LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 16: on screen is Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonien Singh (a genetically engineered human from the 20th century). At table from left is James Doohan as Lt. Commander Montgomery Scotty Scott, Leonard Nimoy as Commander Spock (Mr. Spock), William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk and DeForest Kelley as Dr. Bones McCoy in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode, "Space Seed." Original air date February 16, 1967. Image is a frame grab. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
The writers of Star Trek were ahead of the game on video calls © CBS/Getty

The other day, a friend was working from home when an internet glitch forced him to drop out of a video call just as one of his colleagues began to speak. Afterwards, he sent me a stunned text about the colleague: “He was speaking when I logged out and he was STILL speaking when I finally tuned back in.”

I told him he was not alone. He had had a brush with a species that is rampant in the age of lockdown living. The Zoom bore.

Video conferencing tools have exploded into our lives this year but none are quite like Zoom. As Mary Meeker, the much-watched Silicon Valley venture capitalist, wrote in a report two weeks ago, it took about two years for Instagram to snag 100m monthly active users and roughly 18 months for the Fortnite video game. Zoom has gone from 10m to 200m daily users in the space of just three months.

Alas, it came without an instruction manual. Those of us who once lived happily without either it or its rivals have been cast into a virtual wild west that urgently needs some rules.

Having consulted a slew of seasoned Zoomers, I offer the following thoughts to the millions who, like me, have just learnt what a grid view is and why it matters.

Do not be a Zoom bore. This offender comes in several varieties, starting with the windbag who was a remorseless drone before Covid-19 and revels in the chance to overpower poorly run video meetings. A subset of the genre is the bore who has just learnt how to video chat and showers unsolicited advice at will to prove it. Avoid being either.

Learn how to use the mute button. Many of us are now in our fifth week of lockdown yet many of us still do not know how tiresome it is to be on a video call wrecked by the gurgles, coughs and hisses from an unmuted microphone. Keep it off unless instructed otherwise.

Don’t interrupt constantly. Video calls are a chore to chair. Preparing time-consuming agendas is more vital than ever. Technical hitches are inevitable. Keeping track of who is online and who has spoken is harder. Someone will always cluelessly forget to use their microphone properly. Make the chair’s life easier and wait your turn to speak.

Don’t be a broadband snob. If you have an ultrafast, top shelf internet connection, congratulations. Bear in mind not everyone can, so do not snigger at people with a fuzzy, freezing image. Be patient and politely suggest they turn off their camera to save bandwidth.

Don’t be a background braggart. Likewise, if you have a lovely designer home and a view over a lake, well done. If you work with people who don’t, keep your background neutral.

Upperwear does not equal any-wear. One of the joys of Zoom life is the freedom to wear whatever you like below the waist. If you can get away with it above the waist too, fine.

But UK parliamentary authorities were right to apply normal dress codes to last week’s historic virtual sitting. It is polite to keep some standards from slipping.

Keep the camera on. Being able to see who is trying to talk improves almost every meeting. Unless you have bandwidth problems, don’t hide. Better yet, learn how to use grid view, so you can see everyone at once.

Ignore the occasional child or cat. By now this should be obvious. Ditto the benefits of keeping work meetings short and to the point.

Invite carefully. The pointless participant is a scourge of any meeting but on video calls it is worse. Don’t add to the stress of bad tech and far-flung people in different time zones by letting calls be hijacked by people whose presence limits useful discussion. Sometimes it is kind to be ruthless. This is such a time.

Ignore the ring light. Finally, if someone suddenly shows up online looking half the age they were the day before, they have probably cottoned on to the lockdown secret of the ring light, a lighting tool that de-wrinkles the face, which I fully intend to test shortly.

Treat this development as you would if a colleague turned up half a stone lighter at work. Ignore it completely, except to say: you’re looking well.

Twitter: @pilitaclark

Letter in response to this column:

We knew ‘Star Trek’ was a glimpse of the future / From Joseph A Howley, Associate Professor, Department of Classics Columbia University, New York, NY, US

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article