Dubai: It doesn’t take a survey to reveal that Zoom is one of the most frequented hangouts for all of us amid the pandemic. Whether it is for our daily office briefings, brainstorming sessions, distance learning or a catch-up with friends and family, we have all come to use this videotelephony and online chat service that operates through a cloud-based peer-to-peer software platform. With necessity largely driving our adaptation of the tool, few among us give the code of conduct, if at all, a thought. The result is there for all to experience. And who better than our staffers to speak their minds.
Basic courtesy demands eye contact
By Alex Abraham, Senior Associate Editor
When COVID-19 began spreading around the world and we were forced to start working from home, many different apps helped us keep in touch. One among them, Zoom, seemed to get the upper hand primarily due to its ease of use. Outside of office meetings, I use the application regularly to attend church services, chat with my parents and family, and take part in meetings.
However, along with familiarity with an app that is used regularly, come other issues: poor etiquette and fatigue from overuse.
One of my pet peeves is staring at a blank screen and speaking to people who prefer to remain in the shadows. The choice to turn off the video when another person is speaking can be very disconcerting, especially for someone who is used to interacting with listeners and looks for cues to see if he is getting the message across. I can understand that household chores can be done, meals can be eaten and even a power nap can be taken with the camera off, but basic courtesy demands that when a meeting is in session, eye contact should be made.
On the flip side, there are those who have no clue if the camera is on. Take for instance the case of a person who poses in his bath towel during a worship service, oblivious that his camera is on and hundreds of others are watching him from around the world. The example appears mild when we consider the case of a minister and a journalist who were suspended for indecent acts during a Zoom session, not knowing that they were being streamed live.
Then again, leaving the mic on during a Zoom session and muttering to a person close by about what is being seen on screen is irritating, to say the least. It can be awfully embarrassing too. I have often overheard people online whispering about how much weight another participant has put on and how their clothes were not fitting them well. In fact, leaving the video on and turning the mic off would do well as part of basic online etiquette for video conversations, unless otherwise stated.
Despite all the benefits of using Zoom, there are times when I feel a sense of fatigue creeping in after sitting in on online meetings for hours on end. An elderly couple in Kerala confided recently that they were on their third two-hour Zoom call for the day. Maybe it is time to just take a break and turn off all gadgets.
Boon for senior citizens
Kerala has a high number of senior citizens, many of them living alone at home because their children are in the Gulf region or in the US. When church services and other church-related meetings went online because of the coronavirus, many found it difficult to log in because, despite having smart phones, they were not able to grapple with technology.
One smart, young pastor in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala found a unique solution. He asked all the youth in the church to go to the homes of the elderly, download the Zoom app, and teach them the basics. “Just click on the link,” the senior citizens were told. The move worked. Today, most of the meetings have more than 70 participants, all of them happy that despite being confined to their homes, they can see and talk to the others in church.
Why fret, it’s just a fleeting window of time
By Sharmila Dhal, UAE Editor
“Should I put my best face forward or not at all?” If that’s a question you ask yourself every time you have to get into a potentially long-winding meeting on Zoom, you’re probably not alone. I must confess I do it many times, but does that make me a lurker? No, because I am as actively engaged as anyone else is, including those in war painted, full face window views. Now, is that acceptable? Well, that depends on how you choose to see it.
As Zoom etiquette goes, the large majority of corona-weary participants is perhaps in no mood to comprehend another list of dos and don’ts for a call. Or why else would they continue to eat, drink and slurp in full view of others, or take the call from the comfort of a recliner or bed, turning purportedly private spaces into glaring public domains?
Equally debatable is the sound of voices in the background, both real and reel, when a Zoom call is on. We are told muting when you are not talking is the done thing, but not everyone gets it. And even if they do, where’s the guarantee that an oblivious brat won’t scream his or her lungs out or switch on the television in full blast just when the mute button goes off? Well, child-proofing your home was never a part of the bargain when you agreed to remote working, was it?
Operating from home, no doubt, comes with its own set of aberrations. But for most people on a Zoom call, the fact that they have reason to show up, whether on audio only or video, is itself a big thing in these self-exiled times. There are far more serious things to worry about amid the pandemic than to dwell over someone slurping or having a high background noise quotient on a video-telephony call. It can be grating, yes. Distracting, even disturbing? Yes. But does it unduly bother me? No. After all, the pop-ups on Zoom, however bizarre, can be only as fleeting as the windows of time.
I break rules all the time
By Yousra Zaki, Senior Features Editor
I think I’ve learnt well in life. Knock before entering a room. Drink your soup without slurping, don’t chew with your mouth open and way more. But I must admit that I hardly follow the recently “written up” Zoom etiquette rules. To the point that I wonder if my colleagues have noticed ...
Things that people hate on video calls, I do! ... Like eating, shaking the camera, not muting myself while I type etc. Maybe not every day, but yeah my boss has caught me biting into a pizza or eating a bowl of cereal a few times. By the time our workday is done, I am usually hungry, tired and kind of cranky. So I tend to be myself a little too much.
Let me explain ... When the virtual connection began replacing the person-to-person connection, at first, I was glad about the newfound convenience: No traffic to weave through or rushing out the door balancing coffee mug, bags and phone etc. However, after a while, I realised that being present on virtual calls requires effort, especially since our usual morning pow wows, shifted to evening end-of-day meetings. And eventually, my tiredness was perhaps more and more obvious. At the start of the pandemic I was sitting on a desk, a few weeks later, I moved to my couch, these days, I am usually wearing a cosy robe, and will almost always be horizontal on my while during our end of day zoom meetings. So unprofessional. I seriously have tried sitting on my chair, or sitting upright … my back hurts and my legs fall asleep … They said that would happen to me when I turned 30.
Anyway, I guess I am one of these people who gets their burst of energy and creativity in the morning, so by the time it’s EOD, I am so ready for comfy clothes, no make-up and something to eat, that I bring my comforts to my zoom calls. Don’t get me wrong, I am present and listening. I laugh at every joke and participate in pitching stories regularly, I just think maybe everyone got used to seeing a pillow behind my head, it’s not even a thing anymore. So I guess what I want to say is, sorry to my colleagues for maybe getting a bit too personal with them, but comfort makes my work better … what can I say?
Have mercy on your colleagues, mute yourself
By Huda Tabrez, Living in UAE Editor
Whether at home or at work, we have all been privy to more information from a colleague’s surroundings than we would like — a toddler being reprimanded, munching sounds from a late lunch or just someone speaking to themselves as they continue working on the side, while the Zoom meeting goes on. It’s the golden rule, even if left unsaid — mute yourself if you aren’t speaking!
At the start of the remote working experience, in the first half of 2020, we were all learning the ropes of the new video conferencing platforms, figuring out which one works best for each team. However, with the year drawing to an end, many of us are still not using that little handy tool as much as we should. Not muting yourself can be fine if you are lucky enough to be working from an interruption-free environment. However, many of us aren’t in that position and meeting on Zoom while at home can be a bit of a juggling act — as the mum of a feisty two-year-old, living in a one-bedroom apartment, I completely understand that. So, one etiquette that I feel would make all remote work meetings a lot smoother and productive is this — stay on mute always, except when you have something to add. What’s the worst that could happen? You responding a few seconds later, feeling silly speaking on mute! We can all have a laugh and move on! Virtual meetings are decidedly positive, as long as we rein in meeting times.
I enjoy looking at other’s virtual backgrounds
By Samihah Zaman, Staff Reporter
The technology has certainly been around for a while, but it took a pandemic to make virtual meetings a norm around the world. For many of us, March marked the first time we logged on to Zoom and Microsoft Teams. And while it took just a bit of getting used to, I would say I eased into the norm of remote meetings fairly easily.
Working at a bureau, I had previously often missed out on team meetings at the head office. And even when I did make it down to Dubai, the commute back did stay on my mind. Zoom meetings did away with all these commute-related worries. They were easy to access, and the more I signed on, the more I appreciated just how much you could customise the meetings to your needs.
For instance, I absolutely love the Mute button. It is the only way I can prevent my noisy children from ruining every meeting I attend. I also quite enjoy looking at the virtual backgrounds my colleagues use, whether it be an idyllic beach, a vibrant landscape or simply a plain wallpaper. And I am truly grateful for the option that allows me to keep my camera switched off on the days when I don’t feel like pulling on my hijab.
In fact, I am so happy to be able to attend meetings remotely that even the sound of a loudly ringing phone during a meeting doesn’t faze me. In my opinion, we have none of us yet had the time to develop SOPs for these virtual meetings, so a little disturbance along the way isn’t a big deal.
My only qualm is that the ease of virtual meetings means that they go on longer than meetings held in person. With so many of us adding ‘just one last thing’, discussions can get unexpectedly lengthy. Then again, perhaps this is a natural offshoot of the fact that we’re all just a little bit starved of all the human interaction we are used to, and which we get much less off now that social distancing is the norm.