Picture the scene. It’s weeks below the 2020 US election, and you’re a journalist at The New Yorker. Preparing for the landmark event and what’s sure to be a cripplingly busy few weeks at work, you decide to join a Zoom call with your colleagues. The purpose of this call is to simulate the US election or, to put it another way, play politics for a few hours. Only, not everyone is playing politics. You look over the little tiles in your Zoom app only to see one of your colleagues playing with their penis! Yes, this actually happened. According to onlookers, Jeffrey Toobin, Staff Writer at The New Yorker and CNN commentator, exposed himself on Zoom.

Toobin allegedly lowered his camera and began to touch his penis in plain view of others in the Zoom call. How did this happen? Well, Toobin says he made an “embarrassingly stupid mistake.” He believed he was off-camera, so none of his colleagues would see or hear what he was up to. This mistake was costly for Toobin, who was fired from his post at The New Yorker on November 11. While it was an undoubtedly distressing event for Toobin, the internet had a field day with it, and the hashtag #ZoomDick was born.

While Toobin might be the most widely known example of an embarrassing Zoom blunder, he’s certainly not the only one. Popular news sites and social media have been full of stories of Zoom fails. Earlier in the year, Lizet Ocampo, Political Director at People for the American Way, turned up to a Zoom meeting as a potato. She’d downloaded a “fun filter” for a virtual happy hour the prior Friday and couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. Ocampo said, “I just kind of gave up and stayed as a potato for the rest of the call.”

With a world forced out of offices and into homes in just a few short months, it’s hardly surprising that some blunders happened. Not only were a lot of people unfamiliar with video conferencing in general, but most people hadn’t used Zoom before. Zoom usage statistics show that the app had 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019, and by April 2020, they had a whopping 300 million[1].

If you want to avoid getting into sticky situations on Zoom, then we’ve put together this handy little guide. Let’s take a look.


How to Multitask On Zoom

While it may seem easy not to expose yourself on Zoom, it’s a surprisingly common occurrence. According to one survey of UK workers, around 10% of people claim to have seen someone wholly or partially undressed on a work-related video call since the start of the pandemic.

Check Your Camera and Mic

The best advice we have is always to assume your camera and mic are on before you do anything. This way, you’ll always double-check before doing something you’d rather your colleagues didn’t see.

Multitasking With Apps

If you’re using Zoom on an iPad or other iOS device and leave the app to open a PDF or write some notes, your camera will turn off. This is a limitation of iOS and will even happen if you try to split the screen on your iPad. This can be frustrating if you need to be visible while viewing a document to read from it. The only real workarounds are to use a physical copy of the documents you need during the Zoom call or to use a separate device, such as a phone or laptop for the call.

Get Prepared Before the Call

One of the worst things that can happen during a Zoom call is being caught off guard. It’s a good idea to make sure you have everything you might need before the call starts. This means any documents you might need access to, any tools you need at your desk, and even a glass of water, so you don’t have to wander off-screen.

Familiarize Yourself With Zoom’s Features

If you want to avoid your own Miss Potato head moment, then you need to learn how to switch filters on and off before you’re in an important call. We recommend having a play around in Zoom or watching a YouTube video to get the hang of it.

Let Everyone in Your Household Know You’re About to Take a Call

Okay, so you can avoid getting your own genitals out, but what about everyone else in your household? If you know you have a Zoom call, just let everyone know so they can all plan accordingly.

Of course, this won’t always work. Recently a video went viral on TikTok where the teenage son of a professor crashed his dad’s Zoom class dressed as a ninja, surfer, and explorer. Don’t worry, though; his dad eventually got him back with a nerf gun.


Zoom Etiquette – The Dos and Don’ts of Zoom

Stop Saying Sorry

Not everyone can have a perfectly controlled environment while at home. If your kid wanders into the room, or your partner walks past with some weights on their way to do a workout in the next room, don’t apologize. With the pandemic, the nature of our working lives has fundamentally changed. By working from home, we now catch glimpses of our colleagues’ lives and vice versa. Something like your kid entering the room doesn’t have to be cause for apology. In fact, it can be an opportunity to embrace the situation. Introduce them to your colleagues and connect a little more. With that said, if you do get your penis out – please say sorry.

Video and Audio

  • It’s good etiquette to turn your video on since it helps build trust and engagement. You can choose not to if your background is very noisy or messy, but try not to make a habit of it. And don’t avoid turning your camera on because your hair is doing that weird thing today or you think you look a bit tired – no one will notice.
  • Look at the camera – Again, this is about engagement. It would be best to look at the speaker and other participants as much as possible during the call. This is better for you too, if you stay focused, you’ll get more from the meeting.
  • Get a good quality headset – The internal mics on laptops vary significantly in quality and tend to pick up a lot of background noise. A good quality headset can ensure you sound clear and sharp.

General Etiquette

  • Try to avoid eating, or at least, only eat small snacks. Eating a full meal is likely to be distracting for other participants.
  • Don’t do your “alone behavior” – Sometimes, we can get lulled into a false sense of security in a Zoom call. We’re at home, and if no one is talking to us, it can feel like we’re alone. But you’re not alone, so don’t scratch your armpits, pick your nose, etc.
  • Be on time, and know what the meeting is about (scan the agenda).


Getting Out of Zoom Calls You Don’t Want to Do

Okay, let’s face it. Not all Zoom calls are productive, and not all members always have to be there. Most of us have been invited to a Zoom call where we spend half the time wondering why we were invited while trying to look busy or engaged. When we were limited by meeting room spaces, people were more reserved with whom to invite. With Zoom, the philosophy often seems to be “invite everyone and their dog to join.” Sometimes our time would be better spent on other tasks.

This doesn’t just apply to work either. That family reunion you’ve successfully managed to avoid for two years because you’re always out of town? Not a problem anymore! Your aunt can just send you a Zoom invite, and you have no excuse – or do you?

If you’re invited to a work Zoom call and don’t believe that you will add much to the discussion, or get much out of it yourself, then don’t stay silent. It’s perfectly okay to ask the invitee why you’ve been invited. To pull this off successfully, consider the following:

Compliment or encourage

Just turning around and asking “why” will get some people’s backs up. Although it’s an entirely fair question, some people take it to mean that you think their meeting is unnecessary in the first place. To avoid this, make sure to comment on the meeting like “Sounds like you’re making great progress with the project. You must be busy!”. Then, follow on with how you’re busy yourself and just wondering whether there’s anything they expect you to bring to the table. If it’s something small, you can even prepare your answer beforehand and submit it in an email to avoid having to show up to the Zoom call.


[1] https://www.businessofapps.com/data/zoom-statistics/#:~:text=Why%20ever%20people%20chose%20the,10%20million%20in%20December%202019.

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