One business that was particularly helped in its growth by the pandemic has been Zoom, the online video meeting platform used by individuals and businesses to connect with one another. For its fiscal 2021 year, Zoom’s total revenue was up more than 300% from the prior year clocking in at $2.7 billion. If you haven’t used Zoom yourself, it’s more than likely you know someone who has, and that someone might even be living in your household.
It is this increased reliance on Zoom that led a reader we’re calling Medea to email with a question. Medea is self-employed and has been using a free account on Zoom to meet with clients. The free accounts allow users to meet for up to 40 minutes before they are disconnected. For a couple of years, using the free account has worked fine for Medea since her meetings typically didn’t go longer than 40 minutes. But recently she has had several meetings run longer than the free account allows.
“I have sometimes disconnected and then reconnected on a new 40-minute Zoom call,” wrote Medea, but she observed that doing this could come off as amateurish to her clients.
Medea’s husband also uses Zoom frequently for business, but he uses the account paid for by his employer that has no time limit on meetings.
“Would it be wrong for me to occasionally use my husband’s work account when I anticipate a meeting going longer than 40 minutes?” Medea asked. “Nobody at his company would notice and I know my husband sometimes uses his Zoom account for a personal meeting anyway.”
Medea may be correct in assuming that no one at her husband’s company would notice if she used the Zoom account paid for by his business for her own business meetings. But just because no one might take notice doesn’t make piggybacking onto another business’s account without permission from that business the right thing to do.
If Medea’s husband or anyone uses their business Zoom account for an occasional personal call, they should make sure they are not violating company policy by doing so. Just as I’ve long believed that companies should consider letting employees use their office computer to book personal flights or make personal purchases while on a break from work, letting them use a Zoom account occasionally for a personal call seems wise as long as those calls don’t rack up long-distance charges for the business. Regardless of what I believe, however, an employee should always make sure they are not violating company policy in such usage.
As I see it, Medea has two choices. If she wants to continue to enjoy the free service offered by Zoom, she can make sure none of her meetings go longer than 40 minutes. If that proves to be impractical or impossible, then Medea should pony up and purchase her own Zoom subscription which would be a legitimate cost for her business. Medea is no less responsible for the costs she incurs to run her business than her husband’s business is.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
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