dogs for a playdate.

    2. NotMyRealName*

      One of my professional conferences was virtual last fall and we made it a rule than any visible pets had to be introduced.

  26. Bex*

    Okay so we have the ruling on people.

    But what about PETS?!

    Every now and then a cat will drop into frame, or a dog (once I even got to see a hedgehog!). When these are one on one meetings or small team meetings we remark, but larger meetings we don’t say anything.

    Thoughts there?

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      Now picture this: My cat is hell on wheels. Mean as a wet hen. Runs the household with an iron paw. She decides when she’d like to bathe me and I DO NOT have a choice here. So every once in a while, she jumps up, rears back and grabs my temples with her claws out, and proceeds to very thoroughly clean my face while I am helpless to stop it. I just have to slowly move my hand around looking for the mouse so I can turn off the camera but not before a lot of people witness the event.

    2. BubbleTea*

      Ooh you reminded me of the time we had a hamster attending a meeting! (Unusual for a nocturnal animal.) Of course his presence was also minuted.

    3. EmmaPoet*

      I am delighted to see all pets, be they cat, dog, or battle hamster. I try not to loudly coo in large meetings, but we all cracked up when a supervisor’s cat stomped across her laptop and loudly demanded love a few weeks back.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      Maybe get under a cardboard box and move along, like in the Metal Gear Solid games…

    2. Jean (just Jean)*

      OR walk past the camera while holding a large piece of posterboard with the message “nothing to see here.”

      1. anonymouse*

        I am going to say that I think the internet lexicon needs WTG, for worth the google. Because this so was.
        I’m kinda crying here picturing it.

  27. Combinatorialist*

    This won’t work for everyone, but could you and your husband switch places? If he has all day meetings and you have one, it would be less meeting disruptive if he had the more private space. There might be other reasons that won’t work but something to think about

  28. Bripops*

    I’m actually in kind of a funny situation with this. I work from home, and my roommate works at her office. Sometimes if I have a later meeting, people are able to see her walk into the house when she gets home from work. Here’s the kicker: she works for the external graphic design firm used by my company and has great working relationships with the people on my team. Usually people will wave and say hi, it’s actually quite sweet.

  29. Unkempt Flatware*

    Do the I Love Lucy bit where Fred keeps walking across the background of the stage while carrying an increasingly and increasingly larger plant and saying nothing.

    1. Christmas Carol*

      I keep thinking about early in the pandemic when The Today Show’s Al Roker would wander through the background of Good Morning America when his wife Roxanne Roberts was reporting.

    2. OyHiOh*

      Or the “do you like my hat” bit from Go Dog Go. Bigger and bigger hats might be slightly easier to manage than increasingly larger plants.

    3. Jean (just Jean)*

      Alternative loads for the background walker:
      – higher and higher stacks of boxes, or dishes
      – increasingly large/cumbersome pieces of luggage, pieces of furniture, or stacks of laundry
      – blow bubbles with bubble gum or soapy water

      Don’t do this if the person on the call has an imminent deadline, or a touchy boss, or coworkers with no sense of humor.

    4. nnn*

      Master the art of quick-change and keep walking by in drastically different clothing!

  30. Elliot*

    I definitely think blur background would fix almost all of this. Beyond that, though, if these are all internal meetings, presumably with the same team of people, could your partner briefly say a few times at the beginning of the meeting, “Oh, Zoe is also working from home, so if you see her in the background, just ignore her” or something?
    It’s so unusual that people are regularly addressing this! I would never mention a coworker’s spouse/child/roommate in the background unless they made some note of “acknowledge me” like a small wave or a long look to camera. Perhaps body language like looking down at your phone/walking with purpose/etc could help?

  31. Can Can Cannot*

    One one rule at my company: those in the background need to wear pants. Unfortunately we needed to explicitly spell this out after the first month of WFH.

    1. Cmdrshpard*

      I hope by pants you mean bottoms. I wear shorts 99.9% of the time at home and would be upset if my spouses employer was mad I wore shorts while walking in the background.

    2. Esmeralda*

      And by pants, I hope you mean trousers or a skirt or shorts. And not just underpants…

      1. LabTechNoMore*

        In American English “pants” refers to outerwear covering the entire leg (e.g. jeans, trousers), not underwear (e.g. boxers, briefs) like in British English.

  32. Rayray*

    Lots of suggestions to try rearranging or switching spaces. A couple other ideas:

    He could use a virtual background or
    Momentarily turn off the camera while you walk behind and just blame it on a technical glitch if they say something

    1. Jennifer*

      A good suggestion about just turning off the camera for a few seconds just so she can pass by. There may be a reason that he prefers to work in the room he does. Maybe the wifi signal is stronger and he needs that for all of his meetings, who knows?

      1. Rayray*

        Yeah, as good as those suggestions are, I can’t imagine that these people haven’t thought about it too. There’s probably a reason it’s set up the way it is.

        1. Jennifer*

          I thought the same. It’s such an obvious solution it’s hard to believe they haven’t considered it.

    2. mlem*

      Briefly turning off the video feed is exactly what I do when my friend has to pass behind me when I’m on a meeting. Works perfectly, doesn’t require special configuration. Might not work if he isn’t set up to see or hear that she’s coming through, though.

  33. ArtsNerd*

    “when someone calls out to me, I feel like they think I’m doing something wrong by being on camera”

    Can we address this!? I’m wondering about OP’s feeling that they are made to feel they’re “doing something wrong” when they’re greeted. My coworkers will quickly greet household members on calls when they come into frame all the time.

    We’re not passive-aggressively chiding Ji-hye for getting a cup of coffee! It’s because we really LIKE seeing relatively novel faces like hers after being all cooped up for more than a year.

    I get being annoyed by it and finding it all a bit much. And of course the person who was alarmed was way out of line! (Do you think they lay awake at night reliving their embarrassment? I would.) But do the coworkers actually find OP disruptive?

    If I were OP, I’d just do a quick nod and/or handwave without slowing down. That way they quickly acknowledge the greeting without making it A Thing. If the people calling out to OP have a problem, it’s their own problem and not something OP needs to address.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      And once you HAVE been greeted, it seems like a bigger breach of etiquette to totally ignore it unless there are other factors in play (harassment, this person has already greeted you today, etc.)

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      The “oh my god there’s someone behind you” person definitely made it sound like that. That’s why if bandwidth doesn’t allow for virtual backgrounds, a real one such as a small portable screen – or a sheet held up with brackets of some kind – should be put in place.

    3. Budgie Buddy*

      I think for OP it’s the feeling of after a year of WFH she wants to be able to get a cup of coffee or use the toilet in her own home without needing to interact with her husbands coworkers.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        I mean, this is totally understandable, but that’s different from assuming that the husband’s coworkers “think I’m doing something wrong by being on camera.” Is there another interpretation of this sentence that I’m missing?

        Feeling judged is a pretty different situation from feeling annoyed, and I think that aspect warrants a direct response.

    4. LilyP*

      Yeah that’s what I was wondering. If you could somehow know for sure that your husband’s coworkers *liked* seeing you and getting to say hi and you weren’t disrupting anything or bothering anyone, would *you* still feel inconvenienced/annoyed/stressed/put on the spot by the interactions? Would it bring you peace of mind to decide that your husband’s coworkers are adults who could let him know if they were annoyed by you and assume that if they haven’t said anything you have an all-clear to move around you house without guilt?

  34. bored lawyer*

    My wife is on Zoom pretty constantly. I’m not at home every day, but if I pass through her co-workers generally say hi. I just wordlessly wave and go on with my day. Doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal?

    And yes, they are much more excited by the dog.

  35. Bridget the Elephant*

    Not read all the comments, but totally agree with Alison. However, we should definitely acknowledge all *cats* that appear during calls, as they deserve no less.

  36. AcademiaIsWeird*

    I don’t have a good place with a blank wall behind me so I have a folding wooden and paper screen that takes up very little space when I’m not using it. For meetings with my small team I don’t bother with it but for bigger or more formal meetings I put it up. It blocks the view into my apartment but doesn’t do any of the weird/fluky Zoom background things.

  37. Sam*

    We’re in exactly the same situation except I’m in the husband’s shoes and my husband is in LW’s.

    I’ve encouraged him not to respond, even if he happens to hear people call out to him, and whenever people acknowledge him I just say “oh, he’s got headphones in, he doesn’t want to listen in.”

    Works like a charm. I’ve got everyone in the office in the trained!

  38. Peeped EA*

    Would it be possible for you and your husband to switch rooms? Since you have fewer calls, it seems like that would make more sense and allow you the ability to comfortably more around the house.

  39. Zristine*

    Here’s another idea – a green screen that attaches to the bag of your chair. Also makes the Zoom backgrounds work better, too. https://www.amazon.com/Webaround-Portable-Webcam-Background-Chroma/dp/B06Y2G2YP5/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?crid=19FK60ATYTWQ5&dchild=1&keywords=green+screen+attach+to+chair&qid=1621537100&sprefix=green+screen+attach+to+cha%2Caps%2C300&sr=8-1-spons&psc=1&smid=A3FMG4OAGF9FR&spLa=ZW5jcnlwdGVkUXVhbGlmaWVyPUE5OFdUQUgzRFVFRE4mZW5jcnlwdGVkSWQ9QTA5ODU0NDBCWUNJSUJDRDlWREkmZW5jcnlwdGVkQWRJZD1BMDk5MjI3NTU2TkVCRVM5SThDNiZ3aWRnZXROYW1lPXNwX2F0ZiZhY3Rpb249Y2xpY2tSZWRpcmVjdCZkb05vdExvZ0NsaWNrPXRydWU=

  40. 1234*

    My roommate has set up her workstation in our living/dining room area. Her back is towards the foyer of the apartment when you first walk in. I’m sure I have appeared briefly on her Zoom or MS Teams calls when I have come home from the grocery store, etc. I do not expect to be acknowledged by anyone in her meeting nor do I think to wave, stop or make small talk with any of them. I am simply someone who lives here and is passing through.

  41. veronica*

    My workplace must be very different. I was in a meeting for several minutes before someone told me that there was a child behind me making faces.

    1. BubbleTea*

      Was it a random child, or one that was meant to be there? ;) “Oh my goodness there’s a CHILD behind you!”

  42. Vet Spouse*

    I have kids and a husband whose weekend is during my work week and none of them have any boundaries. That combined with a generally messy house – he needs a zoom background. I have a fake office that looks like an Ikea catalogue and it’s kind of zen. And when my kids interrupt me anyway their little heads bob in and out of frame in a very disconcerting way!

  43. CurrentlyBill*

    I recently picked up a pull up green screen that sits on the floor behind me and I pull it up when I need top have a meeting where folks don’t see my GF’s head. It also slightly dampens my sound so she’s less distracted.

    Folding screen are also available cheaply. Or you get get fancy/nicer ones to provide a slight illusion of privacy. And when the calls are done, just fold them up and stash them behind the couch or whatever.

  44. le teacher*

    I am actually cracking up at the “oh my god, there’s someone behind you!” comment. Like, what? My colleagues have family members through often and I never really even notice!

  45. ChefManz*

    I do not get why people find it necessary to do this. I see coworkers’ partners, kids, pets and the like walking around in the background all the time. It’s so disruptive and unnecessary to comment on it, especially at this point in the working from home world that we are living in. I just don’t get it. Maybe it would be helpful if OP’s partner also ignored those interruptions?

    I also don’t know why you would think it’s weird or feel like you’re doing something wrong by existing in your own home, OP. The other people who feel the need to address you are making it weird, not you.

  46. e271828*

    Another vote for a folding screen set behind him, if there’s some reason he’s not using a Zoom background.

  47. Nom*

    Honestly i think you are going way too far out of your way not to interrupt meetings than you even need to be. You should be able to get a cup of coffee without worrying about it. Your partner’s coworkers are being weird and that’s on them not you.

  48. generic employee*

    LW, unless you’re a gorgeous kittycat, your husband’s meeting partners should chill. But that said I would venture a guess that they don’t mean to make you feel chided for existing in your own home — it’s just that it’s a random moment for them but an ongoing pattern for you. (I have no idea what the “OMG THERE’S SOMEONE BEHIND YOU” person was thinking, though.)

  49. Argus*

    Simple solution: Partner works in the bedroom where there will be fewer interruption.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes, this is definitely the best solution. He’s in meetings all day and she only has half-hour meetings now and then, so it’s not like the problem would just be the other way round if they swapped.

  50. Seashells*

    When we were working from home, I had to sit at the kitchen table for video meetings. My son had to go out the patio door (which happened to be behind and to left of where I was sitting) every morning at 9 to feed his pet chicken. The first time it was kind of a “Hey look it’s Seashells son how are you?”. Son- “Fine. How are you?”. Coworkers “Fine, blah, blah, yada, yada”. Son- “Cool. I have to feed my chicken”. A few times after that when he went past it was “Chicken feeding time, haha” and soon it was pretty much ignored.

  51. Engineer*

    Can we make this same ruling for random background noises? I was on a call with 50+ people, someone was talking and had a baby fussing in the background. Another person interrupted, “is that a baby? was that a baby crying? who’s baby is that?”

    Like OMG! Yes! It’s a child, wtf else is it?! People work from home, and also have CHILDREN who live there. When daycares and schools shut down, where do you think all those kids went? The ether? Magical daycare in the sky?

    If you kid is not screaming into the microphone or dog barking right next to you, everyone needs to ignore these noises.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Same reaction happens when people complain that they hear me typing. I’M ON A COMPUTER AND PEOPLE KEEP MESSAGING ME DURING THE MEETING.

      1. TiffIf*


        One of my co-workers is working in the same room as her husband. Neither are required to have video on but occasionally when I am on a call with my co-worker I can hear her husband also on a phone call. Only once in the entire year+ have I had to ask her to mute while she isn’t talking because I could hear him. Every other time she has remembered.

      2. TechWorker*

        If people type whilst on mic it can be loud enough to drown out the voices… if your role in the meeting is to talk and make notes/respond to IM simultaneously fine, but if you are just listening and unmuted whilst typing I’m 100% with your coworkers :p

      3. File Herder*

        Adding my vote for THEN MUTE YOURSELF.

        I was in monthly phone meetings where there would inevitably be people typing, talking to other colleagues, eating, etc. without bothering to mute themselves and because they weren’t paying attention they didn’t realise they were drowning out the person who was speaking – no matter how many times other people on the line asked them to mute. It was *bliss* when we moved onto Teams and the moderator could mute them remotely. It wasn’t a problem they were doing these things, because this is life in a busy office. It was a problem that half a dozen of them were doing it unmuted and ignoring requests to mute themselves.

        Also with these meetings – most of us don’t turn video on. It’s much less distracting seeing only the names and the highlights indicating who’s speaking and requests for attention rather than twenty tiny moving images.

  52. RagingADHD*

    There’s really no other way to point the camera except across the walkpath? This seems like a problem that would be extremely easy to solve with slight changes to angle. And if he can’t be bothered to change his setup by a few inches (literally! You don’t have to rearrange the whole room!) I don’t see why you should be bothered to socialize when you’re also working.

    1. Observer*

      That assumes that the webcam is not part of the computer – if it’s a laptop webcam shifting the camera means shifting the whole computer which can be a problem. And it also assumes that he can move himself to be in front of wherever the camera is now pointing. In a small place, that’s not necessarily so practical.

      1. RagingADHD*

        No, actually, I’m talking about shifting the laptop by like, an inch or two and maybe tilting the screen. I have lived, and indeed still live in a small space and it’s actually easier to get a radically different view than in a very big or long room.

        1. Observer*

          Shrug. Maybe for you moving the laptop a couple of inches works for you. It REALLY does not work for everyone.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            We don’t know whether it’s possible or not for OP but it could well be.
            OP and hubby could also swap so she’s in the living room and he’s in the bedroom since he’s in meetings all day.

  53. *daha**

    OP mentioned having to move/readjust the router to get better signal. I think that means it is time for a new WIFI router. Better ones deliver better signal and throughput and more consistency. Also, the walls may contain components that interfere with WIFI signals, so even though line-of-sight is quite close, the signal needs to bounce around and get through door openings. Look for the word “MESH” on the router description. Mesh routers are usually sold in pairs or triples. One gets connected to the modem, the other(s) gets placed elsewhere and act as extenders. Some brands (example: ASUS) sell them singly. If their new fancy Mesh capable router doesn’t give you enough of an improvement, you buy another of their Mesh capable routers and they will work together as a Mesh.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      I was thinking the same thing. Also, I reset mine on a regular basis, usually at the end of the month. I just turn it off and leave it off for about five minutes and then reboot it. It helps, especially with Amazon Prime.

  54. Little Fox*

    Am I the only one working for a company where everyone just has the video off for all meetings? The only time I saw my WFH coworkers on video during the past year+ was our virtual holiday lunch and when we had video on specifically so new people just joining the team could “meet” everyone.

    1. HereKittyKitty*

      My husband’s company is like that because their company is so large it slows down the network when everyone has their camera on.

      1. Little Fox*

        That’s probably the reason for us too though I’ve never actually seen any instructions from IT specifying to keep cameras off.

    2. Just an autistic redhead*

      I came scrolling all the way down here to see if anyone said this. We only put on our cams for special occasions, they’re not on every day and we use headsets so no one would hear my husband existing around the house and he wouldn’t hear anything my colleagues have to say either… it works better since we’re all looking at shared screens anyway.
      I’m so glad for the lack of mandatory camera time. If you’re in a room with people, you can and do look around, at screens, etc…. if you’re on a call, it’s just your face and everyone else’s, with no reprieve XD well, except the efforts to share pets (dogs, cats, and chickens have been featured in my team)

  55. H.M. Waters*

    My dog walked into frame and barfed on one my first Zoom calls of the pandemic. My VP’s toddler has thrown clean underware at her head on another. My manager’s daughter wanted to say hi and popped her head over the laptop into frame. What I mostly saw were her nose holes. Lol. Srsly, if someone has an issue with home and work life blurring this far into the pandemic, they need to get over themselves. FWIW, I work for an enterprise SaaS company with over 6k employees. Be human.

  56. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    Google “free Zoom virtual backgrounds”, choose one and download it. Problem solved!

  57. JSPA*

    He can say, “if [partner] walks by, please ignore it, as they may be on their own meeting via bluetooth.”

    People these days can of course be startled by seeing two people in what they thought was a one person space, in a way that doesn’t apply, in an office.

    That said, people are really thirsty to see more and different people; I’m not surprised they’re yelling hello’s to someone’s partner (or for that matter, their letter carrier, the meter reader, or any other person who might break up the monotony of their own four walls and their own friend group and work group zooms).

  58. I'm just here for the cats*

    Maybe this has been said, but could he use the bedroom and you use the livingroom instead? It sounds like you are leaving the bedroom to do into the kitchen or bathroom. It sounds like both of these you have to pass through the livingroom. It doesn’t sound like he needs to go into the bedroom much. If it is doable I would switch places. He can be in the bedroom where there would be more privacy and you wouldn’t have to worry about interrupting his meetings as much.

  59. AE*

    I am shocked that the option of OP’s partner using a background image hasn’t come up. Most, if not all, platforms offer this now. It seems that this would solve the entire problem.

  60. Rae*

    There are times it’s nice too, like when my new boss saw my boyfriend early in the pandemic and asked to meet him, and they chatted for a few minutes. I thought it was very personable of my boss, and I do think it’s nice to show an interest in other peoples kids, pets, family, because it shows that you think of them as a whole person. But I agree that I’d ignore a regular passerby.

  61. Van Wilder*

    This feels like an appropriate place to confess that today my husband walked into a video call and kissed me on the top of the head to say “see you later” while I stared straight ahead and ignored him. This was while a client, who I rarely see or speak to, was addressing me directly (and I assume looking at me.) I am still melting from embarrassment.

    1. Purple Cat*

      Aww. Melt because that’s super-sweet, not from embarrassment.
      Reframe it in your head that this client probably told their friend/family that she got to see the sweetest interaction today!

  62. LW*

    LW here! Thank you so much for all your suggestions!

    Switching places: the desk in the living room is bigger and he has more screens than I do. It’s also nearer the router and the WiFi is better there which makes it easier for repeated Zoom calls! It’s not just better for him – I also prefer being in the bedroom for a bunch of other reasons to do with storage / desk set-up.

    Getting a screen: the rooms are quite small so we’ve always thought this would be a pain cos there would be nowhere to keep it folded – it would have to be up all the time, making the room feel even tighter.

    Changing the sightline: There aren’t any options that would work (I promise!) unless he sits trapped behind the desk against the wall (to get really specific, the desk is in an alcove) which would be more annoying for him than the shout-outs are to me.

    Blurring the background: yes, am going to ask him to do this. Thank you – such a simple solution. I always thought you could only use fake backgrounds on Zoom, which wouldn’t fit with my partner’s office culture. But if you can just create a blur, this is probably the answer!

    Comedy background behaviour like walking past with bigger and bigger plants = my dream response!

    Alison’s answer is really great though, because I guess I wrote wanting a reality check – like surely this thing of calling out to people you see on camera isn’t just annoying to me but would be annoying to anyone? Why do I have to keep saying hi to my partner’s coworkers when I’m in my own space, and busy? Some of the comments also made me realise that maybe I just feel guilty for popping up in the background of my partner’s meetings and (apparently!) distracting everyone, and so feel obliged to say ‘hi’ back, but perhaps I just need to get over that!

    So amazing to get Alison’s super helpful, empathetic response and all these ideas – what a wonderful site/community this is!

    1. aninum*

      In case blurring the background doesn’t work out, can you walk by with an obvious set of headphones on so that people assume they won’t be able to talk to you?

      1. nnn*

        That’s what I was thinking. It might be a way to reinforce Alison’s idea of “She can’t hear you, she’s on a call.”

        (Should you have to wear headphones in your own home? Of course not. But also, it might be something within your control that would stop the undesirable behaviour.)

    2. allathian*

      If blurring the background doesn’t work for some reason, how about a compromise, they say hi and you wave in acknowledgment and that’s it. It’s not as if they expect you to join the meeting, and acknowledging a greeting non-verbally would probably be seen as less distracting than ignoring it completely.

      I do think that you should stop feeling guilty about distracting your partner’s meetings. You share the same living space, and you do have the right to get coffee or water or whatever without feeling guilty about it even when he’s in a meeting.

    3. GraceRN*

      Adding another option to consider: if blurring the background doesn’t work for whatever reason, another option might be to take a photo of the current living room view, and use that as a fake background. That way to the coworkers, it still looks like your partner is in the living room but when you walk by, they won’t see you. My Zoom setting allows me to upload my own pictures to use as backgrounds. I wonder if your partner’s can do that as well, and if so maybe that could be an option to consider?

  63. Smishy*

    I do agree with ignoring people in the background on video calls, with one exception. I’ve noticed that frequently when I’m talking to parents and a small kid pops up messing around in the background, they’ll get this look on their face that’s half way between embarrassment and resignation. Frequently they’ll actually apologize for the kids, even if the kid is not even being noisy or disruptive. Which I get, because I’m working at home with kids too, sometimes they DO pop in unexpectedly. So I’ve just taken to pretty much always preemptively going “aw, seeing some cute Zoom kids is my favorite part of remote work!” just to put people at ease.

  64. Ms.Vader*

    Can you switch where you work? If he’s in meetings all day and you’re nit why not have him in the arguably more private bedroom and you in the communal room?

  65. AJ*

    You might search for a cheap “soji screen” that he can place behind himself while working and then put against the wall at night, I ended up getting a cheap one a while back and it’s also a nice way to block a messy room on video calls!

  66. Chickaletta*

    Just to reiterate what everyone else has always said – you two can be proactive about heading off comments by having your boyfriend sit so a wall is behind him, put on a video call background, or place a screen behind him. Tons of people use these types of solutions.

    In my world the novelty of people and pets in the background has worn off by now. Fewer people comment when a cat or dog jumps into the picture or if a family member is walking around the house than they did a year ago. Plus, at least for me, I’m trying to reestablish some level of professionalism that I let go when working from home at the beginning was cute. I’m almost embarrassed to think about the times last summer when I showed up on zoom calls with my hair in a bandana, wearing a tank top, or holding my cat.

  67. Worldwalker*

    How about a physical backdrop? Specifically one of those photographic backdrop frames they sell on Amazon (just the cheap kind) with something like a sheet hanging from it? That way, you don’t have to worry about even a blobby shape showing through a blurred background, or anything else behind you.

  68. Phil*

    I say hi to background people only if it’s an informal call and I actually know the person. ie, basically it’s just the boss’s wife, who works in a team adjacent to ours who I talk with often anyway.

  69. knitcrazybooknut*

    It may help to think about it in terms of social interaction, and some of your partner’s coworkers may be desperate for small talk. Having a chance to talk to someone who isn’t a coworker might be terribly exciting!

  70. JessaB*

    I wonder, given the set up and the amount of times the interruptions have occurred and since he has the more meeetings job, would it be feasible to switch spaces, so he’s the one who has to wander through the OPs lesser amount of zooms?

  71. Bazinga*

    You can set a background on Zoom. I’ve done this as my husband and I both work from home. If I’m in a meeting I set some benign background of water or a wall or something and people waking behind can’t be seen.

  72. notaracoonkeeper*

    My best zoom photobomb was a (admitedly giant) cat we were cat sitting.

    I’m sitting in a 25-person meeting of provincial health research leaders, and the chair just stops the meeting to yell “IS THERE A RACCOON BEHIND YOU?”. My reaction was a mix of horrified that he thinks so little of me that I’d have a raccoon in my third floor apartment, and grateful that he’s a doc and not a vet because those animals look nothing alike!

    1. Andy*

      We’ve had a few pets photobomb calls in the past year. Those ones are always welcome.

  73. Hal*

    The person in the meeting who stopped everything to say “Hi” to you did so because they were bored out of their skull. Your fiance might give some thought to whether all that meeting time is really necessary.

  74. Ezri Dax*

    The only time I commented on someone walking behind a person in a Zoom meeting was the time my former supervisor’s youngest son tried to sneak up behind her and nail her in the head with one of those mini blow-up punching bags. And looking back, I have to admit I’m slightly bummed I didn’t let that one play out…

  75. Bob from way back*

    You guys need a new router/wap because you shouldn’t have to keep moving your router to get a decent signal in a small apartment.

  76. LizM*

    If he doesn’t want to blur the background (I use headphones and the blurred background does some weird things to my picture), could you get a small folding screen he could put up to block off the view of the rest of the room?

    It’s silly, really, and you’re right, it shouldn’t be remarkable that he’s got another person living in his apartment. I think I read on here (either from Alison or another commenter) that employers need to remember we are uninvited guests in our employees’ homes, and act accordingly. That includes politely ignoring the fact that they may not have total privacy or be 100% free of distractions (kids, pets, doorbells).

    I will sometimes say “hi” if I know the person (I do a lot of work in small towns, and a surprising number of the people we work with are married to each other, a fact I didn’t realize until they started calling into monthly meetings from the same computer…) or if it’s a young kid who is saying “hi”, but it seems weirdly disruptive to mention a person just walking across the background.

    The only time I really see an issue with having another person in the background is if you’re dealing with legally protected, confidential information, like a medical practice or a legal practice. If I were speaking to my attorney, I would be surprised to see someone in the room. But assuming that’s not the case, a person being in the room is not noteable.

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