I’ve lost count of the number of hours I’ve spent talking or listening to others over Zoom since last spring. I suspect the tally is substantial. I’ve learned how effective a mechanism the chat function can be for side conversations or how useful it is to be able to record an event so those who couldn’t attend in real time can choose to view it later.
I’ve also learned that being on Zoom for the better part of a day with few breaks between meetings can be exhausting. Many of us may have saved time not having to commute to work over the past 13 or 14 months, but any extra minutes or hours seem to have been eaten up with requests for far more meetings because we can easily “hop on a Zoom call.”
It’s no surprise then that many readers have begun to find their time on Zoom or other online meeting sites a bit frustrating. A reader we’re calling Adeline emailed that while she has been working remotely, her company has regular staff meetings, but also quite a few required trainings on everything from the company’s sexual harassment policy to tutorials on how to participate in the company’s various Slack chat rooms.
“We never used to have as many meetings,” wrote Adeline. “Part of me thinks they’re holding so many to make sure we are actually at our computers when the company wants us to be.”
Adeline also wrote that while the company requires employees to log on to Zoom meetings, it allows them to turn off their video once they’ve logged on.
“Unless we’re put into smaller breakout rooms, there’s no way for whoever’s running the meeting to know whether anyone actually stays in the meeting,” she writes. “Some of my colleagues have told me they regularly go off and do something else once they’ve logged on. Sometimes they’ve logged on using their cellphones and, once they turn off their video, they run errands or handle other tasks that don’t really have to do with company business.” Adeline indicated that she knows this because some colleagues have told her as much.
“This is wrong isn’t it?” asked Adeline, who also wants to know if she has any obligation to report the colleagues she believes may be faking Zoom attendance.
While there are conceivable occasions when turning your attention from an online engagement to an urgent matter is appropriate, lying about being in attendance at a meeting or training when you aren’t actually there is wrong. If there’s truly a reason you can’t do a part of your job, the right thing is to acknowledge when a more pressing concern makes it impossible to engage, just as you would if you were in-person. Just remote work makes it easier to pretend to be in attendance when you’re not does not make it right.
I’m not convinced, however, that Adeline should report any colleagues she suspects of such behavior. Even if they claim that they are often off doing something else, she has no way of knowing for certain. The right thing for Adeline to do is to continue to show up and be as engaged as she can. It might also be good for the company to set the policy that turning off the video should be the exception rather than the rule.
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.
Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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