Awkward and embarrassing situations are a fact of life, but it is safe to say the past few months of working from home have generated a whole new category of awkward moments, many of which have gone viral.
Grappling with new technology, trying to take part in a virtual meeting with crying children or barking dogs in the background, or inadvertently showing off your natty PJ bottoms on a video call – they all have the potential to leave us blushing when things go wrong.
When your career and reputation, not to mention your pride are at stake, Breda Dooley, recruitment expert at Matrix Recruitment offers some sage advice on how to deal with these awkward moments in a work from home (WFH) world.
Recognise any of these awkward situations?
Your video call gets interrupted by your kids, partner, pet or house mates
This might be the most common cause of embarrassment when working from home, but not one we should worry about, says Breda. ‘We’ve all seen the viral videos and they’ve certainly given us a giggle! So before going red-faced when your kids interrupt to negotiate how many biscuits they can have, just remember, the person or people on the other end are human and can usually empathise with your situation. The circumstances that have caused us to work from home are unusual and even the most polished and professional of us have probably had a ‘Zoom moment’ as we try to juggle our home lives and work lives within the one space.’
Saying or doing something you didn’t want colleagues to hear when you thought your mic was muted…
For the majority of us, it’s been a steep learning curve figuring out apps like Zoom, and some elements have been learned the hard way. For or instance, just because your camera is switched off, doesn’t mean your mic is on mute, and unless a host ends a meeting, colleagues may still see or hear you even after you have all said your goodbyes.
“Always treat a Zoom meeting like a face-to-face chat and stay professional throughout,” says Breda, “That means no sneaky snacks mid-call, no quick trips to the toilet, and most importantly, no work-related rants to the people you live with until you have exited the meeting and are certain your video and mic are switched off. If you do end up making a faux pas, laugh it off and pretend you knew your mic was on all along.”
You are in a group video call daydreaming and suddenly you are asked a question
It can be easy to get lured into a false sense of security when taking a group video call and assume that once you are on the screen and accounted for, you can sit back and relax. “Switching off in a video meeting isn’t uncommon, but it can get you in trouble if a question is directed your way when you least expect it,” says Breda Dooley.
“If it does happen, one option is to ask the person to repeat the question for clarity, blame technology if you need to. They’ll probably know you weren’t listening, but they can’t prove it and the obligation will be on them to repeat the question. Job done.
“The other option is to tell the group that you were contemplating the best way to address the final point on the agenda. Embarrassing situation diffused with aplomb.”
Your remote desktop is visible to your boss and you are caught online shopping or worse…
It can be hard to fully focus when working from home and it’s not uncommon for workers to end up on social media, online shopping, or, in the case of one very famous viral moment, watching something inappropriate, during office hours.
Breda warns that with presenteeism on the rise through remote work, bosses are on high alert for such activity. “If you are scrolling the online shops or checking in on your social media in the remote desktop, you are looking for trouble. If you can’t wait until after office hours, at least do it on your lunch break and outside the remote desktop, otherwise a strongly worded email from your boss is headed your way.”
You receive praise from your boss—for work you didn't actually do, or someone else gets praised for your work
It’s a hard time for bosses to keep account of everyone as we all learn to navigate working from home long term. Without that in-person interaction, it can be easy for work to go unnoticed or get attributed to the wrong person. If you are the recipient of the praise and it is undeserved, you’ve two options and a possible moral dilemma - take the credit, or own up and confess that the success of a certain project wasn’t, in fact, down to your brilliance but that of someone else.
Breda advises taking the latter approach: “Honesty is the best policy and will pay dividends in the long run. Thank the boss for the compliment but let them know who was really behind the good work and join in the praise for their accomplishment.”
If someone else is praised for your work, try to approach the situation lightly. “If it’s during a video call and the situation allows, speak up as the praise is being dished out. Say how much you enjoyed being part of the team on that particular project and what a great opportunity it was for you all. If it was through a group email, you could always reply to your boss privately and ensure they know you were part of the project. Don’t dismiss the work of the person who was originally praised, but ensure they know the details of your own contribution too.”