Nearly everyone wants to work from home (WFH). But no one wants to look like an idiot doing it.
Still, there continues to be embarrassing WFH stories — with colleagues, bosses and clients witnessing the best of the worst behaviors.
This is for certain: Embarrassing WFH stories are worth a little laugh — and a big lesson in what to avoid.
And the laughs and lessons aren’t likely to slow any time soon: Just 5% of leaders prioritize getting remote employees back on site, a Conference Board survey found.
Roles in embarrassing WFH stories
Nearly anyone can play a part in a WFH disaster: On a Zoom call, there’s almost always a remote or hybrid audience — and the audience can be a witness or part of the plot.
Some of the most embarrassing WFH stories uncovered in TollFreeForwarding.com‘s survey were purely accidental. Others were the result of a player not knowing — or, perhaps knowing, but not following — virtual etiquette rules.
Regardless of the players and/or witnesses, there are lessons in each of these that all of us can use to make sure we aren’t the next idiot going viral with embarrassing WFH stories.
No. 1: Naked, smoking and drinking!
Issue: Accidentally turning on a camera.
What went wrong: Benjamin P., from Seattle, was on a call with a vendor: “He was doing a software demo for us … He accidentally turned his camera on, and he was shirtless, smoking a cigar and had a giant glass of whiskey on his desk.”
Don’t make this embarrassing mistake: Camera on or off, you want to dress, speak and act as professional as you would if you were meeting in person.
No. 2: Potty break
Issue: Taking a live camera to the bathroom.
What went wrong: Parker B., a producer in Chicago, was online with a colleague who didn’t feel well: “He felt sick to his stomach, took his phone to the bathroom with him so he could operate the Zoom from there, and accidentally flashed about 20 people on the call when his camera was facing the wrong direction.”
Don’t make this embarrassing mistake: If you were not feeling well in the morning, you’d likely take PTO for the day. Or if you were already at an in-person meeting and started to feel unwell, you would excuse yourself from the meeting to care for yourself. Same goes for virtual meetings — take care of yourself without others around.
No. 3: Sharing an un-sharable
Issue: Sharing something that shouldn’t be on a work device and shouldn’t be shared.
What went wrong: Lauren W., a marketing manager in Denver, was working together, but physically separate, with a team member: “A colleague and I were supposed to be presenting to a prospective client. When my colleague shared his screen to show some work examples, he had a background tab opened to, let’s just say an ‘adult’ website. I was mortified.” (Note: Lauren reported the team member was a freelancer, and HR terminated the contract with him immediately.)
Don’t make this embarrassing mistake: For one, (and we’re confident you know this) never, ever use company equipment for personal business. Secondly, close screens and tabs you won’t need for online meetings before they start.
No. 4: Hot cheeks
Issue: An unexpected — albeit innocently cute — visitor jumped into a live screen.
What went wrong: Dave N. was working from home while his young son was also home for the day: “I was on a call with a bunch of clients and my stark naked son walked into my office and asked me to ‘fix his butt.’”
Don’t make this embarrassing mistake: Working from home can be difficult and awkward when others are also home. Young children who are schooling or just home for the day sometimes add an extra difficult element. Ideally, try to physically separate space so you don’t interfere with each other (without putting anyone in danger, of course). Or use a sign — perhaps as simple as a Stop sign that hangs near your workspace — to indicate it’s not OK to be nearby.
No. 5: Brawling sisters
Issue: Arguing, then punching, on a Zoom call.
What went wrong: Bryan C. was on a work call with siblings who also worked at his company: “One of the sisters was presenting her weekly forecast to her manager, with other higher-ups present on the call. Just as she was deep into her presentation, her twin — also her roommate — entered the frame, livid about her clothes being worn without permission. What began as a verbal disagreement escalated quickly into a physical altercation, with both sisters brawling while the Zoom call was still live. The confrontation was, needless to say, alarming and unprofessional, especially in a business setting with managers present.” (Note: Bryan reported the company investigated the incident and end up letting go both sisters.)
Don’t make this embarrassing mistake: For one, don’t take your sister’s clothes. No — we’re just kidding! This makes another case for finding a way to separate your workspace from the rest of the household and being able to shut out others during calls.
No. 6: Talking trash
Issue: Talking badly about colleagues.
What went wrong: Ben P. from Austin, TX, heard more than his colleague wanted him to: “One time on a Zoom call, one of the women on the call forgot to go on mute and was caught talking s*** about other people on the call. Oops!” (Note, Ben noted that besides the general embarrassment, the colleague was punished and had to attend sensitivity training.)
Don’t make this embarrassing mistake: First off, don’t talk badly about colleagues to other colleagues. Secondly, keep your microphone on mute when you aren’t talking. That helps to eliminate distracting noises in general — and prevents colleagues from hearing things around you that you don’t want heard.