5 disasters to avoid during work video calls

It has become increasingly common for people working from home to have to video call into the office in order to be properly integrated into their company’s workforce. And though the average video caller has the benefit of operating from familiar surroundings, they can’t let their guard down since they’ll be micro-analyzed over video just like any average employee would be when physically sitting in a meeting room with colleagues and bosses. This brings us to the topic of dodging catastrophes unique to virtual meetings.

Be it wardrobe malfunctions or unmuted mics, there are a lot of mistakes people can make when calling into work via their laptop’s webcam. Here are five disasters to avoid during work video calls, along with tips on how to ensure said disasters never befall you.

Know when you’re live

Ever seen a colleague do something stupid while forgetting they were still live on a video call? I sure have. Here’s the story of one anonymous individual who cost himself his job because he didn’t take a second to make sure his camera and mic were off after he (mistakenly) thought he’d disconnected from a call. 

The fellow in question was having a real rough time with a coworker and a client, all of whom were on a video call together. When he thought he’d left the video call, he mumbled something about his coworker being a series of expletives I won’t repeat here.

As you might guess, having a coworker and a client hear him say such nasty things didn’t boil over well with upper management, and a few short days later, the goober who’d accidentally spoken while still connected to the call was out of a job.

Mind you, that’s an extreme example of screwing up while unwittingly remaining in a video call. But even minor infractions can look pretty bad. Do you want your coworkers to see you absent-mindedly picking your nose? Or giggling at something on your screen that nobody else can see? No, you probably don’t want any of this. So make sure you’re properly disconnected from a video call before doing anything that might look bad. Triple check that all mics and video feeds are dead.

Wear pants

If there’s one disaster you want to avoid while doing a video call, especially in a work-from-home environment, it’s exposing yourself on camera. This might seem like old-school advice, considering we live in a time when some Youtubers are making multi-millions and don’t wear pants to work because they only film themselves from the waist up. The same can be said for average Joes who work from home and have to report to a physical office via video calls. Heck, I’ll admit that I’ve skipped pants for a lot of calls and enjoyed the mild amusement of knowing I’m comfortably airing out in my boxers while everyone else is trapped in a stuffy office wearing sweaty slacks and skirts.

Still, it’s not always a great idea to live dangerously. If you report in via a laptop, a single accidental slip of your machine might reveal more about you than you’d like. Similarly, if you have a stable monitor and webcam setup but sit in a wheeled chair, all it takes is a slight repositioning to reveal what’s below the belt. The point here is to be careful. If you think an accidental boxer shot might cost you your job and that worries you, put on some clothes before calling in.

Test your audio equipment beforehand

I tell this next story often because it’s often applicable: Once upon a time, I had a video interview via Skype. I came armed with a pair of earbuds that had been working fine the day before, so I didn’t foresee any tech issues. Yet, when the interview started, I couldn’t hear the interviewer. Luckily, I had his phone number, so I called him via my cell and skipped the busted buds, at which point the interview could proceed. But had I not done that, those freshly deceased earbuds might’ve cost me the gig.

The moral of the story is to not take chances. If you’re making important work-related video calls, don’t look like a buffoon who can’t use their own gadgets. Test everything you need before you start a call, and if you’re relying on something like a microphone for clear audio, have a backup handy in case the first one unexpectedly dies on you. The odds of that happening are astronomically slim, but every gadget has a shelf-life, so don’t let your device’s expiration date interrupt the flow of your work.

Isolate yourself

If you’re working from home and have family members occupying the house at the same time as you, be mindful of where you set up shop for your video calls. Having a spouse ask what you want for lunch while you’re video calling into work from your living room isn’t the end of the world, but it’ll probably be a little disruptive to your coworkers on the call. Similarly, if you have kids and they’re climbing all over you like rambunctious chimpanzees, it might seem cute to everyone on a call at first, but it’ll soon become an annoyance if it interrupts your ability to communicate.

To avoid these issues, designate a quiet spot in your home for work calls, and make sure everyone else in the household knows what’s up and has an idea of when to leave you alone and let you do your job.

Use common sense

When you have the comfort of being detached from a face-to-face physical interaction thanks to the distance provided by a video call, you might be tempted to say things you wouldn’t say in person. Don’t do anything stupid that’ll come back to bite you. It might seem consequence-free to be a little crasser, harsher, or more “honest” since you’re just talking to bobbing heads on a screen, but try hard to remember just how real a video call is in the world of work.