what’s up with unannounced video calls?

A reader writes:

I have started a new position in my company that includes being onboarded onto a new team with a (to me) utterly nonsensical practice. It appears to be the culture to randomly, spontaneously pull other team members into video calls without any forewarning or context. I hate it! I’ve had it happen to me and been in meetings where the other person has chosen to do this to a third party. There’s never a heads-up chat, a “Hey, are you busy?” or even checking the other person’s calendar.

Maybe I’m in the restroom. Maybe I’m in another meeting. Maybe this is my one 15-minute window of time to focus on my completely overflowing to-do list. Calling me unannounced would be bad enough, but now you want me to be on video, too? And make jokey remarks about “Oh, is your camera working?” if I leave it off? I’ve also noticed that these calls always seem to flow down the corporate chain but never up, which almost makes it worse. What, I’m not going to drop everything to answer an unexpected call from my boss’s boss?

Can you give me any kind of explanation or context as to why this is a thing? We are over two years into a pandemic, so it’s not like there hasn’t been time to sort out the etiquette here.

I am as stumped as you are. It’s thoughtless. You don’t put someone on video with no warning.

That said, a lot of your objections are about unannounced calls, not video. Unannounced calls are normal in loads of workplaces — not all of them anymore, but enough that it’s not shocking or outrageous that your office uses them. If you’re in the bathroom or another meeting or otherwise not able to pick up when someone calls you, generally the assumption is that you’ll just call back when you’re available. If you’re coming from an office culture that didn’t operate this way, I can see why it feels weird — but it really is still a normal business practice in many places.

But unannounced video is different, particularly if you’re working from home. Maybe you’re not dressed the way you would be if you knew the call was coming. Maybe you’re not in an area of your house you want seen on a work call. Maybe you’re working from bed with wet hair (as I am as I write this). Maybe you’ve got a kid or partner or roommate in the background, who didn’t consent to be on video. I’m sure there’s a non-zero number of managers out there who believe that if it’s the work day, you should be prepared to be seen on camera at any time, but that’s out of sync with the reality of how most people work, including highly productive ones.

If I had to speculate about why your office does this, I’d say the people doing it are probably frequently on video calls themselves and so they don’t think about the fact that others may not be … or at some point it just became such a part of the culture there that no one questions it anymore. (Who knows, maybe there was one high-up manager who loves video and kept doing this to people, and now it feels normal and everyone does it. Hell, that originating manager might not even be there anymore; once a practice becomes part of a culture, it can live on long after the person who started it left.)

It would be interesting to ask your coworkers what’s up with the practice — do they all embrace it or are some of them annoyed by it too? And more importantly, do they all comply, or do they have strategies for avoiding it? It would be useful to hear, for example, “Oh yeah, Patricia always does that but we just leave our cameras off and it’s fine” … or, equally useful to know, “Patricia hates when people don’t turn video on and gets suspicious about whether you’re really working.”

You could also ask your boss! As in, “I’ve noticed a lot of people initiate video calls without any warning. I’ll sometimes leave my camera off in that case — I’m not always camera-ready without warning. Is that okay to do?”

Or you could just continue keeping your camera off when someone video calls you unexpectedly. If you get jokey remarks about whether your camera is working, you could just reply matter-of-factly, “Yeah, I’ve got it off. But I wanted to talk to you about (work topic)…”

{ 406 comments… read them below }

  1. Goose*

    Oof, I’m guilty of that. I treat them similar to phone calls because we’re all remote and I’m not offended if someone answers not on video

    1. Nikara*

      My usual sequence is I’m in a chat with someone, then we realize that the question/topic will be way more easily addressed by a quick conversation. Since the video chat is already part of the text chat room, I’ll pop a video meeting in there and we’ll discuss that way instead. But it’s never out of the blue, always started with a chat, and no one cares if you have your video on.

    2. Allornone*

      This. Half of my office is on Teams, and I figured out quickly that video calls were the contact method of choice for a few of my coworkers when they needed information. It threw me off at first because I wasn’t used to it, but now I just see it as an alternative to phone calls. I’m not a big fan of either video or phone, as email is my contact method of choice, but to each their own. If someone tries to video chat with me and I’m not available, I just don’t answer. And with the mild exception of my CEO (who might gently tease you for “hiding”), no one really cares if you are on camera or not. Since I work in office, though, I usually don’t mind turning my on.

    3. Lea*

      Our calls are almost all on teams now? Many people message first but not all.

      If you’re away from your desk just call them back but honestly This person sounds kind of whiny.

      ‘ What, I’m not going to drop everything to answer an unexpected call from my boss’s boss?’

      YES??? Are they new to work?

      1. TruetalesfromHR*

        The fact that someone is complaining about taking a call (even if it is on video) without it being pre-scheduled boggles my mind. I’m going to go out in a limb and assume that they don’t remember life before caller ID.

        You don’t always know when someone is going to want to talk and it’s ok if you’re not able to answer- it happens. But to then complain about people wanting to see your face when it’s during work hours really makes me think the letter writer is the kind of employee who treat WFH as a quasi day off when they aren’t expected to behave the same way they do in-office.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Or they are WFH and not dressed/groomed for video all the time. I’m totally fine taking a voice call in any state, but I’d like to know that I should put on a nicer shirt and brush my hair for video. No one but my family should have to look at me in my comfy t-shirt and messy bun/braid in which I have stuck all my reading glasses and writing utensils

          1. Lea*

            I mean…you’re still at work? If you were in an office you would be expected to be at least mostly presentable. I don’t actually think that’s too much for a workplace to ask.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              Different strokes for different folks, I guess. They get the time I used to spend before 2019 commuting and grooming spent on work and all I want is a quick, “You ok for a video call in 5?” so I can throw on a shawl, brush my hair, and double check that my background is workplace friendly. If I am asking for too much, so be it, and luckily I am in a place where unannounced video calls aren’t a thing.

              1. Dasein9*

                Rising energy costs = less a/c, so I’m likely not wearing a shirt at any given moment. Doesn’t mean I’m not working.

                1. Loulou*

                  But if you worked in a place where people frequently called you on video, presumably you’d start wearing a shirt as a matter of routine. It’s not an insurmountable obstacle.

                2. Calliope*

                  I feel like you can still do that? Maybe don’t answer and send an IM to say “give me five”? I just feel like folks are creating a lot of problems that basic communication could solve.

              2. Flash Packet*

                I’m with DANGER. My company has greatly benefitted from my decrease in daily professional grooming. I spend allllllll of that saved time working. Because I would prefer to work than put on makeup, style my hair, and wear uncomfortable work clothes while sitting at home.

                So, sure, they can ask that I always be ready to be on camera at every moment of my WFH days even if no one ever calls me, but they’ll be trading off a higher level of output. Which is totally their call. If they value “pretty face to look at for a few minutes” over productivity, so be it.

                Thankfully, my company prefers a higher output of work.

                1. Lea*

                  This is just silly to me.

                  You don’t have to be ready to go on nationwide tv to talk to a coworker, I literally wear a plain t shirt much of the time.

                  I just find the people freaking out that someone might call them at work, a call they can decline, or call back later or what have you, a little silly

                2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

                  Reply to Lea: Except when your boss has coached you (this isn’t me, it was said to my manager) that you need to be more aware of and take a bit more time with your appearance during video calls with higher ups. Whether it’s right or wrong, how you look at work matters.

                3. OtterB*

                  Response to Lea (not sure how this is going to nest). They sound a little silly to you. You sound more than a little judgemental to me. I think it’s fair to say that different organizations handle this differently and different people have different preferences. I don’t think it’s fair to put your nose up at someone who doesn’t agree that your way is the One Right Way.

                  My organization doesn’t do unscheduled video calls so it doesn’t come up for us. But if I’m in the office, then I’ve deliberately dressed for the office and I have a presentable background behind me. However, because of our newly-renovated open plan office space (which is another story), I’m going to disturb anyone sitting near me if I have to take a video call without warning; with notice, I can move to one of our phone rooms. At home it’s the reverse. There’s nobody here to disturb, I will still pretty much always have a presentable shirt on, but I’m not sure what my hair looks like and my background is guaranteed to be messy unless I have a virtual background up.

                4. Flash Packet*

                  Lea — I’m a 55-year old, plus-sized woman. That’s three strikes against me right there, in Corporate America. There’s no way in hell I’m going to let my co-workers see me without makeup on and with my hair up in a frumpy (but comfortable) bun, because I don’t need the extra discrimination.

                  Sure, I wouldn’t mind being seen “au naturel” if I were the flawless-skinned, athletically-toned, 20-something I used to be. But I’m not. I have “liver spots,” thin eyebrows and eyelashes, broken blood vessels, and bags under my eyes that only go away with special (expensive) eye creams and creative makeup techniques.

                  I’m truly grateful that you don’t face the same discrimination I do, but this is the world I live in and I’d prefer to get more work done than spend a ton of money and time on my WFH days on the off chance some extrovert suddenly feels the need to see my face.

                5. Calliope*

                  I mean, if your office does video calls and you’re not willing to be seen without make-up, it doesn’t seem that different than going into the office and putting on make-up. Personally I am neither young and fresh-faced nor thin nor conventionally attractive in other ways and I haven’t found it to be any more career limiting to be on Zoom without a full face of makeup than it was to be like n an office without one but that’s my call and I’ve made it. Never being seen by your colleagues isn’t a reasonable expectation at most jobs and then it’s up to you to figure out what you’re going to do before you see them.

                6. Flash Packet*

                  Calliope — I was under the impression that the topic at hand was *unannounced* video calls, not “never let my co-workers see me, ever, under any circumstances”. Those two things aren’t remotely the same.

                7. Calliope*

                  They kind of are if you’re in an office where people do video calls regularly. It’s not any more burdensome than being in the office regularly (far less so actually). It can be a deal breaker for you but hardly is inherently unreasonable.

                8. Flash Packet*

                  And to be really crystal clear… when I’m at the office, I see people and am seen by people if I so much as get up and refill my water bottle or go to the bathroom.

                  That’s not an issue when I’m at home, where I *might* get two unplanned calls, tops. I usually get no unplanned calls. We communicate primarily via IM and email because I work with a lot of data. There is minimal collaboration and, when there is, we have scheduled meetings or someone says, “Got a sec for a call about XYZ?” And we are all 100% OK with not having our cameras on just because we need to talk. Our voices are important, not our faces. Back in the day, we used to only have telephones and successful business relationships were built with people who had no idea what each other looked like.

                  Requiring me to spend money and time on makeup, my hair, and my clothing every single day I am at home simply because someone who can’t function without seeing my face might maybe call me out of the blue is wasteful and dumb.

                  Again, thankfully my company values output over requiring people to be on camera for every single voice contact. As in, no, my company does not “do” unannounced video calls. We only do scheduled video calls.

                  Thank all the gods that we have enough sense to realize that there’s more than one way to work than the old-fashioned office standards (“But if you would have had to put makeup and dry-clean-only clothes on to go to the office every day, you should do the same thing at home! It’s the ONLY way to work successfully! If you don’t replicate the office environment at home, are you even working???”).

                9. Calliope*

                  Nobody said it was the only way to work successfully. But I also don’t think it’s an inherently unreasonable way to work. I probably have two scheduled video calls on an average day so I don’t think it’s much of an imposition to take a third or fourth that are unscheduled. Or to take a voice call and say “oh sorry, bandwidth issues” or “working in front of a bright window” if someone calls when I happen to be in my bathrobe (which certainly happens).

                  Like great if an office doesn’t do that or need to. But as someone who started a job remotely I actually do find it really useful to use gotten a sense of my coworkers’ non-verbal cues and body language via video call even if not everything is precisely scheduled. Again, anything can be a deal breaker for an individual – I have a boatload of them that aren’t for other people – but that doesn’t make it an inherently bad way to run an office.

                  I also push back on the idea that every woman can only answer a call in full face makeup because I feel like that does as much to make it an expectation for the rest of us as anything. I’m probably penalized for not being conventionally attractive but I have a nice career anyway despite barely wearing makeup and answering plenty of zoom calls in a t-shirt or frumpy sweater.

            2. anonymous73*

              No…you’re not. I have very few meetings on video. I’m usually in a t-shirt (or a hoodie in winter) with my hair pulled back. Not a big deal for my immediate manager or team members if I have to get on a quick call. If I know I have an important meeting (or I was going into the office) I would make myself more presentable. But when I’m spending the majority of my day staring at a computer and working ALONE, I shouldn’t be expected to be fully presentable without a little warning.

            3. Jack Straw from Wichita*

              Honestly, it is a bit much to ask unless you’re taking client meetings or VP+ or someone whose job is mostly on camera. I’m a trainer, and when training, I’m on camera for 7.5 hours a day for weeks straight, so my objection would be to someone calling me in the middle of delivering content (thank goodness for the DND setting on Teams).

              When not training through, I absolutely work my behind off as soon as I sit down. I’m usually doing that without a proper bra on and sometimes still in my nightgown and bed head at 11 AM—because I’ve been working my behind off from as soon as I sat down.

            4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              I just gave this a bit more thought and I realized for me the biggest thing that is different between unannounced video calls when WFH vs in the office video/cube visits is that at the office I have more control of my environment. More than how I look (because I end up with glasses and writing utensil bun in the office too), I like to have a few minutes to make sure my background is still as workplace appropriate and make sure I have the beasts settled before starting a call. Obviously not something I have to worry about at work because no one will have moved a bowel prep kit for a colonoscopy/cat ass/Mr. Gumptions work equipment that raises a ton of side-eye into my cube

            5. TiredAmoeba*

              Yea but wearing my rattiest pajamas and no bra isn’t an option in the office. I’m a WOC and I sometimes just keep my sleep cap on or braid my hair while I’m working if I don’t have any scheduled calls that day. I will take voice calls all day, but not unannounced video.

            6. Unaccountably*

              That depends a lot on whether you believe that work involves the production of goods and services, or whether you think of it as a performance art that doesn’t exist without an audience.

              I get paid to produce deliverables. There is no part of my job description that says that I am paid to perform Working. In fact, if everyone in my company spent all their time performing Working, we wouldn’t have a company left. We need people producing deliverables. Whether those people produce the deliverables while wearing business casual or wearing bearskins and woad is completely irrelevant to the fact that we have to produce deliverables to survive.

              On the other hand, if your conception of Working is something that is necessarily done *at* people, then yes, wearing the required costume is part of that job. Getting up early, putting on a tie, and commuting to the office – all integral parts of performing Work, for a certain mid-century concept of Work – are part of what you get paid for, and it is in fact unreasonable to not care how people are dressed when the deliverables are produced.

              1. Unaccountably*

                As an addendum, our CEO’s job is to perform Working to external stakeholders. If he didn’t do that, we wouldn’t have a company left either. He has to put on the suit and tie and go appear industrious.

                So yes, some work is performative, and that work is valuable. But not all work is performative. Failing to draw that distinction is killing off the more old-fashioned companies in my industry.

          2. Rolly*

            Then just say “I’m keeping my video off”

            It’s work. Just deal or speak up. If you want camera off for the privacy of kids in the background, or your space is not great to show your coworkers, then just tell people it’s off.

          3. DoNotReply*

            My daily wfh attire is a tshirt with hair just pulled up into a messy bun, no makeup. No one cares. Come on.

          4. This is a name, I guess*

            Honestly, if it’s internal, I just take the videocall wearing the comfy tshirt and the messy bun. Obviously, I will put on a real top if it’s external or I need actual authority. 9 months/year, I usually put some sort of large sweater over my comfy tshirt most days to mask the comfy tshirt. I will also put on a bralette (I have a large chest) most mornings. In the summer, I usually change my shirt from comfy tshirt to comfy shirt that’s passable as a work shirt on video. We’re pretty casual though…

        2. Essess*

          The video is an intrusive look into my home, and involves other people in my home other than me, unlike a phone call where I can have headphones. When you are in the office, everyone in an office is expected to be professional, but others in a WFH household do not have that requirement so unannounced video is not appropriate when WFH. A prearranged video call can let me arrange my work space for that time to have a work-appropriate background. For example, if I suddenly get a video call, if my husband is already in the shower then he will have to walk past me to get to his room to get dressed and will walk in my camera vision undressed before I can stop/warn him. Small children that run around unclothed also need to be corralled and pre-arranged to be elsewhere for a pre-scheduled video call which is unnecessary for a voice call because they are just visible but not audible. I shouldn’t have to explain/share these private reasons to a coworker to get permission to keep my camera off. It’s far too presumptuous to expect to view into someone else’s home without their consent ahead of time.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            Gives me time to tell Mr. Gumption to get dressed before coming downstairs so my coworkers don’t have to see full frontal nudity again. That isn’t an issue on voice only calls.

          2. Calliope*

            Just don’t answer with video then. The fact that someone else is on video doesn’t obligate you to be.

            1. The Rural Juror*

              Love blaming it on bandwidth. “We’ll have better audio if I leave the camera off. Sorry!” :)

          3. Rolly*

            Then just keep your camera off. Or say “can’t talk – call me in 10 minutes?” Or whatever.

            “I shouldn’t have to explain/share these private reason”

            ” It’s far too presumptuous to expect to view into someone else’s home without their consent ahead of time.”
            Does the video call actually turn your camera on without your permission? If not, then you’re consenting, and you don’t actually have to. Just keep the camera off and take the call.

            1. Essess*

              The original article states that the OP is harassed for not turning on the camera and not accepting an unannounced video call with video on. So they are being put into the situation I am describing.

            2. Zaeobi*

              Many times you don’t know that other members of your WFH household are going to show up during your unannounced video call – you may very well start it thinking it’ll just be a quick 2 min call, only to discover they want to chat for 20 minutes (at which point, Sod’s Law dictates one of said members will *have* to show up in the middle). The issue is that *unannounced* video calls = less/ no prep time.

              1. Anonanon*

                What about virtual backgrounds – do most services not offer those in some form? I know they can be seen as trying to hide something, but that’s exactly the point in this case – hiding the messy house/kids in the background etc. I have a company-provided background on my WFH laptop that’s on by default and that seems to work just fine for scheduled meetings and unannounced video calls (does not address the larger issue of not being camera-ready all the time, but for that it should be ok to leave the camera off, at least for brief conversations).

                1. Anonanon*

                  Well done, self, for not scrolling down and seeing this point was addressed directly below …

          4. Goose*

            That’s what the blurry background in Zoom and Teams is for! No one can see how many bras are on the couch in background :)

            1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

              Our org doesn’t allow the blurred background or a virtual background. It’s problematic for a variety of reasons, but they cite bandwidth issues.

              1. Zaeobi*

                I literally have a sofa throw draped over a rolling clothes rack, which I use as a makeshift photo backdrop for hiding all my mess on Zoom. But I agree it sucks to have to pull that out unannounced!

            2. AnonToday*

              Not everyone’s device is compatible with blurred backgrounds. My 2011 iMac can do it, but my 2021 Chromebook can’t.

              Not all teleconferencing software supports blurred or video backgrounds, either. I had a very awkward situation with some kind of meeting using software I hadn’t used before that not only didn’t use blur, it didn’t crop my video to 3:4 format so it got the wiiiiiiide screen view of my studio apartment, including the dishes in the sink off to the side of the backdrop that would’ve filled my Zoom background.

          5. Wintermute*

            I feel like we are in the process of re calibrating WFH norms. Absolutely, at peak pandemic everyone was sent home suddenly and a lot of professional norms around WFH were thrown out the window because we were all in the same situation– trying to make this work on short notice under incredible duress.

            But I’ve noticed that, rightly or wrongly, they’re starting to drift back towards more what the expectations were before for remote workers: that you’ll have a dedicated home office where you can put most of your focus towards your job continually, or at least a private area that is dedicated to work and free from disruptions.

            We’re still in a transitional phase, but I feel like increasing the WFH standards is making companies more comfortable with not bringing everyone back to the office, so that’s a tradeoff I’d gladly take. it’s a much bigger ask for them to abandon both office face-time AND traditional WFH norms of professionalism. It’s a much lesser ask to ask for full-time WFH or indefinite blended WFH if we accept increased standards for home offices.

          6. This is a name, I guess*

            I can see this. I have a sub-optimal home office, so I always always always have blur on, though, so I don’t even think about it.

          7. Unaccountably*

            If anyone needs a concrete demonstration of the truth of this comment, I would like to remind them of BBC Guy and his awesome, hilarious children.

        3. Peonies*

          But even when I am working in the office, I dress differently depending on who I am meeting with/what I am doing. Heading to court, got a suit on. Meeting with Senators and lobbyists, got a dress and blazer on. No one else in that day and I am cleaning out desks, got jeans and a washable blouse on. I am working for all of those scenarios, but my attire varies. So I don’t think it is particularly unusual for people to want a bit of warning for meetings where others can see them.

        4. Nanani*

          Yeah no. The world is changing fast. People, especially though by no means only women, have realized that the amount of time and effort wasted on “appearing professional” isnt worth it and therefore aren’t camera ready when they aren’t going to see other people.
          It’s got nothing to do with treating WFH as time off and everything to do with actual productivity vs appearances and fluff.

          1. allathian*

            I don’t wear makeup at work anyway, so it’s not really an issue for me. I think that for people who present as female who wear makeup every day, if they suddenly appear on camera without any makeup on, they’re going to look sloppy to others in a way that people who present as female who never wear makeup don’t, because their coworkers are used to seeing them like that.

            Not wearing much makeup hasn’t hindered me in my career, either, but then, I’m not particularly ambitious. I’ve been in my current position for 15 years and I could see myself doing the same job for another 15, until I retire. I’m an SME, so I do have to keep up with any technological changes that affect my job, but I’m not looking to change the job itself. I also don’t work with the public.

            I don’t get hit with a lot of unscheduled video calls, maybe once a month or so. At a minimum, most people contact me on IM first. Sometimes I’m the one who initiates the call, because some things are simpler to clarify verbally. With my closest coworker, if we need to talk, we always use video. He has a hearing impairment, and it helps him a lot to be able to read my lips when we talk. I’m happy to do that for him.

        5. Claire W*

          I’ve been working for ten years and never once have a gotten a spontaneous video or voice call in work without a bare minimum “Hey are you free?” message – even when working in the office people would message before just turning up at my desk. Maybe the spontanous call thing is a US work culture aspect, but for me in the UK I’ve never had it once.

      2. LMB*

        I am most definitely not new to work and this would be a new one for me. Even my boss’s boss would IM first and ask if I’m available to talk or send a calendar invite. Maybe in days gone by when there wasn’t technology to facilitate this type of communication just randomly calling someone was acceptable, but I’d consider it rude and out of the ordinary now.

        1. Me!*

          Same; my team lead at Exjob always messaged me first and we weren’t even on video.

        2. Distracted Librarian*

          “Maybe in days gone by when there wasn’t technology to facilitate this type of communication just randomly calling someone was acceptable, but I’d consider it rude and out of the ordinary now” — This. In addition to everything folks have already said, my unscheduled remote work time is precious because I have so little of it. It’s when I do focused work that can’t be shoehorned in 10-minute blocks between meetings. Sure, call me if there’s an emergency, but if it’s not bleeding or on fire, schedule with me.

      3. Certaintroublemaker*

        ‘ What, I’m not going to drop everything to answer an unexpected call from my boss’s boss?’

        My take on this was that LW doesn’t like unscheduled video calls because they interrupt their work (same, at least give me an IM first—luckily, that’s my work’s culture). So this line was to pre-empt any suggestion of, “Well just respond later in your own time.” LW already knows that’s not a solution because of course they will answer boss’s boss’s call—they just find it weird and distracting.

      4. JB (not in Houston)*

        I’m pretty sure that was the LW saying that OF COURSE they would take a call from their boss’s boss, and that’s why a suggestion to just ignore the call won’t work for them.

      5. Lorac*

        Yeah, I don’t consider this any different than your boss showing up at your cubical in person.

      6. Mr. Shark*

        But can’t you just do normal calls on Teams? That’s what we do. We substitute it for a phone. Someone sense me a message on Teams and asks “available for a quick call” and then we do the call on Teams, but we never turn on the video. There’s no reason to.

        1. allathian*

          Yup, normal calls on Teams for most people. I’ll make an exception for my closest coworker, because he has a hearing impairment and seeing my face on video helps him, because he can read my lips.

          On 1:1s with my manager, we also use video, but those are never unscheduled. That said, I’m basically always prepared for a video call, because my office is casual enough that grooming isn’t necessary, and I wear the same clothes I would wear at the office when I’m WFH, at least above the waist.

          1. This is a name, I guess*

            All these comments make me love my job. My boss sometimes pumps when we talk on video. (I don’t see the pumps at all. I’ve consented to this. It’s her preference.) I’m happy that she feels that comfortable to just live her life around me. I don’t mind at all.

    4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      If I miss a call in video or not, I just IM/email (depending on situation) that I’m not free to talk until _____ or, if I am free when I see I missed a call, I just return it without video and if the person wants it on for some reason I will turn it on if they want. We seem to be a video off group by culture for whatever reason so this has thus far only happened when people call and don’t realize their video is on.

    5. Generic Name*

      Often, I’ll just teams call someone if I see a green check mark (meaning they are actively online), but I typically message or email first if they appear to be “busy” or “away”. What really drives me nuts is when I am on a call/meeting and sharing my screen (and it therefore says “do not disturb”) and someone calls me anyway. I don’t know if they are using the app on their phone and it doesn’t show the status or what? It’s from a particular coworker who seems to have no boundaries, so I’m sure that’s part of it. She also never leaves messages, so I just wait for her to call back.

      1. allathian*

        Oof, that’s so annoying. Can you set your Teams to reject calls from this particular coworker when you’re sharing your screen? Even using the app on their phone should show other people’s status if it’s set up correctly.

        When we’re DND, the messages won’t flag on the screen. They’ll show up in the background, but won’t distract the presenter. Calls won’t go through at all, at least not if we’re sharing the screen.

    6. Flash Packet*

      I think the OP’s issue might be that her co-workers (especially those above her) *are* offended if she doesn’t turn her camera on.

      We got rid of our VOIP desk phones and now use Teams exclusively, so Teams calls are the same as phone calls. BUT it’s OK in our org to not turn your camera on if it’s not a scheduled meeting. Some people have their cameras on no matter what, so when they call me (or vice versa) — bam! — there’s their face on my screen. But I just turn off incoming video because it’s really weird to me to watch someone talking on my monitor when we’re sharing screens or just answering a quick question.

      I’m also not a fan of surprise phone calls. Like, you’ve got Teams open anyway, would it hurt to type a quick, “Got a sec for a call?” message before pressing the handset or video camera icons?

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I agree. At least on Teams I always know who’s calling. If someone who’s not on my contact list calls me on the phone and shows up as an unknown number, I’ll always have to ask people their names before we end the call, even if everyone I have to talk to at work is professional enough to introduce themselves when they call. I simply won’t retain that information otherwise. Some people have very distinctive voices so I’ll recognize them anyway, but my org has nearly 2,000 employees in 20+ offices across the country, and I can identify maybe 50 people by their voice alone.

    7. LittleMarshmallow*

      That seems fair to me… I know all company cultures are different but I guess I don’t see it as a requirement to have my camera on just because someone called me with theirs on. I work in a more industrial setting. I actually am more likely to be video presentable if I’m home rather than at work where I’ve been running around sweaty in a ratty tshirt and a hard hat (that hard hat hair is rough) so I almost never have my video on when I’m in the office (to be clear… I’m 100% in office… I only WFH like once every 6 months at most). If someone comments (and they rarely do), I usually just casually say something like “oh I’m not really set up in a good spot for video right now, if you need me to be on, you’ll have to give me a sec to move to a better spot”. I think I’ve only had someone be willing to wait for me to move once…. Granted… if it’s like my bosses boss or something I just do it but I so rarely talk to them (and almost never unannounced) that it’s really not an issue. Plus… the times I do talk to them usually I’m sharing my screen and if you’re doing a screen share there’s really no need for anyone to be on video… I find that by my office if you’re just casual and matter of fact about it no one cares.

      Oh… and usually. When I move I go to our conference room with the big window and sit with my back facing the window so I have that sort of anonymous interview feel to it which I find amusing. It obscures my appearance enough for me not to be self conscious without having to argue about if I should have my video on. I’m difficult that way.

    8. So sleepy*

      Saaaame! I honestly barely got dressed for like 18 months and then we got a new (and incredible!) GM who assigned me to a new director who actually values my skills and knowledge, and overnight, I was finally doing what I had been hired to do 6 years ago, which has just been a dream.

      All to say that I never know when I’m going to get a call from a director or the GM now, and I also realized awhile back that I come across a lot more positively to people when they can see me (I can be a bit direct if you just hear my voice, but I have very warm body language and am genuinely smiley, so video is just the best way for me).

      Buuuuuut although I call people all the time, and I usually have my video on, I always tell people I don’t expect them to turn their video on (unless they are used to it from me by now, or I know they know I don’t care what they look like and will put on their camera regardless).

      I do like to be able to see people, and I’ll 100% say “sorry, I’m not camera-ready at the moment” when I occasionally need to, but the nature of my role now is that there are a lot more unannounced called, so the best I can do is just make sure people know it’s all good! And once in awhile my outfit is just a giveaway (especially for those 8:30am calls…). It’s a new world. Trust that if they aren’t specifically complaining about your lack of video, that they probably don’t care. And pay attention to your work culture, too. At my work no one puts video on in group meetings, but in (scheduled) meetings with 3 or less people they usually will turn them on.

  2. anonymous73*

    That’s very odd behavior and I have never just been called on video out of the blue without a quick “do you have a minute” first. I would definitely ask your boss about it and find out the expectations. In the before times when we weren’t using video calls, if I was focused on something and my phone rang, or someone sent me an IM, I would ignore it until I was done my task. Unless it’s an emergency, it can usually wait. And I always make sure to update my status on any application available, so people know I’m busy and won’t be surprised if I don’t answer. Bottom line though is that if everyone seems to be okay with it, it may be part of the company culture that you either need to accept, or decide to put up with until you find something else.

  3. Stebuu*

    I think a lot of this is very job dependent. When I’m working on an application that has recently launched into production emergency “everybody available get on the line now” calls are a weekly certainty, and 100% expected and accepted as part of the job.

    1. Wintermute*

      Absolutely. In my job one of my major tasks is setting up meetings on short notice when things go wrong, getting all the stakeholders and teams in one place. In my greater department the expectation is that 100% of the time you’re available to join a meeting for a critical breakfix, even if you have to drop from a meeting or put other things on hold. if you’re the oncall the expectation is you have 10 minutes, if you’re not there’s more flexibility.

      That’s not true of other departments within my same company.

    2. allathian*

      Yup. But do you have cameras on, or are you sharing the screen and just on audio?

      I also think that if it’s a genuine emergency, people are perhaps given a bit more leeway on their appearance even if they’re on video, at least in a reasonably healthy company culture.

      1. Wintermute*

        it’s a mix, any given day half of us will be in the office and half from home anyway, and from the office using video is generally distracting so they tend to keep it off. If you were dressed wildly inappropriately that might get some mention but in general people have far bigger things to worry about than policing appearance.

  4. George*

    We do it not infrequently. Kind of like someone poking their head into your office/cube. Not a big deal in our workplace (with video).

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah I guess to me it feels like stopping by someone’s desk. Might they be away? Yes. That said, I do wonder what they are doing by video that they can’t do by phone. Perhaps they’re screen-sharing but that wouldn’t explain why they’re irked at OP for being camera-off. My office also defaults to camera-on at all times and there are certainly times that it irks me.

      1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

        but you don’t need to have your camera on to screen share. I would say its actually better.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Yeah. We screen share basically every meeting but almost never do video

        2. Essess*

          Exactly! The only real reason for video is if you have to use your hands to demonstrate something or draw on something that isn’t a computer screen tool.

          1. Calliope*

            People depend pretty heavily on body language and visual cues in communication generally, some more than others. Not vital but if you’re fully remote it can help to gauge that from your coworkers sometimes.

          2. Calliope*

            Not really. Humans do a lot of communication through visual cues. Obviously we can do without it but especially if you’re 100% remote, you lose something in discussions if you never see how your coworkers are reacting to things visually.

          3. un-pleased*

            As someone who studies human language professionally, this is false. Also, it assumes everyone hears well.

            1. allathian*

              Yes, but this only works if there’s no lag on the line. With lag, plenty of research shows that it’s actually harder to combine verbal and non-verbal communication into a seamless whole. The brain tries to do it anyway, which is why Zoom/Teams fatigue is a genuine issue for people who spend most of their working days in meetings.

              That said, during the worst of the pandemic when I’d been WFH for more than a year straight, it felt good to see people’s unmasked faces on the screen every once in a while.

              Things are better now, but when we first went WFH, it simply wasn’t possible to screen share and have video on at the same time. That was partly because we were still on Skype, so the presenter couldn’t see the audience anyway, and partly because the audio was so bad you couldn’t hear what people were saying if someone was sharing the screen and we had our cameras on.

              Even now I have to turn off incoming video if I’m attending a town hall meeting with more than 100 participants. For those, we use Teams, and attendees are expected to keep their cameras off and mute themselves while the presenter has theirs on, and if we have something to say in the Q&A, we’re expected to raise our hands and wait our turn, and then turn the camera on and unmute ourselves before speaking. There’s also the option to ask questions in the chat if you don’t want to speak up in a large meeting.

              That said, if I’m on a call with my closest coworker, we always have video on because he has a hearing impairment. I’d much rather have video on so that he can read my lips, because that lets him focus on what I’m saying.

      2. Smiley*

        It seems I may be an anomaly, but I enjoy having video on because it just feels more social and like there is an actual person on the other side of the screen. I’ve noticed that when cameras are on, the meeting is more likely to involve a bit of casual chit chat, and it just feels more similar to being in person. Especially if I’m leading a meeting, it’s nice to have the social feedback of people smiling or nodding or looking confused, and helps me guide the meeting. Otherwise I end up asking “does that make sense?” and things like that all the time so that people verbally give me feedback to make up for the lack of social feedback.
        I also find that without the visual facial cues, there are more interruptions and awkward silences (since you can’t see if people are about to speak, zoning out, sitting thinking, etc.).
        Obviously there are many reasons people would rather have video off, but where possible I think video on makes meetings more productive and fun

        1. Nancy*

          Agree. I like seeing other people. Coworkers asking for unscheduled discussions about work is not new, it’s just the format that’s not new.

          1. Lea*


            We have a ton of video calls. I just think peoples objections to wearing a shirt during work or what have you are really weird.

              1. Loulou*

                But meeting with colleagues is a part of work. People really need some perspective if they think being dressed is an onerous expectation.

                1. Just let me be*

                  I am *extremely* busty. What’s comfortable for me to wear in the privacy of my own home is absolutely inappropriate for work. I hear your “just throw on a sweater!” I’m also middle aged. Throwing a sweater makes me look deeply frumpy, which can play into ageism. Same with the state of my hair, my lack of makeup (I look like a corpse), and the six pairs of reading glasses I have absentmindedly stored about my person. No one needs to see me that desperately!!
                  We have been working in distributed team structures for *decades* and no one got this exercised about seeing their coworkers! Quit being weird about it!

                2. Loulou*

                  Just let me be, this is a hugely disproportionate response to “wearing clothing while at work is not an unreasonable expectation.” My god!

                3. Calliope*

                  Ok so as a busty woman, the camera is set up to point at My face. Nobody sees below my neckline and it becomes a non issue.

                4. Calliope*

                  Also if your industry has been remote for decades, fine? Most people aren’t in that situation and it’s not that weird to see their coworkers visually sometimes.

                5. EventPlannerGal*

                  Just let me be – no, sorry, it is absolutely wild that you think other people are “being weird” by saying that occasionally having to put on a top is not an unreasonable hardship. Much like the people who were arguing that it’s understandable and fine to regularly fall asleep in meetings, this perspective is completely disconnected from reality. Sometimes as an adult human being with a job you will need to put on a shirt. I cannot believe that this needs to be stated on a work blog.

              2. Willis*

                If you need to work shirtless and know your office does spur of the moment video calls, maybe just keep one nearby to throw on? This isn’t really that difficult.

              3. Nancy*

                I have my camera set up to see my face, most time no one can see what I am wearing at all. They don’t know if frumpy middle aged me is wearing a sweater or not, nor does anyone care because we like seeing and interacting and seeing each other instead of black boxes.

              4. peasblossom*

                Wait. What? It is extraordinarily reasonable to expect someone in a business setting to have a shirt on (!!??).

                1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

                  I laugh at myself for sitting in my house wearing business casual ( I hate changing clothes so I wear the same clothes the whole day) but at least no one at work ever sees me shirtless) ( I’m a woman irl and I would feel a lot of shame)

          2. Zaeobi*

            Aaand also the fact that you’re not in a spot that’s already been set up for professionalism (on the company’s dime, I might add – unless they also want to pay for childcare whilst I’m WFH!). An often overlooked but important difference.

            1. Distracted Librarian*

              This is the key point IMHO. Give me 5 minutes to make sure nothing weird is visible and to give family members a heads-up that I’m going to be on a call.

        2. Flash Packet*

          I’m over here chuckling because my department of 20 people has a monthly all-hands meeting. When we first got sent home, the meeting happened with cameras off because not everyone had the proper set up. The meetings were chatty and jokey and full of good-natured teasing and involvement.

          Then we all got cameras to mount on our monitors and everyone sits there like a statue with their mics off. No head nods, no chatting. Just one manager trying in vain at the start of every one of the meetings to get people engaged but. . . crickets.

        3. Zaeobi*

          Aaand this perfectly exemplifies the struggles of teaching online when no student turns on their camera but you’re expected to maintain the same level of engagement/ explanation as if you were still face-to-face (because ‘2 years is plenty of time to have adapted to e-teaching by now’)…

          My favourite is that one student who always complains in their end-of-course feedback that they got lost but they never asked questions or gave me any indication of their confusion over video or chat (!)

    2. Quoi*

      Same here – it’s not that common in my current team (because we have so many meetings anyway…) but it’s seen as the remote equivalent of phoning or walking over to someone’s desk to ask a quick question.

      I would vastly prefer if people would use the chat function for this kind of thing, but I would have vastly preferred they did that when I was still in an office, and no luck then either…

    3. LPF*

      Same. Me and the people I work with regularly are all on video calls all day long, so it doesn’t seem weird or unexpected. I’m probably going to see that person on a scheduled video call in 10 minutes anyway.

      BUT. I don’t call the people I manage without a heads-up (they are not as constantly on video as I am). And my office is not strict about cameras on. If anyone ever has their camera off–even if it’s usually on–no one questions or hassles them. And also not a big deal if someone misses the call.

      1. Lea*

        Sometimes someone will say ‘I’m leaving my camera off because I’m eating’ and everyone says cool.

        But yeah otherwise same. It’s just seen the same as calling or popping by

        1. tessa*

          “Popping by” can so annoying. Please let it be an absolute must for me to have to break my concentration.

    4. DataGirl*

      Same happens at my work. Usually what happens is two or more people are already in a Teams meeting discussing something when they realize a person not on the call should be included or may be able to answer a question, so we ‘call’ them/ invite them to join into the meeting. So there is no notice, but a) we do not expect them to turn on their video if they answer and b) we don’t expect that they’ll always answer. It’s not really any difference from grabbing someone into a physical meeting or calling them on the phone to ask a question.

      1. Hydrangea*

        I’m in a 100% remote position and I treat it as if I am in person, meaning if I am at my desk during work hours I am dressed appropriately so I am always camera-ready. I have a dedicated work-space and family members know not to enter during work hours unless it is an emergency. Remote positions are highly coveted in my field so it is a small price to pay.

        1. Malarkey01*

          This is actually a condition of our company’s 100% WFH program. I embrace the “business on too, party on the bottom” approach so I at least have combed hair and a shirt that I can get away with (setting camera angle I can get away with T-shirt’s too). Makeup luckily isn’t a problem with the lighting. So for me it’s be close to a chair and family knows if I say “everyone out!” they need to move.

          Every culture is different but with everyone on video it does help all of us to keep the “in the office vibe” even though we’re at home and when I hear about everyone being forced back its a compromise I’ll accept.

          1. Lea*

            Yeah I have an office and I go log in, get dressed etc. we have video calls all the time and I look fancier for some of them when I know they are happening but I’m always ready to answer a call.

            Every so often I might work a few hours from the couch

            1. Rae*

              This was how I used to treat work from home. I felt like I had to prove that I didn’t look like I worked from home so I always wore something I could wear in the office. Hair controlled and even light makeup.

              Covid taught me that business casual does nothing to make me work better. And it reminded me that when I started in my field 20 years ago, I worked in an office but the people I worked with were all over the country. We had email, but it was way before anyone had pictures in their email signatures. I never met or even saw a picture of most of the people I actually worked with. Neither of which impacted my ability to be awesome at my job. So now I just roll my eyes when someone puts “cameras mandatory” on meetings. Good luck with that.

          2. DrRat*

            Every company is different and as someone who has WFH for years, I will 100% tell you this is NOT my company’s culture. Some people may be well groomed and well dressed but it is expected in my company that a lot of people look like dumpster raccoons at any given time, so expecting someone to go on video with no warning is definitely a no-go here. Also we don’t harass if you’re not on video at any given time.

    5. anonymous73*

      But it’s not the same. If I’m expected to take an unannounced video call, I’m inviting you into my home, not my office. There’s a big difference.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          My home is my home.

          I might be doing work from my home some days, but it’s still my home. If I’m WFH, the company is paying me for my labor, not for an all access on-demand pass to my home.

          1. Lord Bravery*

            Yes. If your employer wants any claim to your home or how it looks, they can pay extra to subsidize your rent.

          2. Lunita*

            I don’t really see how having video on is giving an “in-demand” pass to your home unless you are wandering around from room to room. You also have the option of blurring your background so people can’t see anything.

            1. morethanbeingtired*

              Not everyone has that option. My company gave up our office space and we are now all 100% remote. And while we all know to be on camera for client calls, it is entirely acceptable and no big deal if for internal calls we are off-camera. On days where I have no scheduled meetings, I will probably be wearing just a sweatshirt and not have on any makeup. If I were told it was a condition of my job to be camera-ready at all times, I would probably go find another job. Personally, I find video calls exhausting because it’s so much more intense face time than in a regular, in-person meeting. You don’t have eye contact, you’re way up close to everyone’s face, you can see everyone all at the same time, you have to sit very still AND you’re hyper-aware of your own appearance on screen. If I have more than 5 video calls in a day, I end up needing a nap I’m so wiped out from it. Whereas in-person meetings are incredibly energizing and I miss them terribly.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        This was true when office workers were suddenly required to work from home early in the pandemic. Today, if you are working from home, it is your choice. (You’ve either chosen to work from home while having an option to work in the office, or chosen to work for a fully remote employer.) Part of that choice is committing to having an appropriate place to work, whatever that means for you and the type of work you do.

        1. morethanbeingtired*

          You’re aware that there’s a housing crisis in this country where rents and home prices are exceedingly high, aren’t you? Not everyone can afford to live somewhere where they have dedicated work space at home.

  5. Sloanicota*

    I think this is something that has evolved over time (note, I do believe an unscheduled video call is not polite). Younger workers in my office avoid the phone, and don’t tend to pick up when you call even if they’re at their desk – they wait, check the message, and then reply by email. I have watched them do this. They probably feel about unscheduled phone calls the way I feel about unscheduled video calls.

    1. Princess Xena*

      I think today the spontaneous communication meta has really shifted over to email/text. I personally don’t like unannounced and unexpected phone/video calls but I would not be able to give a reason why beyond it stressing me out.

      Also, re: the phone; I think sometimes older office workers can underestimate how intimidating desk phones can be for people just entering the workplace (calling myself out here as a ‘young un’). No two brands are alike, they tend to be very noisy compared to texting/IMing or the buzz of a silenced smart phone, and they may involve multiple lines and steps beyond just calling a phone number. Yes, it’s very possible to look up the model and learn how to do it but that takes time and mental effort (and competency in Googling things that cannot always be assumed). When you have the option of the desk phone (which you may have to research) or the user friendly IM or email program, it’s no surprise that we will default to the program we’re familiar with.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        The last part made me laugh because I feel it so hard. I’m an old (hello 50 looking at me over the horizon, I’ll be there soon) but my particular field has never been phone heavy even when I started out in 1998. I’m guessing because even back then e-mail was easier because we’d be talking graphs/data so show generally worked better than tell. When I was working in my last office cube farm in 2016-2019, one day we heard this terrible noise and everyone ran around trying to figure out WTF it was. It was my desk phone. None of us had ever heard it ring in the memory of anyone near it and the most senior person had been there 12 years. It was a collections call for a former employee.

        1. allathian*

          My employer had eliminated desk phones by the time I started 15 years ago, and switched to smart phones for all employees about 4 years ago or thereabouts. I’m now on my second company-issued smartphone.

          I’m also an old, and the only time in my career that I’ve actually used a desk phone was when I worked in the back office of a bank for a while in the early 00s. Even when I worked in outbound call centers in the late 90s and early 00s, we used computer dialing software of some kind.

    2. beanie*

      I agree – it also occurs to me that with cell phones and Teams, there’s this feeling like we have to always be available and answer no matter what. But it should be ok to not answer if you’re not available.

    3. Sillysaurus*

      That’s so interesting because I’m older than most of the people I supervise and they video call me randomly all the time. Usually for very valid reasons, like they need my help and the easiest way to get it is to screen share, but still. I’m the one who always checks if they’re available first. I chalked this up to the youths being more used to FaceTiming and TikToks or whatever.

    4. Distracted Librarian*

      I’m 55 and I do this. The vast majority of my phone calls are from vendors trying to sell me something, so I’m not going to break off what I’m working on to answer a call unless I can see it’s a colleague calling. I almost always respond to voicemails with an email because it 1) avoids hours/days of phone tag; 2) allows me to provide requested information in a well-thought-out way with attachments if needed; and 3) it (hopefully) trains the person to email me next time so we can avoid this entire song and dance. I mentioned this upthread, but the majority of most of my workdays is spent in meetings, leaving me with little time in the standard workday to do the follow-up work from those meetings plus various projects that require extended periods of concentration. I try to keep my work hours to ~40 for my own health and wellbeing, so I’m *very* protective of my non-meeting time.

  6. K Robinson*

    I definitely had a narcissistic psychopath of a boss who would surprise video call me regularly. The second or third time she did it, I called her back less than five minutes later–I had been grabbing an apple for lunch in my downstairs kitchen before running back up to my office. In her nastiest tone, she asked me what it felt like to have time for lunch, and dared me to ever miss a call again. I don’t work there anymore.

    1. 2 Cents*

      Were you supposed to starve? Just never use the bathroom? What a weirdo. Glad you’re out of there!

    2. Sad Desk Salad*

      My team had a similar experience at a previous employer, pre-pandemic. We were permitted to WFH one day a week, and it was up to the boss to determine who got which days. Fine, no problem, that was all great. But you don’t answer a surprise call ONCE and you are called to the carpet. My colleague was once yelled at for being in the bathroom for one of these calls. To be fair, I guess, the same boss would have a hissy fit if she stopped by your desk and you weren’t in your seat. You could be in a meeting, in the bathroom, at lunch, or on PTO and she’d get miffed no matter what the reason.

      Sad, sad people.

    3. TechWorker*

      This feels like the sort of boss who would time your bathroom breaks if you were in the office tho – the problem is the boss, not the communication medium.

    4. J*

      I think a lot of people don’t realize how common this can be. At my last role, if I dared to take a bathroom break I’d inevitably get a surprise video call and then my boss would note how disappointed she was that I wasn’t making myself available during business hours. I was bringing my phone to the bathroom with me and finding myself rushing to pee instead of first thinking she was a messed up person. I hear the video software ping me now and I cringe automatically. My new boss regularly takes calls from her kid’s various activities’ parking lots and works out in the middle of the day and I still panic a bit but I’m healing from it and I’m forcing myself to take walks to grab coffee in between scheduled meetings to keep the balance.

  7. Andri Byrne*

    We used to do this at a tech company I worked at – calling or pulling developers/QA into calls as necessary to resolve an urgent problem. Granted, this was more prevalent when everyone was in office, but it wasn’t uncommon with WFH. For the most part, it was alright to have your video off if you weren’t comfortable; it was just easier for us to already be in the setup to share our screen and show the issues we were seeing.

    1. sara*

      We do this sort of at my work (I’m a developer at a tech company). Except the “phone” doesn’t ring, we just send an urgent chat message with a video call link. It’s a system that works pretty well for us, and definitely no issue with video being off, thank goodness!

  8. Scottish Teapot*

    I’ll be honest we all do this in my work. It used to annoy me but now im used to it For me i treat it no differently to an unannounced calls. If I can’t /don’t want to take it l, I message the person and say I was busy or “just seen the missed call”. I think it’s perfectly ok to either ignore the call or not use the camera if you are busy or really can’t take the call. My advice is to ignore the call if you’re in another meeting and either call them back or message them when you free to talk.

  9. hybrid homie*

    I have definitely heard of this practice, as appalling as I find it. My company is hybrid with a big WFH culture even in the headquarters city, and we definitely have a “camera on” culture for most Zooms, but I cannot imagine someone Zooming me (or vice versa) without asking via Slack first.

  10. Becky*

    It honestly drives me crazy when coworkers chat me just to ask if they can call me. I finally said, “I appreciate that you’re trying to check with me to see if I’m available, but you can just call. If I’m not available, I’ll call you back when I get a chance.” We don’t use the video, though.

    1. mreasy*

      And I am driven crazy by the opposite as I am extremely averse to checking voicemail!

      1. Miss Muffet*

        SAMMMMME. I loathe checking VMs and I’m not sure if our Teams setup has it. We typically just ping each other and say hey can we chat now? or let me know when. And then call on teams. But almost never on video.

        1. allathian*

          Yup, same here, although for us it’s about 50/50 whether it’s on video. I used to have VM on my old dumb phone, but my smart current one gets so few calls that I haven’t bothered to set it up, and my manager hasn’t said anything so I assume it’s fine. Even if someone calls, I almost always ask them to contact me on our ticketing system or by email anyway.

      2. Anonanon*

        I don’t think we have voice mail, but on Teams (and Skype) I get a notification that so and so called, and then the expectation is that I call back when I get the chance. I do have some colleagues who do not seem to return calls in a timely manner when they are back and that is extremely annoying. If the subject wasn’t time sensitive or did not need significant back and forth I would have just sent an email or IM.

        In my office we also have people who will use IM for even extensive exchanges and it drives me batty. I find it much more disturbing to my work to have that chat-icon flash, then having to type an answer and then wait for the return comment than just jumping on a quick call to resolve the issue.

    2. No Tribble At All*

      I once sprinted across the house while cooking lunch because I got a unexpected call. It could have been an IM.

        1. Raboot*

          They’re describing dropping literally everything for the call but you think they issue is they’re not flexible enough?

      1. Calliope*

        Or you could have not answered and called back later and said “hey, I stepped away to grab lunch”.

        If someone reacts unreasonably to that it’s a problem but a phone call is not usually subpoena.

        1. louvella*

          Yup, I mean when I’m preparing lunch I wouldn’t even see that someone was calling me because the sound would be off and I wouldn’t be near my computer.

        2. Loulou*

          Right! Racing across the house with a frying pan is not the only possible response to an unscheduled phone call.

    3. Me!*

      This happened at Exjob because the people who needed to call me weren’t physically in the building (they were on the road or at home if they weren’t traveling). So they would ping me to see if I was at my desk. If they were in the office, they just popped into my cube, so it would have been weird to message.

      The folks in this office where I’m temping usually message on Teams even if they’re five feet away. It’s so quiet in here I feel like I’m shouting if I speak normally.

      (In case you’re wondering why I’m on AAM, I have permission to go online if there’s nothing to do.)

  11. CG*

    Totally normal at my company. You don’t have to be video-on though, IMO. We say “I wanted to answer and see what’s up but I’m not camera ready!” Or I just don’t answer. Or ask the person to give me a heads up in future!

  12. emc*

    I very much believe there’s almost no reason to ever call someone (video, phone, or otherwise) without at least a courtesy warning IM to check if they’re free. You wouldn’t just start talking in an office without checking if the person is busy; the same courtesy should apply to calls.

    My professional boundary has been that I almost never answer them, and then follow up with an email or message a few mins later asking what’s up. When it’s someone I work with frequently, I outright ask them to give me a warning before calling.

    1. Critical Rolls*

      I would not consider this typical. Many workplaces have an expectation of reasonable availability by phone during working hours; many workplaces do not have an active IM system. If I’m genuinely unavailable, I don’t pick up, but “I prefer text-based communication” is not being unavailable.

      That said, video calls are much more intrusive, especially for people who telework, and there doesn’t seem to be much reason in this case for it to not be a voice-only call.

      1. emc*

        Perhaps it’s not common in your workplace, but I’ve never worked in professional office where there wasn’t an IM option. Regardless of what others would like, I simply don’t answer unexpected calls (with rare exceptions). Folks can email me or IM me, they can schedule me, or they can leave a voicemail. But it’s incredibly disruptive to my workflow for others to expect me to drop everything when *they* happen to be working on something.

        It’s never been a hindrance to good performance reviews or promotions.

        1. LMB*

          I agree with emc. This type of thing also disrupts some people more than others. I’m ADHD and unless taking unexpected calls was actually part of my job (like customer service) it would give me major anxiety.

          1. Calliope*

            That sounds like reasonable accommodations territory. For most jobs being around if a coworker or your boss has a question is part of the job but could be scheduled if they know it’s an issue for you.

            1. emc*

              Maybe, or like my original post was about, it can just be as simple as setting appropriate boundaries with and for those you work with, to the extent the workplace makes that possible. It doesn’t always need to raise to the level of accommodation. And any workplace that needed a written accommodation in place for me to say “Hey, I don’t do well with cold calls because it breaks my focus. Please IM or email me unless it’s an emergency” isn’t going to be a fit for me long term anyway. (I’m also ADHD)

              1. Calliope*

                Sure my only point is that it’s not an unreasonable default even if some people end up needing to change it.

      2. Spencer Hastings*

        I totally agree. Especially with more senior (and/or older) people who don’t use Teams as much, calling them on the phone and saying “hi, do you have a minute to discuss X?” is what works best at my workplace.

        (Email sometimes works too, but a couple of these same people are very bad at email, to the extent that I’ll send them an email on Thursday saying “here’s where I am with Project X, here are the questions I have, how would you like me to proceed?” and they’ll send me an email the following Thursday saying “where are we with Project X?” So if I have questions for them, phone is really the way to go.)

    2. Sloanicota*

      “You wouldn’t just start talking in an office without checking if the person is busy” – this varies a lot by office I think. It was very common at my last job for someone to poke their head in and ask a question, often with that fake knock where you just skim your knuckles over the door frame. In some cases when I have been on the phone, they have indicated that I should mute my call (more common with my boss or someone senior) so they can ask!

      1. emc*

        Wow, that sounds like an incredibly rude office! And one where I would have kept my door shut 100% of the time.

        1. Lunita*

          That’s pretty subjective. My last office was small and very much operated on an informal basis in that manner and I didn’t mind at all. It was also very common to call people without first checking if they are available. If they aren’t, I leave a voicemail. I would have found someone who kept their door shut all the time unfriendly. Just different styles of working.

    3. Antilles*

      You wouldn’t just start talking in an office without checking if the person is busy; the same courtesy should apply to calls.
      This must be YMMV, because I’ve been in the workplace for 15 years and that entire time, it’s been completely normal to regularly walk into someone’s office to discuss something (or have someone walk into my office for same reason). If the door’s open, you can walk right in unless they’re obviously on the phone or in a meeting.
      And if the door’s open but they’re busy, it’ll be a quick “hey, I’m under the gun on a deadline, can we discuss tomorrow instead?” and that’s that, no big deal.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yep people come into my office and plop down in a chair all the time without asking. Some people ask. Those people are generally not above me in the hierarchy though.

        1. LMB*

          Geez, it sounds like everyone works at Dunder Mifflin. Pre-pandemic/pre-fully-remote I worked in an open office and yeah some people would walk by and interrupt, but unless it was a really quick question it was the unspoken rule to say “do you have a sec?” first. And no one would walk into a higher-up’s office unless invited in. Seems like common courtesy.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I walk into higher ups offices too. As others have said it’s cultural.

      2. emc*

        I had no idea there were so many rude offices. I cannot *fathom* entering another’s space without stopping at the door/cube opening and asking, “Hi, do you have a second to talk about X?” Even for those who are lower in the pecking order. It’s common courtesy.

        1. Valancy Snaith*

          Then perhaps your work experience is out of the norm, because many, many places operate in this way. Not every workplace uses messages, not every workplace has employees who are strictly desk-bound, and not every office has an environment in which it’s rude or invasive to just stop by to ask a question or make a quick phone call. In eighteen years of work experience, I’ve never encountered an office so formal that I’d need to request to speak with someone for tiny little things, unless that person was way, way above me in rank.

          1. emc*

            To be clear, I’m not talking about the idea of dropping by a desk or office in general. I’m talking about the fact that normal human beings pause before launching into a question or issue, which in my experience happens by stopping briefly at the door or entrance. Even just a “Hi, name, have a second? I’m working on X” feels like the bare minimum such that I cannot fathom how offices work without that. Do you literally just walk into a cubicle mid question? What if that person’s on a call? Or reading something detailed?

            I work in wildly informal offices, and we still would never just plop in an office without being sure the person had a minute. How the heck do you get any work done if people are constantly talking at you with no warning?

            1. Calliope*

              I mean a video call rings? That gives you warning too. Not sure why saying “hey have a minute” makes it not popping in unexpectedly.

              1. emc*

                Because if someone says “Hey, have a minute?” in person or via IM you have options including “No” and “For what?” whereas a call lacks that flexibility.

                1. Spencer Hastings*

                  For a call, you have options including not answering it, sending it to voicemail, or picking up and saying “Hi, I have another meeting that starts in 10 minutes, can I call you back around 3:30?” (Voicemail is N/A for a Teams call, but otherwise the options are similar.)

            2. JB (not in Houston)*

              Yeah, I’m sure this varies by office, but every place I have ever worked, people feel free to stop by your office but always ask if you have time to talk before they launch into something. Maybe it’s because I’ve only worked places that practiced that courtesy, but I would hate working somewhere that assumes that I should always be able or willing to drop whatever I’m doing to have a conversation with someone about something else.

              1. allathian*

                Yup, I have the same experience as you do.

                Before the pandemic, when my then-managers worked at the same office, even if they were bad managers in some ways, they would never just walk in on me unexpectedly without knocking on the doorframe and asking, “hey, got a minute?” Even if they expected me to drop everything else and listen to what they had to say, they didn’t start talking about whatever it was until they saw they had my full attention. But these were my *managers*, who had a say in how I prioritized my work. Even so, other people, including some very senior ones, were fine with me saying “sorry, I’m working to a tight deadline, please come back later/send me an email and I’ll get back to you by the end of the day.”

                My current manager is very busy, which means that we have monthly 1:1s and only need to contact each other otherwise in genuine emergencies. She’s also working mostly remotely, or at another office, so just walking to her office wouldn’t be an option even when I’m at the office myself.

            3. Loulou*

              This is completely cultural. I live someplace where it’s seen as normal to just ask whatever you want to know without prefacing it with “excuse me” or whatever. That extends to my workplace too, and I’m guessing others.

              Almost nothing is universal — I think some readers here have a problem distinguishing “I don’t like this” or “this is not typical of my experience” from “this is wrong and bad.”

              1. allathian*

                That’s very true. However, it has to be said that if someone interrupts my focus, whether it’s an unscheduled phone call or by walking into my workspace, it’s going to take a moment for me to focus my attention on them. So I really appreciate the “got a moment?” because if they state what they want from me without that preamble, I have to ask what they want because what they’re saying goes in one ear and out the other unless I’m actually concentrating on them. I’ve learned to tune out irrelevant chatter because that’s the only way I’d get anything done at the office, and my job requires fairly deep focus. The same thing applies to many of my coworkers, who also appreciate that sort of heads-up.

                The “hey, got a moment to talk about X?” serves the same purpose on Teams, regardless of whether we continue chatting or start a voice/video call.

        2. Eldritch Office Worker*

          In my office if you’re not available you close your door. It’s not inherently disrespectful if there’s an implied communication system.

          1. Loulou*

            This! For us if you’re wearing headphones, people notice and don’t bother you. If you’re not, someone will say your name and ask whatever they want to know. I see that this wouldn’t work for everyone, but it is the culture here.

        3. Antilles*

          I think we’re just coming from completely different corporate/industry cultures, because it’s never been considered rude, at all.
          In effect, having the door open IS the signal that you’re available. There’s no need to ask permission to speak with someone even if they’re above you on the pecking order; if that person wanted to avoid interruptions, they’d have closed the door.

          1. emc*

            I guess I’m just genuinely confused. Do you just walk in, see someone typing, reading, working and start talking? Absolutely no breath, no break, no “Hey, is this a good time?” You just assume anyone can at any time immediately stop mid thought to address you? How is that not rude?

            1. Antilles*

              I don’t think we’re talking quite about the same thing here. It’s not that you’re walking in the door and instantly start spewing project details without even taking a breath…but but you also don’t need to check in advance or wait at the door to be invited into the office or anything of the sort.
              You can just sort of walk in and frame it with a quick “working on Alpha Project, wanted your thoughts” or “got a quick question” and that’s that. No more formality required than that. If the other person is in the middle of something, they can tell you to hold on a sec while I finish this email or come back later, no harm, no foul.

              1. emc*

                Yeah, maybe the difference is how appropriate it is to say,” Not now, can I catch you later/tomorrow/etc.?” and maybe how team based the work is. Most of my work is not team based, and the culture is generally to assume that everyone is working on things that are important and it may be an active imposition to interrupt them. When I’m writing, I need time to write. When I’m researching, I need time to research. I can’t always shut my brain off to answer a one-off question, and the same goes for my colleagues.

            2. CheeryO*

              I think we’re splitting hairs here. Yes, the polite thing is to ask if someone has a second, but the expectation in many office environments is that you are available to answer questions, so there’s a pretty high bar to turning someone away. That goes double if it’s your boss or anyone else who’s above you in the hierarchy.

            3. Elsajeni*

              I mean, a phone call also is not instantly launching into a conversation with no warning or preamble. The phone rings; that’s your chance to decide whether to answer it or not. If you answer it, the person on the other end usually says something like “hi Name, it’s Name, I have a quick question about the widget situation”; that’s your chance to say that now isn’t a great time for widgets can you call them back, or that really they need to talk to Other Person, or that you’re happy to help but you only have 5 minutes, or whatever. That’s why you’re getting a lot of reactions as if your comparison was to “someone knocking on your office door and saying ‘hi, I have a question about widgets'” — because a phone call is actually a lot more similar to that than to someone barging into your office and opening with “So if one widget leaves Kansas City on a train traveling at 55 mph, and the other widget–“

    4. Jessica*

      I think this is very role-dependent. I work at a large university, and in central campus offices, there absolutely was the expectation that you could cold-call anytime during the business day and somebody would answer the phone. Even down to academic department level, normally you could call OR walk in and there’d be some member of staff whose job it would be to respond.
      I think it depends on (a) whether you are public-facing, and also (b) is your organization large enough that it’s almost the same thing. Probably 99% of the calls to our university’s payroll office were from fellow employees, but we expected them to pick up the phone.

    5. Essess*

      Agreed. My job is internal so I will never get a phone call that isn’t from a coworker. My company-issued laptop has only 2 usb ports… One is used by the mouse, and one is used for my monitor. In order for me to take a call, I have to unplug my monitor and plug in my headphones (they are company-issued and connect through usb). So if someone calls unannounced, I have to scramble to try to grab headphones, swap usb ports, wait until all my screen windows stop bouncing around because they are rearranging into 1 monitor so that I can click on the ‘answer’ button once it finally stops moving on my screen and many times I can’t get to it before it hangs up. A quick i/m first would have let me be able to answer it efficiently.

      1. allathian*

        Sounds like you need a USB hub splitter, or a laptop that has more than 2 USB ports, if your organization prioritizes availability through unscheduled calls, or if your laptop has a 3.5 mm jack, a headphone adapter. Neither the headphone adapter nor the USB hub splitter are expensive.

        I have a similar issue with my current computer, in that I use a 4K screen at home. For some reason I haven’t been able to fix the settings so that I could use both the laptop’s own screen and my big screen simultaneously, so now if someone wants to see me on video, I have to unplug the big screen and lift the laptop lid, because I don’t have an external camera, nor do I want one, at least this way I’m sure that nobody can switch the camera on without my knowledge.

      2. Anonanon*

        I experience this with some of my coworkers at times. But it’s no big deal if they cannot answer right there and then. However, I do expect them to call me back when the tech issues are solved (or at the very least send an IM to explain the situation, and ask me to call back in a few minutes). For the coworkers that have this issue, I try to remember to send a quick message before calling (although experience shows that them noticing and responding to said message quickly, even when “green”, is 50-50).

  13. Voodoo Priestess*

    Oh man, we do this! But like others have said, we treat it more like dropping by someone’s desk and we never harass someone if they answer but don’t turn on their camera. And it’s usually in the context of trying to solve a challenge and thinking “Oh! We should ask Ted! This is totally his area of expertise!” and then we call Ted hoping he’s free.

    But it doesn’t feel rude and even if it’s my boss calling me and I either miss it or don’t turn my camera on, there’s no blowback. We’re more and more remote, so we’re trying to adapt and not lose the ability to get the right people in the right conversations without needed to merge calendars and get something officially scheduled in the future.

  14. louvella*

    This happens at my work but it doesn’t bother me because I usually just don’t pick up. Honestly I can’t get my headphones connected to Bluetooth that quickly even if I’m sitting at my desk. So I’ll just message and be like “hey I’m available in five minutes” or “I’m busy this morning but I can find us a time on our calendars for this afternoon, or if it’s urgent feel free to send me an email.” Never been an issue.

  15. Jean*

    I don’t even answer facetime calls from close personal friends without a heads up first. I’m firmly on team Camera Off, and at this point I don’t even feel the need to justify it. Go look at my LinkedIn profile if you want to see me so badly.

    1. Sauron*

      With you there. The appearance of my chest/face area has absolutely no bearing on how well I do my job. In fact, it’s been nice to decouple my appearance entirely from my work self, and be able to wear whatever is most comfortable during the day. I used to get digs about never being on camera from people, but my work is solid, I’m helpful and people have by and large realized that not being on camera doesn’t mean I’m not listening.

    2. SnappinTerrapin*

      I enjoy video calls with the grandchildren on my wife’s phone.

      On the other hand, I am a bit of a curmudgeon. I prefer a flip phone. I did purchase a computer-phone for business use, but the first app I deleted was the one for video calls. I don’t need it for my work. Voice and text communications work just fine. The fancy phone allows me to attach photos to texts or emails.

      I still prefer the flip phone for talking.

  16. MD*

    We do it all the time – it’s the same as turning up at someone’s desk if we were in the office. If I can’t answer I just call back once I’m somewhere I can answer.

    1. Jean*

      OK but even turning up at someone’s desk merits a “Hey, is now a good time? I have a question.” Hopefully you don’t just rock up and start in on what you wanted to say without giving them a chance to ask to reschedule at a better time.

      1. Miss Muffet*

        right, or you would look to see if they look busy/engrossed in something/etc.

      2. emc*

        This is *exactly* my feeling on the “it’s like dropping my somebody’s office!” argument. Office doors close, I can turn you down if you show up in my cube and I can’t talk right then. A random call is much more invasive/demanding.

        1. louvella*

          But you don’t have to pick up a random call. I don’t know, it feels the same to me. I never pick up if it’s not a convenient time for me.

          1. louvella*

            (Biggest difference is that often a reason I don’t pick up is because I need to put on a bra first, which was less of an issue in the office.)

          2. Former Young Lady*

            It super depends, though. Is the caller the type to fling emails and IMs and calls at you until they finally catch you? Some workplace cultures don’t discourage that kind of multi-channel badgering like they should.

            (The Before Times version of this was the person who sent a normal-priority email and then immediately ran to your desk to ask if you’d seen it yet, or the person who left a five-minute voicemail and then called back to leave another because you hadn’t answered the first one yet.)

            1. louvella*

              That would definitely be annoying. Usually when someone calls through Teams and I don’t pick up they just message me and say “Hey, I was hoping to talk about [issue], do you have some availability today?” and I say “yeah I’m available at this time” (whether it’s in two minutes so I have time to put on a bra and brush my hair or later in the day) or “I’m pretty slammed, if it’s urgent can you send me the info in an email?” and that works out fine.

            2. Lea*

              If you called me for something, miss me, and then send me an email I think that’s fine?

              Sometimes when you call somebody at work you actually need something quick

              1. Former Young Lady*

                That’s not the pattern I’m referring to, though. I’m referring to the coworker who expects everyone to be accessible to them all the time, and keeps pursuing different communication channels until you drop what you’re doing.

                The overlap between that Venn circle and the Venn circle of “people who video-call you without warning” is significant, if not substantial.

          3. Lydia*

            This is something I’m getting better at, but it’s hard to train yourself out of answering right away. However, I’m not going to ask every time I need to call a coworker. Part of being a coworker is working with other people and being flexible.

            1. Workerbee*

              This is where I come down on the side of me being flexible enough to send an IM asking if it’s a good time to call. It’s an extra but necessary courtesy step when you don’t have immediate visibility into what the person is currently doing.

              1. allathian*

                You got it. I can’t ignore a ringing phone, even if it’s set to vibrate. I can reject the call, but I have to react to it in some way.

          4. Joviter*

            To me calling out of the blue indicates that it must be really urgent (it’s a bit circular. Since it’s strange to call without chatting first, then why would someone do that unless they really need to talk to me right that second)

        2. whistle*

          Just don’t answer if you don’t have time for the call. A phone ringing is not a subpoena. However someone asks if I’m available, whether it’s through IM, email, text, or a phone ringing, I can answer no. It is a brief interruption no matter the format. I really don’t understand this idea that a phone ringing is rude, but an IM saying “do you have time to talk” is not. They are the same thing.

          1. allathian*

            Depends on how good you are at ignoring a ringing phone. For me it’s totally impossible to do that. I can reject the call, but it still breaks my concentration enough that I might as well answer the phone. The courtesy IM just makes it a lot easier for me to handle the interruption, and to get back to what I was doing afterwards.

            If I’m so busy that I really can’t be interrupted at all, which happens surprisingly rarely, I put myself on DND or log out of Teams altogether and switch off my work phone, and then I announce my lack of availability on Teams and as an OOO message on email. This happens maybe once or twice a year, and I always ask my manager’s permission to be unavailable to this extent, and give a heads up to my closest coworker. My manager and closest coworker also have my private cellphone number, so they can reach me if there’s a true emergency and I need to get out of my cave. So far, that hasn’t happened.

        3. MD*

          You can set do not disturb for times where you really don’t want to be interrupted – and make exceptions for key people. Same as a closed door.

      3. MD*

        Surely the ringing of the phone call is the equivalent of asking if someone is free to talk! If you’re not, just decline and send a message. If you are, pick up the call.

        1. The German chick*

          This. The whole discussion is mindblowing to me; unannounced video calls have been such a standard in my work life that I never would have guessed it could be an issue.

        2. allathian*

          It’s really dependent on the culture and the job, and to some extent on the person. I think it’s more reasonable for the person who wants to talk to do more of the work by asking if someone’s available, and then they can either accept or reject, rather than make the person who doesn’t have the time to talk do more of the work by rejecting the call and sending a message that they can’t talk now. It sounds really impolite, and I can’t imagine that many managers would be happy with their reports doing that, even if they’re happy to IM first to ask about availability, like my manager is.

          Whether I can talk or not often depends on what the other person wants. If it truly is a quick question I can answer off the cuff, I’ll often do that even when I’m too busy to talk about something that requires a bit more research.

    2. ABBBK*

      yup, we do it all the time. this is generally what happens: people are on a casual call (with/wo video depending on peoples moods), they say OH! it would be great to get Bob’s opinion on this, we can’t really move forward with out him. Is he free? Check his Teams status: yes, he’s green. so: we could either ping him, wait for a response, then add him to the call, or we could just call him and see if he picks up. That extra few mins of chatting, seeing if he’s free, then making the call is frequently super awkward and it’s more seamless to just call and see if he’s at his desk. No one here is really required to be on camera so it’s up to him if he is or not.

    3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I’m betting all of this is down to office culture and the norms are going to vary as much on this as any other purely cultural topic.

      One of my offices asked that people not just turn up at people’s desks because it was disruptive. We were in an overcrowded cube farm, usually with folks 2-4 to a cube (managers had private cubes), so if you wanted to chat you were encouraged to IM, phone if necessary and if it was short, and to IM to meet in a conference room if it was going to take more than 5 minutes. I thought it was a bit weird, but I liked it because that place got LOUD fast if more than 10 folks were talking

  17. Anna Badger*

    This is going to make me sound like much more of an old codger than I actually am, but: in myyyy dayyyyy, we didn’t have instant messaging, and in a multi-site organisation the only way to get hold of someone at another site for an actual conversation was to call them. (It’s also worth noting that I was working with old-school retailers who were excellent at everything they did for their actual jobs, but not all great at getting thoughts down in writing – I was in internal comms, so the writing bit was my job.) I called people all day every day, people called me all day every day, and there was no expectation that any of this would be planned in advance.

    These days I work for a company where we Do Not Unilaterally Make direct calls – if you want to talk to someone then you send them a DM saying ‘do you have [however long the call will take] for a call?’, and you do not press the button until they have confirmed that they do indeed have that many minutes. This works much better for me. That said, I don’t think I’d find this workable if I needed to have as many quick unplanned calls as I did in the good old days of retailers who were afraid of writing.

    1. anonymous73*

      I think regardless of what was available when you started working (we didn’t have IM in my first job either), it’s about courtesy. If back then there was only phone contact, you would leave a VM if they didn’t answer and you wouldn’t give them a hard time if they weren’t able to pick up the phone right away. Just because someone is working and you need to contact them about a work thing, it doesn’t mean they can drop everything immediately and speak to you. So whether you make phone calls, send IMs or emails, or drop by someone’s office/desk, you need to make sure they have time to stop what they’re focused on and discuss something with you.

      1. TechWorker*

        ‘What happens if the call is missed’ is almost an entirely separate topic from ‘is it reasonable to call without warning’ though… I think most/all people would say it is not reasonable to expect people to be always available to answer, or to give them grief if they’re not there.. but thats still consistent with thinking it’s not rude to try the call.

  18. Nojokeshere*

    If a call comes that you don’t feel prepared to take, simply don’t answer. It doesn’t have to be that big of a deal.

    1. louvella*

      This feels like when people don’t like getting emails after work hours. Like, I don’t care if my boss emails me at 8 pm because it would literally never in a million years occur to me that I have any obligation to respond to it. And I would never pick up a call that I wasn’t prepared to pick up. If there are consequences for having boundaries, then that’s another issue, but the first step seems to be to trying to have those boundaries in the first place.

      1. kathjnc*

        Exactly! I work with reasonable people – I assume reasonable intent (they don’t expect me to be glued to my chair waiting by the phone all day, nor do they expect I’ll see emails until regular hours roll around). That’s certainly my expectation when I’m the caller/sender!

      2. Lea*

        Same! Email me at 8 on Sunday all you want I’ll just answer on Monday morning.

        If it’s urgent everybody has my cell.

        1. louvella*

          Yup. And if I email someone in the evening, it’s not because I think they should get back to me that evening…it’s because I’m flexing my schedule to accommodate my own life and I’m assuming that if you’re not working you’re not getting alerts when you get emails so you will see it when you are working again.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            Absolutely. I’m a night owl and generally start work right when business hours start (and stay late if necessary), while one of the people I work with the most likes to start early. So it’s as though we’re in different time zones, even though we’re in the same city. :D

            I send him emails after he’s gone for the day, and he sends me emails before I get in, each under the assumption that the other will see it when they next log on.

            1. allathian*

              Yup, the same thing for me and my closest coworker, although in my case I’m the early bird and he’s the night owl. We also have very flexible working hours, with no core hours, which means that people are also free to take long lunch hours. Many people do that to go to the gym in the middle of the day when it’s less crowded, for example. But this extremely flexible working culture also means that meetings are never scheduled at less than 2 working days’ notice unless it’s a genuine emergency.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I absolutely agree.

      My office culture is to IM before calling using MS Teams, and I did share my preference to someone that unexpectedly called me without an IM. But if someone calls and I’m on another call, I’m busy with something, or I’m simply not preared to take a call, I just don’t answer/decline. I may IM right after and explain I’m busy and offer another time for a call.

      * Also my office culture is no video because of bandwidth issues.

      But it sounds like the culture is different in this organization. You can still not answer when it’s a bad time for you, but unfortunately I think you need to adjust to how your office works.

      Depending on how often it happens, you may need to be prepared to end up on video most days if people are dead set on having video calls with you. But you can always refuse an unexpected call.

    3. Generic Name*

      This is where I’m at. I see people comparing a call (whether video or voice only) to someone stopping by your desk. Most people say “Hi, have a second?” or some other kind of greeting before they just launch into whatever they have to say. Well, the ringtone serves the same purpose. It’s the program telling you someone wants to talk to you. Then you make a choice to answer or not. If you’re busy (in a meeting or just away from your desk for whatever reason) you don’t pick up. They’ll either leave a voicemail or send you an email or they’ll just call you back. If you are available/want to take a call, you answer.

      I do try to check to see if someone is marked as “available” on Teams before I make an unannounced call, and I am slightly annoyed when I get a call when I am marked as “do not disturb” or in a meeting, but I just decline or ignore the call in that case. It’s really not that big of a deal. I guess people are still figuring out norms of this new technology.

  19. Purple Cat*

    I’m with you LW. I almost never answer unexpected calls – team, zoom, actual phone – doesn’t matter. At least give me the courtesy ping of “available”? On the rare occasion I do answer because I’ve been having trouble connecting with someone, it’s unlikely that I’ll put my camera on and would be really upset to be called out on it. Springing someone into a pre-existing meeting is especially egregious.

    I think a quick – “do you have a few minutes right now to discuss X” BEFORE calling isn’t too much to ask.

  20. Turtles All the Way Down*

    My company’s policy is pretty much always video on (excused if you’re not feeling well, everyone mutually agrees to not use it, etc). I’m a client manager, so I’m on external zoom calls quite a bit, which is why it makes sense. Most other people in my company have at least some client contact some of the time, so they might not be zoom-ready every day, but often enough. Anyway, I don’t think it’s weird *if* that’s the company’s culture and they have reasons for it. You wouldn’t be weirded out, per se, by someone popping their head in your cubicle at an office.

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      sticky notes are VERY helpful for this sort of thing

  21. Amtelope*

    I dislike even unannounced phone calls, and thankfully the norm at my company is to email or message the person to ask if they can get on a call. Unannounced video calls? I don’t really want my coworkers to see my gym clothes, or pajamas, or whatever I might be working in when people can’t see me.

  22. not a doctor*

    Huh, wild. No one’s ever called me without at least a quick “Are you free?” message first, and I’d be surprised to hear otherwise from anyone in my company. That just seems to me like basic sense when everyone’s working asynchronously.

  23. kiki*

    I hate commentary about cameras being off! A man on the leadership team at my company is the worst about this. If anyone joins a call with their video off, he’ll call them out and make a comment or joke, even if that person is barely necessary for the call and just listening in. I called him out on it once after a meeting where he was called out a relatively new mom for having her camera off in a meeting. I was just gobsmacked by that! There was no reason for her to have her camera on and so many obvious reasons a new mom would have her camera off!

    I know the camera commentary is not the LW’s primary concern, but this is my formal request to anyone reading that they don’t make these comments. They may seem light-hearted, but they put a lot of unnecessary pressure on folks.

    1. Jean*

      This drives me up a wall too. Good for you for calling him out. People who make these little “jokes,” please be advised that no one finds them funny.

    2. Lea*

      We have a strong ‘cameras on’ culture however
      1. I’m eating
      Or 2. My internet is being wonky

      Will shut down almost any commentary. Except one call I have where they are really weird

    3. DrRat*

      I’m glad someone said this. I feel like there is a lot of unspoken sexism/ageism/racism from the “everyone should be camera ready all the time!” people, even when they don’t realize it. And when they think it’s amusing to harass people about not being on camera, I really feel like that is a form of microaggression in many cases, especially when it’s men giving women a hard time, white people saying it to people of color, and younger people saying it to older people.

      I had a psycho manager once who insisted on me being on camera constantly right after my husband died and I was liable to burst into tears at any given time. I was about to quit over the issue when she finally quit (right before she would have been fired.) Someone who wants to breastfeed while attending the meeting, someone who looks awful because they just lost a family member, someone whose hair doesn’t meet white standards of “professional” hair without a lot of work, someone who is having hygiene issues due to mental health problems – trust me, none of them appreciate your so called “jokes” about not being on camera.

  24. niemandsrose*

    I am genuinely surprised and dismayed by all the comments here from people saying surprise video is normal now. For me, being camera-ready is a whole-ass *production*, involving maybe half an hour for clothes/hair/makeup, and that’s just to appear minimally socially acceptable so that my appearance is blandly professional and not distracting to others. If I’m going in to the office, I do this before I leave the house. If I’m WFH and have video meetings scheduled where I must appear with my camera on, I dress for work as if I were going in.

    However, if I’m WFH and have no meetings, I will be working in a tank top with no bra, my hair in a messy bun, and my face in all its makeup-free heavily-scarred glory. Voice call me, yes, screenshare with me, yes, but anyone who wants me on-camera needs to schedule that shit 100%. Women are subtly punished in the workplace for not looking serviceable, and for me–and I am just speaking for me here, I don’t know about anyone else–that involves a lot more than just throwing a blazer on over my wfh tshirt.

    1. louvella*

      I just figure that my unwashed hair and ratty t-shirt is par for the course with an unnanounced video call. (I will often put on a bra, or just a hoodie that makes it less obvious that I’m not wearing a bra.) But I didn’t wear make-up when I went into the office either.

      1. Mary*

        As long as you look clean and neat it should not matter to the caller how you are dressed as long as it is work appropriate. I would assume that it might not be your standard of work appropriate, hair gleaming, full face, power suit, but clean and neat should be the minimum. It should be anticipated that video on will become more of a norm for hybrid and wfh because People will try to get visual cues about your interactions.

        1. niemandsrose*

          Genuinely curious whether the time-consuming and expensive cover-up of my extensive facial scarring falls under people’s idea of “power suit, over the top” or “basic clean & neat.”

          1. louvella*

            That’s a good point! I don’t think it should, obviously, but I can see how this sort of thing could absolutely impact you unfairly. (I also don’t work for a place where it’s weird to just leave your video off, and I hope you don’t either!)

          2. Eldritch Office Worker*

            To me? Over the top if you’re working from your own home. But I’d defer to your comfort.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              To be clear I also wouldn’t expect you to do expensive and time consuming makeup to come into the office but your phrasing says to me that’s your norm.

          3. zenocelot*

            I’m curious about that too. This is just one example of ways that workplace norms can impose extra cost on people with disabilities. For me, extensive facial scarring would maybe be surprising the first time if I’d seen you many times with a “full face,” but your wariness is presumably informed by many interactions with others.

            Thanks for adding this perspective!

          4. BubbleTea*

            I think you should be allowed to go to work (in person or on video) with your face however you feel comfortable with it – there is nothing unprofessional about having scars. But you said about not being distracting – if people haven’t seen the scars before, I can imagine it would be a huge annoyance for you to have people commenting and asking questions.

        2. louvella*

          I mean, my hair looked greasy as hell on the video call I was just on, but it was scheduled last minute so I can’t really bring myself to care.

    2. Lea*

      I don’t bother with makeup half the time and hair is generally presentable at least. I don’t worry about looking perfect for every random call and honestly most people don’t care

    3. Smiley*

      I think it’s highly dependent on your company culture. I’m the complete opposite of you – I’ve had scheduled video calls where I have wet hair, messy bun hair, a red face from exercise, wearing a t-shirt or with a blanket wrapped around me in winter. My company is pretty pro-camera, and so care more about seeing my face than what I actually look like. If it eases any of the pressure you feel, I guarantee that I nor anyone I know would blink an eye if someone joined a call with a messy bun or wearing no makeup unless perhaps it was like an extremely important client call (even then, no makeup would be totally fine). Maybe you can test the boundaries a bit with low stakes meetings to see if people do care as much about your appearance as you think they do. Generally I think our own appearance is one of those things that we think about a lot but others really don’t pay as much attention to. Obviously you know your workplace far better than I do, so feel free to ignore this advice if you don’t think it’s any good!

      1. Sauron*

        I like this idea – I am pretty anti-camera, but I do remember early WFH realizing after having spent a lot of time making sure I was properly dressed and had a pretty basic background, that others were not doing the same. After seeing coworkers post-run, holding cats, in busy living rooms, largely not wearing makeup, etc I felt a lot better about occasionally having my camera on in some more casual settings.

        1. Smiley*

          Yes, I think that if a company is very pro-camera on (like mine), it’s really only fair that they accept that people have lives and won’t always be looking 100% pristine at all times. I was similar to you where when I was first WFH, I put a lot more effort into having a totally empty background and a blouse and things, but then realised that no one really cared as long as the work was getting done.

      2. Filosofickle*

        The first time I attended a team call with hair wet from the shower felt so freeing! I was fully remote long before the pandemic and it did take a couple years of video calls to get past worrying about my background and beautification — sometimes I took more care on camera than I did in person — but that ship has sailed and thankfully have a team that shows up as-is. (You can always tell who has client calls that day because they are fancier. And even then only some clients.)

      3. allathian*

        Yes, my employer is fairly pro-camera as well, or at least my team and manager are. But we’re also a very casual workplace, so jeans and hoodies are absolutely fine at the office, although I usually wear a long-sleeved patterned t-shirt. My team also exclusively serves internal clients, so it’s a consideration.

  25. Former Young Lady*

    I had an outside contact do this to me one morning. I scrambled to look presentable in 30 seconds just for his unannounced video call, only to see the guy who initiated it looking like he just crawled out of hibernation.

    People are weird.

  26. SheLooksFamiliar*

    People call me on Teams all the time, which is fine. Heck, we used to use good old-fashioned desk phones to call our colleagues without notice, be they on another floor or in another country.

    But video calls on demand? That’s a different dynamic in the work-from-home world. I don’t pick up unexpected calls on camera and, if someone gives me static about it, I laugh them off: ‘My day starts at 6:30 in the morning and you don’t need to be subjected to how I look and feel right now. So, about the TPS Report…’

  27. Q without U*

    I am baffled by LW’s objection to dropping everything to answer a call from boss’ boss. Yes, that’s exactly what I would do. Maybe it’s because my boss’ boss almost never contacts me directly, but if a call (or video call) came in from there, I would do everything in my power to answer it, even if it meant leaving another meeting.

    1. CPALady*

      Me too! The more senior the person calling me is, the more I am going to to DEFINITELY TRY TO ANSWER THAT CALL.

      1. Lea*

        Exactly! I am honestly by these people who think it’s weird that they’re expected to be reachable during office hours? Or even basically presentable?

        I know you’re at home but you’re still at work?

        1. Be kind, rewind*

          Calm down, nobody is saying they shouldn’t be reachable during office hours. I don’t understand all the unnecessary snark on this thread.

        2. Lord Bravery*

          Reachable is never in question. People can be reachable via audio or text, email, etc. An unscheduled video call is annoying and unnecessary.

          And yes, absolutely if you’re working from home you should be able to have your hair pulled up unattractively and not wear makeup, unless you have a scheduled meeting where you already know in advance are going to be on video.

          1. allathian*

            Yup, this. But it has to be said that the requirement (or perceived requirement) of female-presenting people to have styled hair and wear makeup also depends a lot on the specific workplace. There’s no such requirement at mine, which also means that I don’t get into an anxiety spiral if I have an unscheduled video call. I don’t like unscheduled calls much, whether or not it’s on video.

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Note the situations she mentioned and that it is the video aspect that is the biggest issue:

      “Maybe I’m in the restroom. Maybe I’m in another meeting. Maybe this is my one 15-minute window of time to focus on my completely overflowing to-do list. Calling me unannounced would be bad enough, but now you want me to be on video, too?”

      Do you take calls from your boss’s boss (video or no) from the restroom? Do you interrupt the meeting you are currently in? For me, bathroom is hard no, meeting interruption is only if it is a possible no shit crisis and I am only meeting with internal folks, so #3 would be the only time I’d drop something to take the call short of a crisis.

      1. Calliope*

        So don’t answer it and call back when you’re free. I don’t understand this. It’s an issue if the boss’s boss throws a fit if you’re in the bathroom but not that they called you and you call back ten minutes later.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          But it sounds like that *IS* the LW’s problem: they are expected to answer, with video, when the big boss calls no matter what, including when in the bathroom or another meeting. Or am I completely misreading this (entirely possible!)?

          1. Calliope*

            I think they feel they are but it’s not clear to me that’s an external expectation vs. internal pressure they feel. Being expected to pick up a call while you’re in the bathroom – video or not – is legitimately insane and I wouldn’t assume anyone wants that unless you’re straight out chastised for not having done it.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              I wonder if this person always had/has their phone on them and in the Before Times was OK taking a voice only call in these situations, but was never expected to? Now that we are in the Age of Video Call, they are feeling put upon because they are expected to be on video when they take a call, but no one expects her to take a call in these situations now and would be surprised to hear that she felt that she had to take voice calls in these situations? This could be a total miscommunication? misassessment? misreading? of expectations around when calls, video or otherwise, need to be taken or can be ignored

          2. Q without U*

            I didn’t get the sense that the person was being pressure to answer calls if they’re in the bathroom or in another meeting. I just read it as that they were annoyed that they were getting calls with no advance notice, as if they thought the caller couldn’t imagine that they wouldn’t be available to talk.

    3. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      FWIW, it was worded oddly, but I read that bit as **of course** they would answer that call. As in, I can’t ignore that call no matter how I look or what I’m doing I will answer it.

    4. P*

      Last week I got a call from my boss’ boss and didn’t immediately answer, and I considered that notable! I didn’t answer because I was in another meeting with team Y to clarify something I knew he urgently wanted clarified. I instead IMed saying I was on that call and could either drop to talk to him or be free in 15 minutes, and he said it could wait. When I’m at work doing work things, if someone on my management chain wants me to do something other than I’m doing (and they know what else I’d have to stop doing) then that’s their prerogative!

    5. H*

      This seems a pretty unfair read of the letter. LW is clearly saying that they’re obviously going to drop whatever they’re doing to answer a call from their boss’s boss. Plus, we don’t know what the norms are at their office. I work with some high profile clients and my boss’s boss would never expect me to drop out of a meeting or call with them to answer his call (if anything he’d be annoyed if I did that).

  28. Mary*

    This is like someone stopping by your desk with a question, or your boss stepping out of a meeting to ask you to join them for a few minutes.

    Our company’s policy is video on for calls and meetings so it may be the same in your new company.

    If your objection is that you are not video ready maybe this should change for your new company where video is the norm.

    If you objection is you don’t like unscheduled meetings or calls, are you senior enough to push back. Can you change your status to focused or do not disturb. If your boss requires you to be available then that is something you should discuss with them.

    1. George*

      I wrote earlier in the comments that impromptu video calls are no big deal at our company. I can see now that the expectations are all over the place. I am in a small company, so we all know each other much better than perhaps in a larger company. Before COVID, we were all together in one office, so we popped into offices, pulled people into meetings, and really never called anyone on the phone. We only started all this remote work with COVID. and so we were video-on by default from the beginning, to recreate the ‘togetherness’ we had before.

  29. CPALady*

    I’m curious to know if it is VIDEO calls, or if it is calls through a platform that also does video. For instance my company uses Microsoft Teams, and this is fairly common, however calling someone is not a default VIDEO call, although it is a call through the Teams Platform.
    Pulling someone into a meeting that is happening to solve an issue or answer a question: fairly normal.
    Calling someone directly without a warning IM: not weird/an affront
    That said, I think MOSTLY there is a ping on IM to see if you are available before the call. It’s just not strange if there isn’t.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      Usually I’ll get a quick “got a moment for me to pull you into a meeting?” but not always. If I miss the call, I’ll call them back.

      But I have my camera covered!

    2. Hlao-roo*

      The OP specifically asks if it’s normal for coworkers to “make jokey remarks about “Oh, is your camera working?” if I leave [the camera] off” so that reads to me that they call OP with the video and expect everyone to be on camera during the call.

  30. voyager1*

    I guess to check on WFH employees and they are doing it to everyone? Seems like a jerk thing to do though if your in the office.

  31. Delphine*

    One of my most conscientious coworkers would do this with video calls early in the pandemic–sometimes as soon as I got online! I think it was just that she was treating the calls like popping into my office at work. But I was at home, completely unpresentable because I had no meetings planned. I was able to solve it by not answering a few of her calls and then sending her a message once I had tied my hair back, etc. (about five minutes). And then when I initiated calls I would send a note, “Got five minutes to chat about X?” and that was enough to fix the issue. But like I said, she’s the most considerate person I’ve ever worked with, so she picked up on the cues immediately. Someone a bit more obtuse might require a more direct approach.

    I don’t mind it with calls, frankly. I can answer a call whenever.

  32. Critical Rolls*

    This obviously varies wildly by company culture, but here are the questions I’d ask in LW’s shoes:
    1. Should this have been an email? If it’s a rapid exchange of a couple of sentences, the phone conversation is likely faster; if it requires a lot of back-and-forth but not much research, ditto. If you need documentation, or if people are going to have to dig around or have a think before responding, email please.
    2. Should this have been and IM? Depends if your company has one and uses it! This is where fast exchanges ought to live, and checks on availability for longer phone calls.
    3. Should this have been a voice-only call? Personally, I’d say almost certainly. Unless you need to actually show someone something, why does it need to be cameras on? This is really aggravated in the cases of telework and mobile device video calls, where people are much more likely to be in a setting or state that isn’t camera-ready. Video calls are also bandwidth hogs, which can cause issues if a person gets surprised in a setting with poor wi-fi.
    4. Should I have been warned? This one’s super culture dependent. In my experience, I’d say video calls always yes. In the case of voice calls, only if you expect it to be a long call (in my company maybe over 15 minutes).
    5. Should people stop giving me grief for having my camera off when they video call unexpectedly? Yeah! They just invited themselves into your personal space with no warning, you get to tell them no and they ought to be graceful about it.

    1. Critical Rolls*

      Additionally, this is not like stopping by someone’s desk, because they are not at their desk. This is stopping by someone’s house, then getting annoyed not to be invited in, even if you can perfectly well conduct your business on the porch.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I think that’s just as bad an analogy. You’re expected to be at least reachable and generally responsive when working, stopping by someone’s house is a huge leap. It’s more like if someone was working with their office door closed and you just barged in without knocking.

        1. Essess*

          It’s an apt analogy… It is expecting to view into the personal life/home and see the others in the household when you only should be interacting with the employee. Being available on the porch so that you are interacting only with the employee is the equivalent to a phone call where you are isolated to just that employee. Video is demanding entrance to view their home and family which is outside the scope of the job.

          1. Lea*

            Everyone I work with just about uses a fake background so no one is seeing your household.

            When you’re working you’re at work. You should be available like you are at work for the most part. Wfh has a lot of perks I don’t see the big deal with wearing moderately presentable tops

        2. Critical Rolls*

          I said in my experience there should really be no issue with unannounced voice calls, unless they consistently ought to be emails or IMs. That IS being reachable and responsive. Unscheduled, unnecessary video calls accompanied by pressure to be cameras-on 100% of the time is a big overstep.

          1. Lea*


            Nobody made you answer a call, and nobody wants you to answer one from the restroom? You just call people back when you’re available it’s not complicated

      2. sagc*

        I don’t think so? It’s like a phone call, during work hours, especially if you just… leave your camera off.

        1. Critical Rolls*

          LW is getting pushback for leaving the camera off, that’s the whole problem.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            If I read this correctly:

            “Maybe I’m in the restroom. Maybe I’m in another meeting. Maybe this is my one 15-minute window of time to focus on my completely overflowing to-do list. Calling me unannounced would be bad enough, but now you want me to be on video, too? And make jokey remarks about “Oh, is your camera working?” if I leave it off?”

            She’s also getting pushback for not turning the camera on when answering in the bathroom or in another meeting. It is bad enough that she is expected to answer in those situations, but to also be expected to always be able to turn on the video????

            1. Calliope*

              It sounds like she’s annoyed about both the video and the unexpected call as two separate issues. Personally I’d be mildly annoyed about the video jokes but chalk it off to office culture. But the unexpected calls are normal.

            2. goducks*

              Why is she answering from the bathroom? Either the caller is a normal person and they DO NOT expect her to answer from the bathroom, or their a weirdo who does, and that indicates a problem with the person, not with unexpected calls.

  33. Eldritch Office Worker*

    I much prefer a “do you have a second to chat” first, but generally cold calls don’t bother me. Sometimes it’s a second of scramble if I’m at home and not expecting it, but if they get me in bed with wet hair that’s what they get, doesn’t bother me.

    In the office I just expect it at this point. If I can’t answer I won’t and I’ll call them back. Personally I always ask first though.

  34. 2 Cents*

    My office — or at least large team (70+ people) — uses chat widely, but rare is the unscheduled call and even rarer is the unscheduled video call an the pressure is near zero to be on camera if the expectation wasn’t made apparent beforehand. (Like you’re the presenter, so it’d follow you’d probably be on camera.) It’s considered rude to just blindly call someone and then get angry if you don’t answer. Pre-Covid, we were in a traditional, 9-5, everyone in the office setting.

  35. Coin_Operated*

    Oh, I’d be so petty with these kinds of calls, especially if I answered with my camera off and got a “why is your camera off” then I’d turn it on while in the bathroom or something, or out walking around where it’s noisy and the camera is all shaky and not stable, just to make a point.

    1. Smiley*

      Why on earth would you pick up the calls in that situation though? Just don’t pick up and message when you’re back at your desk / presentable to be on camera. A call is a request, not a demand.

      1. Coin_Operated*

        Because cold video calling is just someone is just… wrong, on so many levels, and like I said, I’m a petty bitch.

  36. Audra*

    This makes me really happy about our team’s culture. Within the team (myself, supervisor, 2-3 entry-level employees) you are free to answer with or without video with no explanation needed. Calls are typically preceded by a Teams message as a heads up.

  37. Akcipitrokulo*

    I think teams calls default to video? But my camera is always off and after an accidental brief flashing that my colleagues either didn’t see, or were courteous enough to pretend they never saw, the lens also has a plaster over it :D

    1. Anonanon*

      I think you have the option to answer with voice or video – even if the incoming call is a video call. I was working from home today and did a voice answer to a video call. I just briefly explained that I was not camera ready (in my case getting over an illness and really didn’t feel like spending the extra few minutes getting presentable this morning) and all was well.

  38. soontoberetired*

    We don’t demand video on for a any zoom or teams calls, although some upper management types want the video on. Internet connections can go bad when the video is being used, so many people don’t use them. they do cause connections to lag regardless of how good your connection is to begin with.

    but I do get a lot of demands to join meetings more now that I WFH. I hate it. I hated it when people stopped at my desk in the office, they are all interruptions to my work. If it was upper management that would be one thing, but it isn’t, it is just people who think my time belongs to them when they want it. So I do turn them down.

  39. RB*

    I certainly wouldn’t pick up if I was in the bathroom. And for any unscheduled video calls, I leave the camera off and just say something like, sorry, I’m off camera for this. However, if I’ve had an on-camera meeting that day, then I’m probably presentable enough for video calls, so then I would feel fine about leaving my camera on.

  40. greenleaf*

    This is definitely a huge part of the culture at my new job. We’re expected to have video on any time there’s a call, and everyone is remote. And people do just call without messaging first. It was weird at first, but I’ve gotten used to it. I think everybody just kind of goes along with it because nobody freaks out if you don’t answer, they just assume you’ll call back when you can. But it’s definitely annoying – I just put up with it because it’s otherwise a great job.

  41. Emm*

    I’m not a fan of phone calls at the best of times, but sometimes they are the best way to get a hold of people. Something about out-of-the-blue video calls, though, irritates me. I don’t know if it’s because I associate video calls with more of a formal meeting than a quick chat, but something about it feels like a presentation.

    Interestingly, my workplace has gotten rid of our phones and installed a phone app on our computers, and we all hate it so much that the number of phone calls we make to each other has dropped dramatically. I didn’t mind using my actual desk phone to make calls, but for some reason I really loathe doing it on my computer! Something about it gives me the same vibe as this, like it’s somehow more of a performance.

    And we’re in the office, so there’s no rushing to be camera ready! I’d still much prefer someone to shoot me an email or message, or just stop by my desk.

  42. cookie monster*

    I think the calls are perfectly fine – there is no reason video has to be on for them other than for the caller’s ego or whatever it is. Phone calls worked in the past; an audio only call will work now. Slack even has a “hangouts” function that really does feel like dropping by someone’s cubicle, and allows you to share your screen but not camera if you want.

  43. EmKay*

    I don’t answer surprise *video* calls from my family or even my romantic partner. I’m sure as heck ain’t doing it at work.

  44. Gnome*

    In my office, for a while everyone was all Let’s Do Video! But now it’s mostly just calls w/o video (often with screen sharing). I’m noticing though that a lot of folks in general (not my office) are more All Video lately compared to before. There was a letter a while back about video phone screens and I am having one soon as well. I’d much prefer just a phone call, because video can go wonky, but whatever.

  45. AdAgencyChick*

    PET PEEVE. Fortunately it’s not common at my company but the worst offender is someone I otherwise adore working with. Yes, I have said something to this person. No, they don’t stop. Oh well, I’m sure I have at least one quirk that annoys that person too.

  46. Pam Adams*

    I advise students, so my Zoom is on all day. Students do drop in- maybe they’ve seen me before and have my Zoom link or I told them ‘show up anytime today.’ I keep them in my waiting room until I’m ready to see them.

    Our Teams use is primarily chat, but some faculty like to call unannounced. Luckily, they don’t demand camera,

  47. Egmont Apostrophe*

    Bring some tools into the office, and if you get one of these calls, do carpentry during it.

  48. tamarack and fireweed*

    We don’t do many unannounced video calls, but they’re effectively unannounced *calls* as it is always acceptable not to switch on one’s own camera. And it’s also acceptable to ask the other person to switch off their camera for bandwidth economy reasons.

    We do spontaneously hop on video calls occasionally. Unannounced ones can be disruptive, especially if it’s on a medium I’m marked “available” on (Skype or Google Talk) because I’m awaiting someone *else* to be around to connect quickly.

  49. RoomWithAView*

    My company is fully WFH (since the pandemic), and I was hired during pandemic. The work is pretty collaborative, so the culture is “camera on”. Lots of unscheduled “calls” every day–the CEO has a habit of just video-calling, for example–and expectation is camera on, every time (face to face chats about X, not to check up on anyone, ever). After many unexpected calls (or “can I call you in 5 mins” messages), decided the easiest thing for *me to do is to be camera-ready every work day, from the waist up, as if I was going to an office. Yes, it takes time and work every morning, but in the end it just makes my life easier.

  50. Hydrangea*

    Our software allows me to set my availability. It shows if I am on another call, in a meeting, away from my desk (for instance, for lunch), or otherwise busy. If my dot is green, there is no need to IM me or email to ask if I’m available. It’s on me to make sure my availability is accurate. I start and end up work at same time every day and take my full lunch break. If I need uninterrupted time to work on a project, I schedule time for it so my availability reflects it.

    I did my fair share of rolling out of bed right before work and working with messy hair in my pajamas. I feel better when I have a morning routine where I get dressed, wear presentable clothes, and add some structure to my day before I start work.

  51. BC*

    Random video calls are very typical at my office. The reason for a video call is almost always to share something on screen, and most of the time our cameras are off. If someone doesn’t answer, it’s treated the same as if someone went by your desk but you weren’t there.

  52. Karia*

    Oh god. It’s better now, but at the start of the pandemic I seriously started to dread the familiar chimes. It always seemed to happen the second I nipped to the loo.

  53. Rich*

    I work in tech in a sales role, and it’s pretty common. In the past, if I were on the phone with Sally and we needed input from Bob, we’d add Bob to the call on the fly. All of us would talk, and we’d do whatever we need to do.

    Now, that phone call is more likely a web-based meeting that _can_ include video. So we follow exactly the same process — we need input from Bob, so we add him to the web-based meeting. The software rings at his desk like a phone. Sometimes we get him, sometimes not, just like a phone call.

    The tacky part is _expecting_ video. I don’t do that, even if my camera is on. If I call you and you pick up, I get to hear you — but I don’t get to see you unless you decide so. And I don’t judge you (or make stupid snippy comments) about what you decide. That’s just rude.

  54. Graeme*

    Surprise video is BS.

    “Surprise” voice calls are work-standard, have been for years and are still often the best way to do things. Expecting a warning email or IM is unnecessary and unless that’s the existing culture, will make everyone feel like they’re having to put in extra work to get hold of you for a potentially basic question.

    LW needs to separate their annoyance with the two issues.

    1. allathian*

      Luckily for me I work in an environment where IM is pretty standard. A warning email would be odd, though, because email is a very asynchronous form of communication in my org. I check mine twice a day or so. For requests, we have a ticketing system.

  55. North Wind*

    This kind of culture would be unbearable to me, to the point I’d probably look for somewhere else to work. Not sure it’s generational, either. I’m pushing 50 and it’s routine for even friends/family to text before a phone call to ask if it’s a good time to talk or arrange a time to talk, lol.

    It would be a lot less objectionable if it were common to ping someone to see if they’re available to join a call, which actually is something that happens with my clients sometimes. But the overall expectation is the need to schedule time in advance for any kind of meeting, including just a phone call.

  56. WantonSeedStitch*

    When I was working in the office, I would go over to someone’s cube to chat with them and preface it with, “hey, do you have a few minutes to chat about the TPS reports?” If they were busy, they would say, “I just need to finish this e-mail–give me five minutes?” or “I’m just about to go into a meeting. Can we talk at 2:30?” I feel like using any kind of call–video or not–should be treated the same way as those cube chats, with remote work. If I want a quick chat with someone, I’ll Slack them to say “hey, do you have a time for a quick Slack call/Zoom meeting about the TPS reports?” I feel like it’s only polite.

  57. Allie*

    Sorry…but have none of you heard of having a teams/zoom background? It seems it would save a lot of hassle around looking into your private home/not having a professional background. We even get official ones from the company with our logo/marketing and everything.

    1. ArtK*

      For me, it’s not the background, it’s the fact that I’m not dressed professionally. PJs aren’t a good look.

      1. Taylor Swift*

        Don’t wear PJs to work then, if you work in OP’s office where this seems to be normal.

        1. TechWorker*

          Right – for some folks an explicit benefit of working from home is not needing to be presentable. But if you have the sort of job where video meetings are common then… you probably do need to be presentable.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, this. I guess it also depends on your (or your employer’s) definition of presentable. I don’t wear makeup to the office, and because I don’t have to dress up to go to the office, I wear the same clothes whether I WFH or go to the office. This means that I don’t consider unscheduled video calls any more disruptive than unscheduled voice calls.

        2. louvella*

          I wear PJs while working all the time, which is one reason why I rarely pick up an unannounced calls, except that’s not a problem because no one is making me pick it up right away, I can just throw on a sweater and call back.

        3. Nanani*

          Catch up with the times. Nobody cares about cosplaying professionalism anymore. Work getting done is the thing that actually matters.

  58. Amey*

    I’ve found the comments above completely fascinating! Pre-pandemic, my organisation (a university) barely used our (not great) IM system and unsolicited phone calls were the norm. Now, though, most people work hybrid, all calls are on Teams and you really don’t call people without messaging first. ‘Available’ is generally taken to mean that you’re available on chat, not that you can just take a call. People are really busy, it just feels rude. I had a missed Teams call from someone I don’t know when I came back from my lunch break and it felt so strange, in the moment I don’t think I would have answered it! I wonder if this is compounded by the fact that we’re a very video-on culture, so it feels like suddenly being pulled into a full-fledged meeting (with someone you don’t know) without warning.

    My husband, on the other hand, has taken work phone calls through his computer for years and he and all of his colleagues just call each other without messaging first. They’re almost always cameras off for all of their calls and meetings, so it’s much more like old school phone calls. He regularly takes external calls from clients and other stakeholders, which is probably another part of the difference – my clients are students and they don’t have access to my personal contact details so all of my calls are from colleagues who are in the same system.

    Personally, I much prefer my organisation’s culture and I think I’m in a minority of AAM commenters in really preferring video on. It’s much closer to the experience of actually being in a room with people, with the ability to read body language etc. For me it reduces the downsides of working from home (not getting to properly interact with anyone!) while still getting the benefits (being in a quiet room by myself to focus). But I understand why others (including most of my husband’s colleagues!) feel completely the opposite!

  59. Hired Hacker*

    Just take the call and leave your camera off. Some laptops or external webcams have even a physical slider that covers the pinhole camera so you’re 100% sure video is off. (If your laptop doesn’t, you can buy a sticker one for a few bucks.) That’s what I always do.

    And voice-only calls use a lot less bandwidth compared to video calls, so if your Internet connection is subpar, you can try to use this excuse.

  60. The Bad Guy*

    Based on the comments, and my personal experience, I think this is just a thing in a lot of fields now. This is a cost of doing business from home, you need to be available for someone to “drop by” your desk to check something quickly. If you’re in a meeting, that’s fine, but if I’m blocked on something and would have just dropped by your desk in the office, I’m probably going to pull you into a call now. It’s way better to have a 5 minute unannounced call than a 30 minute slack conversation with a million miscommunications.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I love the differences in the human brain and how it manifests. Personally and professionally, I find that IM/e-mail has way less miscommunications than calls/videos without a written component because there is a written record to refer back to. This might be because my brain just doesn’t track and store audio very well, hence why my office sends a summary e-mail or IM of every phone/video conversation so that we are on the same page. Maybe this is why I like IM/e-mail better? Phone/video only just doubles the work because of needing to do the f/u email/IM. Other folks, obviously, have entirely different experiences and the opposite is true of them while still others are just indifferent because it is all the same for their brains.

    2. Amey*

      Oh, I agree with you and am constantly someone who gets ‘Have you got 5 minutes?’ messages and we then hop on a call to discuss. But there’s always a message first and half the time I don’t actually have 5 minutes then and it’s much easier to just message back to schedule a time when I am free. I’m so much more efficient at home than in the office partly for this reason.

    3. Marketing*

      This is so commonplace at my job—i get added to Teams meetings all day long. How is this different than someone swinging by my office and asking if I can join them in the conference room? As for video, I have a background that hides laundry baskets!

  61. Curiouser and Curiouser*

    I also don’t hear as well as others and I really rely on seeing someone’s lips. I’ve learned to deal with phone and off camera, but it’s never easy and I miss a lot. (That being said, I wouldn’t spring it on someone. If we had a last minute call, I’d just assume people might not be able to be on camera).

    1. MicroManagered*

      Teams and Zoom both have captions you can turn on. I just learned this recently and it was a game changer :)

      1. Curiouser and Curiouser*

        YES! It really is, and I try to turn them on where possible! Though unfortunately (on Zoom at least, we don’t use Teams) captions need to be turned on in the host’s meeting settings. So consider this a casual reminder to turn on “Allow users to enable automated captions in these languages in meetings.” on Zoom, please :)

  62. Library IT*

    I am total opposite for the unannounced calls – I hate when someone sends me an IM to ask if I’m available to chat. Just…call me and if I’m available I’ll answer? And if I’m not, you can send me an email or IM at that point.
    As for an unannounced call being on video – I am so used to being on video now that it doesn’t bother me, but I am at the office, not home, which makes a difference. If I got an unannounced video call when working from home, I might not want my camera on.

    1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      I’m cool with the “Is now a good time?” chats, but it’s the “Hi Jack” and waiting for my reply before they ask me whatever they want. lol Like, the ability to respond when I have a moment is the purpose of IM.

      1. Sad Desk Salad*

        I HAAAATE when you get “hey.” Like…I get that you want to be friendly and polite and not just come out and ask me for something, but baiting me with a hello is just going to make us both go through time-wasting greetings. Is it so hard to type out “Hey there! Happy Friday! Just wondering if you’ve seen the TPS report for the missing printer yet? Was hoping to get it out to the team today.” Or whatever. The “hey” is more like “I’ve already interrupted you, let me waste just a bit more of your time before getting down to business.”

    2. Nanani*

      That’s strange. “Is it cool to call” itself going unsanwered means clearly no, you were busy doing something else.
      It’s nicer than a ringing phone (or pinging video app) because texts can more easily be set to away/do not disturb.

    3. allathian*

      The one thing about IMs that really annoys me is when people just say hi, and wait for me to respond before they say what they want. I find that annoying. I do say hi, but then I go on with my question when I’m the one who’s initiating contact. But then I’m in a culture that generally prioritizes direct communication higher than massaging people’s egos through elaborate rituals of politeness.

    4. CCC*

      Same! I’d much rather be called and interrupted once than IMed and then called and interrupted twice.

  63. Guilty as charged*

    I initiated a call like this literally 10 minutes before I read this. I was going back and forth with a colleague over email about a website process and realized it would take far less time to show via screenshare. So I just opened Zoom, initiated a meeting with the colleague, and shared my screen to teach the process. Very quick and simple. I would have used phone if I didn’t need screenshare, though, and I wouldn’t have minded if he’d had his camera off. This is very mainstream in my organization for these kinds of quick “it will be faster to show you than explain via email” conversations where we don’t also need a 15-30 minute scheduled meeting.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I call people on Teams, but I have had my PC’s camera for years now. I turn it on once in awhile to introduce myself to a new co-worker or contractor. And I turn it off immediately every time, to let them know this group is interested in your ability not your physical appearance.
      (Some of us have photos in an hour contact information, but many of us do not. I do have some issues with my company, but this aspect is a good fit for me.)

    2. Matt*

      If you have been emailing or chatting with this person right now, it’s a different story – then it’s not “out of the blue”, but rather “let’s talk about this”.

  64. Libby*

    Ugh, this would annoy me too! If they ask what’s wrong with your camera, just tell them the truth. It currently has a 6” ice pick protruding from it! Good luck!

  65. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    This is why I now have a bin in my pencil caddy for concealer, mascara, and lip gloss. I also bought another brush to keep in my drawer with hair ties, a headband, and also keep a high neck cardigan on the back of my chair. One too many “every one but you has their video on” meetings and unannounced video calls from my boss.

  66. KatieP*

    Just had this happen the other day, in the middle of a deep-focus, flow-state on an urgent project. The notification popped-up right on top of the thing I was trying to click on, and BAM! Focus destroyed, flow state lost, and my coworker was a little confused as to why I was befuddled about being in a Teams call.

    I don’t mind phone calls at the office because I’m not constantly doing 8 million other things with my desk phone, and I don’t answer by accident while trying to do something else.

    I mind unannounced Teams calls because I do 8 million other things with my computer, and apparently I can end-up accidentally accepting a call that I don’t want.

  67. Sad Desk Salad*

    My boss and company are very video-heavy, and any meeting that has fewer than ten people usually has cameras on. Our CEO has a whole green screen setup in his office with lighting and everything. I don’t mind it–it’s actually helped me accept how I look without makeup, to the point I almost prefer myself without it, and has gotten me to take better care of my skin. Of course, I understand not everyone feels that way. However, sometimes calls happen at 4 am, other times our connection is spotty and video uses too much bandwidth, or we’re eating breakfast, in which case we just explain our lack of camera readiness and no one cares. (We have an outside counsel who says “my rates go up if I have to put on makeup.”) Typically this has made me much more willing to turn my camera on for calls, and feel comfortable going without when I need to, because I get enough “face time,” so to speak, the rest of the time.

    Quick check ins, whether in person or by phone, drive me up the wall, though. My work takes deep concentration and I get distracted easily, so pulling me away from my work for a “quick question” can mess up my rhythm for 20-30 minutes. Even “do not disturb” hours are not sacred. And missing your call/chat is only going to make me ruminate on what you could want, so it’s not helpful to just skip it and call back when I’m free. It doesn’t happen a lot at my company, but if it did I would get very little done.

  68. Salymander*

    Maybe start wearing a dragon onesie like The Dragon Manager? At least then you would be both comfortable and decorative on your impromptu video calls ;)

  69. Random Bystander*

    I will turn camera on when I have to (weekly huddles), although when I was first diagnosed with cancer, I told my supervisor that I wanted to have my camera off and not be called out about it (she would do that to anyone in our huddles who wasn’t camera-on). I was able to do my job, and didn’t want to take off in the span of time between diagnosis and surgery (basically leaving me with nothing to distract myself from the diagnosis in that interim period), but I was occasionally prone to crying jags that I didn’t want to have to explain (most of my co-workers were not told about my diagnosis, my preference) or just didn’t feel like doing more than rolling out of bed and over to the work desk. Since then, I have been known to occasionally let my cats park themselves in front of the camera (meaning that all that is seen is a big patch of fur). I might even be guilty of setting cat treats on the work desk to encourage it. “Sorry, [insert cat-of-the-day’s name] doesn’t want to move”. Petting one of my cats is one of my stress-relief options.

  70. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    Impromptu video calls are actually slightly less annoying to me than a phone call, but that may be because the people doing it 99% have something they want to screen share and it isn’t about just face-time. I have to say, although I hated adopting Teams/Zoom at first, the ability to screen share is like magic to me. I’m a visual communicator/thinker. I can write a response to a question in chat or email, and word-smith it until it makes sense, or screen share a walk through of the problem, but verbal communication isn’t my strength especially if I’m not prepared for the topic.

    I just avoid the phone altogether if I can. It’s about 88% because I work in a team that has a ticket system in place and the internal people calling me are often circumventing the ticket system to self assign or get their job to the top of the queue; rarely it’s a quick question. The other 18% it’s because I’m in the middle of working and I don’t want to lose my groove switching to a different task.

    1. allathian*

      Yup, they’re retired now, fortunately, but when we introduced our ticket system a few years ago, a few internal clients would try and get us to assign a higher priority to their requests. Some made themselves a bit annoying at first, but we talked to our then-manager who told us that we can push back on the requests that are submitted in a way that’s intended to circumvent the ticket system. It worked pretty well, and when we asked clients to submit a ticket in accordance with our process, and they complained to our manager, she had our backs. These attempts are very infrequent these days, mainly because most of the worst offenders have retired.

  71. Letter Writer*

    Hi! Letter Writer here.

    First, my thanks to Alison for posting my letter, which was sent in a moment of abject despair after a day with two (2) half-hour windows that did not involve scheduled video meetings… that were nonetheless gobbled up by unscheduled pings.

    To clarify, I did specifically mean VIDEO calls here. As stated in my letter, calls at my company are always made, without fail, with the expectation that the camera is on and uncovered. I should have been explicit, regardless, and the confusion is my fault.

    That said, and unrelatedly, I find unannounced phone calls nearly as ridiculous because of my specific set of circumstances:
    – My position is not consumer- or public-facing, so all calls are internal
    – My entire company is WFH
    – All communication (including calls both voice and video) route through an office messaging system that also provides our email addresses, instant messaging, and (for internal eyes) our calendar availability
    – It is 2022, not 1994. Phone calls no longer have an attached cost and for many people carry an inherent sense of urgency and therefore are answered with equal alacrity

    Because of the presumed urgency of a call, I’m constantly left wondering “Is my grandboss calling because she needs me right this second or because she wants to tell me about something her dog did?” Sometimes the call is because of a valid work question that someone else would *like* to have that second but that I could answer better if I had thirty seconds to not be elbows-deep in another task—or, as as happened many times before, *on a completely separate call with another party.*

    At the end of the day, literally all I’m asking for is those thirty seconds. Not a formal meeting invite. Not two days’ advance notice. Thirty seconds of heads up and context so that I am not routinely subjected to the WFH equivalent of “My boss strides up to my desk and starts launching into a conversation before I’ve even had time to look up from my screen.”

    (And for final clarification, I think some of the aghast folks in the commentariat may have read a little too quickly. The key word in the sentence “What, I’m not going to drop everything to answer an unexpected call from my boss’s boss?” is the word “NOT”. :) The structure of this rhetorical question, pivoting around “not,” asks with a sense of incredulity what possible scenario might arise in which the questioner might dare to decline such a call—the unspoken response, therefore, being “A scenario in which the recipient will feel comfortable ignoring their boss’s boss will never come to pass.”)

    1. louvella*

      Have you tried just not picking up the call and messaging them that you can be available in two minutes (or even 30 seconds)? That’s what I do basically every single time this happens.

      1. Letter Writer*

        I’d love to be able to do that. However, when it’s someone above me in the hierarchy, that’s less feasible. Even with coworkers at my own level, in our culture it can come off passive-aggressive. I am also new, so while this is something I potentially can spend capital on in the future, I don’t *have* capital to spend yet.

        1. louvella*

          Interesting. I’ve never thought of unannounced video calls as a problem from day one of my job, as someone who is overall low in the hierarchy so it’s always basically always someone above me. I just say I need a minute. It sounds like a really toxic workplace where that would be an issue.

          1. allathian*

            Yup, the idea that you’d have to answer calls when you’re in the bathroom has my spidey sense tingling, it sounds like a toxic workplace.

        2. allathian*

          At least from the bathroom, don’t turn your camera on, tell them you’ll call them right back, finish what you’re doing and call… If they give you trouble about that, then you’ll have your answer, this is an irredeemably toxic office.

    2. Allonge*

      I am not sure you will see this but just to confirm: in no reasonably healthy organisation, 2022 or 1994, will anyone expect you to pick up the phone / video call at first ring. The phonecall may indicate urgency for you personally, and of course it’s rarely about something that can wait forever, but technology also gives you the possibility to return the call.

      I cannot give you hard rules, but calling back after you are back at your desk from the toilet is and has been always acceptable in any reasonable circumstances. For one, when I am in the toilet / kitchen, I don’t have my phone with me, certainly not on video. Don’t pick up, just don’t. Call them back when you are ‘back at your desk’.

      If you are in another meeting, yes, you may need to step out from that one if your grandboss calls.

    3. Environmental Compliance*

      “– It is 2022, not 1994. Phone calls no longer have an attached cost and for many people carry an inherent sense of urgency and therefore are answered with equal alacrity”

      I would be interested to see how many people agree with this and disagree. I do not personally feel that desk phone calls are inherently urgent, and am wondering if this is a product of your current workplace having some toxic qualities.

  72. moonstone*

    It’s probably not uncommon, but both unscheduled phone and video calls are inefficient. Unless it’s an emergency where you need an immediate answer, doesn’t it make sense to make sure in advance that both of you are free instead of playing phone tag?

    1. moonstone*

      I should add, this is with the assumption that employees have access to instant messaging services. Most quick turnaround conversations can be done via message, with more complicated discussions being saved for in person video or phone calls.

  73. I can't hear you*

    Just a note for all the “Camera always off” people, if you are just listening in that’s cool. However, if you are leading a meeting, training, or an integral part of a conversation, I’d suggest you reconsider. I am hard of hearing, which you can’t tell because my hearing aid is hidden under my hair, and the past two years of masking has taken its toll, as I rely on reading lips. This doesn’t change via phone calls, if I can read lips it is SO much easier! I know I’m not the only one in this position and not the only disability to accommodate.

    1. Green tea*

      Piggybacking on this to suggest people who host meeting/trainings/webinars on Zoom enable closed captions in their accessibility settings regardless of whether they turn on their video or not. CC is not always 100% accurate, but makes a big difference for people who can’t hear well.

  74. Aggretsuko*

    On a weird note, a total effing stranger kept trying to call me via Zoom during my lunch (when I was on the phone) and rope me into a meeting. THE HELL? I completely ignored it. I didn’t even know that was A Thing.

  75. All Outrage, All The Time*

    If I work in an office job from home I’d expect to be at a minimum business casual from the waist up during work hours. You can blur your background. Given that, I think it’s a bit precious to expect video calls to be explicitly announced. Video calls are a business standard now. I would hope you don’t take voice calls in the toilet so you certainly don’t need to take video calls. Just because we work from home doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be presentable for a work video call. I never wear make up so I don’t need notice to put it on before I go on video. I don’t expect people I video call to be wearing a suit amd full make up but I do expect them to pick up video calls and not need to take time out of the work day to put on make up and tidy up the background. We need to be work ready during work hours

  76. Matt*

    Same thing for me. At least without the video, most of our Teams calls are Video only, but it’s bad enough to get pulled into calls two to three times a day. Which combines the worst of the unannounced phone call and the announced meeting: I’m expected to be available in this very second and drop whatever I’m working on concentrated at this moment, and I don’t know what the meeting is all about and maybe have to sit in it for hours. I hate it. Why not at least use the chat function, give a quick heads-up, at least a short ask if I’m available and what it’s all about?

  77. Red Wheelbarrow*

    I feel like I’m learning something about shifting mores as I read the comments. The few times I’ve received unannounced video calls, I’ve been shocked and angry. It seemed like a bizarre, intrusive, and presumptuous thing to do, and I hated (and would still hate) being on the receiving end of it. But it sounds as if in some contexts this is becoming a more usual thing.

  78. El Muneco*

    Just piling on – sorry…

    My workplace has a culture that generally you don’t get unannounced (team meeting application) calls unless things are really going down, and even then we’ll generally try to reach out to you on (team conferencing application) beforehand. But you’re never expected to turn camera on in any way, shape, or form.

    I haven’t dressed “professionally for the office” since we closed down, and neither has my boss (my grandboss has, but he is the type who went back to full-time in-office as soon as possible). I don’t expect it of anyone, and none of my peers do.

    Expectation of turning on camera in video calls is IMO the villain here, not whether or not the calls are unscheduled.

  79. Caroline*

    I find this fascinating. I have worked in a remote-only company for five years. To me, working means being in a state where I’m ready to be seen, just the same as we all did eight hours of the day when we went to an office. I wouldn’t dream of not being “camera ready” during my work hours. Because I know that someone might need to contact me at any time, and we use video for 100% of our calls. Audio-only calls are only used if there is some reason we can’t turn on video, like we’re driving. We find that it makes us far more effective communicators if we can see each other. Nobody has ever objected.

    1. allathian*

      I assume that those who would object to constant video calls self select out.

      I’m always working in a state where I’m ready to be seen, but given that my office has a casual dress code, and there are no expectations about makeup or elaborate hair styling, all it takes is switching on my desk lamp so that something other than a dark blob shows up on the screen.

  80. Madame Arcati*

    Alternative explanation: your new colleagues are all in fact my mum.


  81. Kate*

    Huh. Although the unannounced CALL strikes me as odd and annoying, unannounced video strikes me as…perfectly normal. Sometimes people turn their cameras on. Sometimes people don’t. Often that decision changes throughout the day. Sometimes half the people are on video, sometimes all of them, sometimes everyone except 1 person, and no one comments on it. I’ve rarely seen video ever specifically specified in a meeting invite – it just happens or doesn’t.

  82. Yellow*

    With so many dispersed teams I treat video calls the same way grabbing a colleague in the office. Except with video calls, I’vea handy do not disturb feature I can turn on when needed so I don’t even get interrupted to say I’m not available.

    Many workplaces expect staff to use video and not just voice. It can improve communication and can feel closer to interacting with colleagues like you would in person. If there are staff in the group who lip read (even just a little) then it can make even more sense for it to be the standard.

    Personally I think it reasonable to expect staff working from home to be dressed and suitable to take work calls if wfh is no longer COVID mandated. Even if wfh is not by choice, you should still be dressed. That doesn’t mean you can’t use the toilet – but you shouldn’t be lying in bed, or not properly dressed, if your work expects you to join video calls! You should treat your home office as similar to your work office – and restrict liberties to things that don’t interfere with work.

    LW you’ve joined an office that uses video to communicate. It might not be your preference, but as the new person you really shouldn’t expect everyone else to change because you aren’t used to it. If you’re wfh by choice (or would like to by choice when offices do go back) – I’d say it’s really important that you’re responsive to calls and keep your camera on. If you’re hard to communicate with because you don’t want to adapt to their ways, it will give bad impressions.

  83. That One Person*

    I feel it since I’m used to my friends asking if calls are okay when I’m at home (no cameras involved luckily) so it is a funny distinction to get random calls at work and thus end up scrambling for some headset. Luckily I’m not generally expected to be on call a lot, which makes it easier to not wear headphones so I can listen for knocks at the dock door and I don’t have to worry about prolonged wear irritating the skin condition in my ears. Just awkward when someone does call me without warning! However I absolutely hate video because I really don’t want to see myself in part for being self conscious, but also it just kind of weirds me out in a way I can’t explain. Being not first person for prolonged periods makes me uncomfortable just like listening to a recording of my voice where it never sounds right.

    I’ve noticed though that certain people have a propensity for using video and others just use phone so maybe it also depends on department. For instance the IT people don’t where I work probably in part because screen share sometimes ends up a part of the call, but sales and facilities people will end up using video a lot.

  84. Annie*

    I’m surprised by the answer to this. It seems to apply more to high-level, white-collar, knowledge workers but I question whether this is realistic for rank-and-file people. I’m remote and I would expect to be in trouble if I wasn’t available the entire day. It doesn’t matter when or why someone is calling, if I’m on the clock, I need to reasonably be available and that includes showing my face. Of course I’m “camera-ready,” I’m working at my desk in front of my camera so the camera is ready for me! It doesn’t seem like too much for my boss to expect that I’m able to speak on a work matter during the day, and of course it’s going to be at the time that works for the higher-up. If I was cagey about wanting to show my face, I’d expect they would be suspicious of why. Things like having wet hair or having distractions in the home wouldn’t be good excuses because I shouldn’t be showering or engaging with distractions during work. I think enforcing a boundary like this could cause trouble for many people, in many roles.

    1. Yellow*

      I have a similar take as you. I am white collar/higher level professional and have a lot of autonomy & flexibility in my role. In my role I can delay answering calls / use do not disturb and nobody will question it. I get unscheduled calls often, and video is our default. It would be odd if I was never able to answer them.

      I expect that many roles would have more need to be available to colleagues than mine. And given the popularity of staff tracking software many would have less opportunity to decide for themselves how available they are.

  85. Green tea*

    A lot of people, like me, don’t have a camera-ready default work setting and either move to a different area or do a bit of prep before video calls. And I’d say the more ‘rank and file’ and therefore lower paid an employee is, the more likely that is to be the case.
    When I am not on camera, I work in my office, which is a shared office with my spouse where I work and focus best. It’s the only spot that gives me space for my double monitor, it’s a comfortable height for typing, and it’s the most climate controlled spot in the house. The comfortable height for typing means an unflattering upward angle on camera, and the shared office part means my spouse can sometimes be seen in the background which is distracting even with the blur filter applied.

    So I have a setup for video calls in the dining room where the lighting and table height work better on video, in front of a white wall for no distractions. It’s also hot in summer, cold and winter, and the table height strains my wrists for typing so I have to use a separate keyboard in my lap if I need to take notes on a call. Not ideal for off-camera work. I would find unannounced video calls rude and would absolutely not turn on my camera for them especially when those calls could as easily be an IM on teams if the person just has a quick question. The implication that this means I have something to “hide” is incredibly insulting.

  86. Nicole*

    I think if you treat it like a phone call (on both ends), it isn’t such an imposition. If you are busy or away from your desk, don’t answer (unless the person is important enough that you would drop everything to take a regular call from them). As someone with an organization who does this, whenever I call someone without notice or try to add them to a video call last minute, I always assume there is a chance they can’t answer and wouldn’t hold it against them.

  87. maybe checking is a good thing*

    Sometime early 2021, when most folks were still working from home, I was getting out of the shower and my Teams video call was going off. I checked to make sure my video was off and answered – it was from someone I don’t normally talk to so didn’t want to miss being able to answer their question. I am 99.9999% convinced my video was off. However, there’s a part of me that wonders if it wasn’t, because the caller would. not. look. at. the. screen. He was averting his eyes like he could see me.

    Haven’t answered a video call in the nude since. Will always wonder.

  88. Sarah*

    This is totally normal at my job and I think nothing of it. My boss does it to me. If I’m busy,, I just message him with when I’ll be free next. Video ready for me is hair brushed and a t-shirt on so not a big deal,, but if I was still in PJs, I’d just say I’m still not cleaned up so going to leave my video off.. I generally ping my direct reports with a “hey, need to add you to this call”. We are a videos on for meetings culture. Our office is open if you want to go in, so working from home is a privilege. If you are going to work from home then you need access to a space where your ok with being on camera.

    To OP, this is a corporate culture thing. You aren’t going to easily change it. And probably nor worth the political capital to try.

  89. Former Young Lady*

    I’m noticing a lot of overlap between the “my usual look is no makeup and a t-shirt and no one cares!” crowd and the “I can’t understand why anyone would be bothered by an unannounced video call!” crowd.

    I don’t think this is a coincidence.

    I’m also willing to bet there’s strong overlap between A) remote jobs where a high level of uninterrupted concentration is required, B) a high level of polish is expected when leadership or the public might see you, and C) readers who actually understand where the OP is coming from.

  90. Lch*

    I would not be answering a call of any sort if I’m in the bathroom or in a meeting. Obviously.

    Otherwise, everything being a video call is weird, but it sounds like your company’s culture? And that kinda sucks.

  91. AnonymousReader*

    I agree that no one should have to turn on their video if they don’t want to (and shouldn’t be called out for it). I didn’t turn on my camera when a relative passed away because no amount of makeup or filter would be able to cover my puffy, crying face.

    However, (excepting life circumstances) even on days I have no meetings scheduled, I’m “camera ready” (brushed hair, nice blouse, no makeup, takes me 5 mins max) and will answer impromptu video calls. Do I hate them? Absolutely! But I see that they’re necessary and part of my job. I don’t understand why it’s seen as such a chore for people to put in the minimum effort? A toddler will change out of their PJs and comb their hair before going to daycare, why are professional adults throwing tantrums in the comments section for being expected to do the same? Keep a travel brush on your desk and a button-up on your chair you can quickly change into. It’s not that hard!

  92. Name Illegible*

    I don’t think we’ve had any new hires recently otherwise I would think you were referring to my workplace. But actually, the culprit is one main person. Video calls out of the blue d.a.i.l.y without asking if I was available. I wouldn’t mind if they actually CHECKED if I were available and not called me when I was in the middle of another meeting or on my break. The worst part is that it seems to often occur anywhere from 10 minutes before to 10 minutes after the end of the day. Fridays not excluded.

  93. Molly*

    This feels like a millennial or younger wrote it (I am an elder millennial that hates unexpected phone calls too!). My manager (in her 60’s) always calls whenever the mood strikes her. I have my phone set to be camera off until I turn it on. But her expectation is that if I were in the office, it’s no different than her walking up to my cubicle. So if I’m busy I don’t answer and send her a message or email that says “I’m in the middle of something and will call you back in 15” (as I would if she walked up to my desk when I was in the middle of a thought). And if I”m in bed I make sure my camera doesn’t show my pillows once I turn my camera on :)

  94. Taskmistress*

    My old (terrible) boss used to do this. And somehow he always had a sixth sense of when I was in the bathroom or checking the mail so I always missed him. For him it was definitely an “I’m too important to check a calendar and I need an answer now” thing. But it was always for stupid questions like “What’s in this email you just sent me?”

  95. Safely Retired*

    My working life was over many years before video calling, but when I was working in person it was not at all unusual to be called into a meeting to provide information that was needed. Of course that meant calling my desk, or someone coming around looking for me. I could only be found if I was there at work.

    1. moonstone*

      I think non-urgent, two second questions like this are now being done by instant messaging or email (like Slack), making the quick unannounced stops or phone calls slowly obsolete. In both places I’ve worked, the fact that we had instant messaging apps meant that if you were interrupting your colleague for anything other than time sensitive requests, you seemed really out of touch.

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