The People of Zoom

Ah, the world of Zoom. It is as mysterious as it is straightforward. An app I had never before used in my life has now become a word I use on a daily basis. And, as it goes in all aspects of life, Zoom features the good, the bad, and the… interesting.

I have to say, Zoom is a great platform for remote meetings, webinars, and training. It’s also become a useful and unexpected tool for keeping in touch with family and friends. We see people on the screen who we’ve just chatted with over the phone, who we used to see every day in the office, and who we wish we could catch up with over face-to-face coffee.

And for some reason, the remote platform of video-calls seems to accentuate all the quirks in our friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. In the closed environment of the office, where we used to spend seemingly countless hours, we got to know our co-workers as the ones who were loud-chewers, frequent break-takers, or early birds.

With Zoom, we get to know our co-workers in a more personal way from the comfort of our — and their — homes. Just as typing from behind a screen provides some level of anonymity, a meeting via Zoom seems to give the participants a certain level of comfort that allows eccentricities to shine.

There’s always the one who uses the quintessential Zoom feature of an artificial background. And companies (like Disney, Fox, and Nintendo to name a few) cater to these green screen loving individuals with custom Zoom backgrounds from iconic movies, video games, and TV shows. Now you know who in the office is a die-hard Game of Thrones, Bob’s Burgers, or Frozen fan.

There are the ones who fall asleep. The one who left their mic on and is snoring audibly to an unappreciative audience. The one who wakes up *gracefully*.

There are the foodies. The one who eats chips (again, with the mic on). The messy one. If you thought loud chewers in the office were annoying, try listening to it on surround-sound. Oh, and there’s no looking away from the view either when their camera is set six inches from their face. Lovely.

There’s the one who takes the floor and talks the whole meeting even though they’re not the scheduled presenter. The one who arrives with a 500-page PowerPoint, ready to share every last excruciating detail.

And then, there are the yellers. Just today, I had a Zoom meeting. Suddenly, one attendee turned away from their camera to yell at someone the rest of us couldn’t see. They yelled “I’M ON THE PHONE!” to the person who was apparently trying to talk to them, as well as our entire meeting. We’re all still sporting headaches from the ungodly volume of their voice.

Yelling on Zoom calls should be outlawed. And for that matter, being the loud talker on the remote session is not a desirable trait. One loud member, and everyone has to turn down the volume on the whole meeting.

But is it better to be silent than loud? There’s always that one person who keeps their mic and camera off, leaving the rest of us wondering if they’re even attending the meeting at all. Are they paying attention… or off playing golf? We may never know.

Maybe they’re too embarrassed to reveal that they — like many other people — didn’t bother to get dressed for work again. In the beginning, as we navigated the world of remote work, we kept up with our professional, business-casual digs. Now, we’re lucky to see brushed hair and shaved faces.

As time goes on, more and more People of Zoom decide that it’s adequate to show up in pajamas or gym clothes with bed head, sweaty clothes, and unruly facial hair. I mean, hey, they showed up, right? And at least we can’t smell them through our computers.

While the People of Zoom show their peculiarities in full swing, providing cringe-worthy views and disagreeable noises, the Pets of Zoom are something I always look forward to.

The true VIP of any meeting is the cat or dog that wanders into view. Feline friends who feel the need to sit directly on the keyboard or dangerously close to the camera are a wonderful distraction for observers, and in my book, furry friends are always welcome — in the office or the Zoom call. No matter what the call is about, a good doggo or floofy cat makes everything better. If Zoom were exclusively for watching pets, I might feel a bit differently about the whole thing.

During this pandemic, so many of us have turned to Zoom as a safe way to socialize and continue our lives and our work. It’s a great tool, and I am thankful for it. But I still have an aversion to office meetings.

Whether we hold them in the office or remotely over Zoom, meetings can — and should — be done via email. It saves time, energy, and patience.

 

Send in the Clowns

It’s been a long week… hell, it was a long week on TUESDAY, now it’s just ridiculous.  At least tomorrow is Friday and that’s almost as good as it actually being Friday.  However, it’s been the kind of week where you dream of throwing it all to the wayside and running away to some small town in the middle of nowhere, preferably with a beach view… or a mountain lake. Or the Eiffel Tower. I’m good either way.  While pondering my lot in life and Googling airline tickets to Paris during my lunch hour, it occurred to me that my life could have been very, very different.

When I was kid, my father always threatened to sell my brother and me to the circus when we acted up. Didn’t most harried parents? Being a parent myself, I can’t say as I blame him. Fortunately, for my brother and me, our mother would chime in, using her gift of persuasion, and rescue us from the circus life. I’m betting she hesitated a time or two over the years though.

This got me thinking. When I was a kid, I would have probably been great in the circus! As a kid, I had no fear, especially when it came to being adventurous. Go ahead, stuff me into a car with a bunch of clowns, I could have swung with the amazing flying trapeze artists, maybe get launched out of a cannon across the big top. Oh yeah, kid me would be more than ready and willing for the circus life. But adult me? Not a chance.

Quite frankly, if I were in the circus now, I would be… well, to say the least, bad at everything. I’m afraid of heights. I’m not quite sure how that happened. Well, maybe not heights, but if and when you fall, I’m afraid of that sudden stop at the end. I have severe social anxiety, as I think I’ve mentioned before, so I get tongue-tied when put on the spot… so being a hawker wouldn’t exactly be my forte.  I’m horrible at guessing ages and weight, often erring on the higher end. I’ve been smacked more than a few times because of it too. But I swear, she looked like she was a very attractive 60-year-old, how was I supposed to know she was 31? I mean, honestly. So, running the guess your age/weight booth would be a recipe for disaster and likely result in needing bail money.

I’m not a fan of being the center of attention, in fact quite the opposite. So “gather round everyone, and step right up” would be great, until the crowd stepped right up and I would spend the next 10 minutes hyperventilating into a bag. The show must go on, they say, but I’d need a few minutes or an hour to collect myself first.

Being a clown would be horrible. First of all, clowns are creepy to a lot of people, so you’re always dealing with that vibe. Add in a curmudgeon with anxiety issues and bad make-up skills, and I’d either be making kids cry or giving clown-fearing adults a new conversation to share with their psychiatrists. Aside from that though, I’d always wonder, are they laughing because I’m so incredibly funny or are they laughing because I’m an abject failure as a clown? My self-esteem wouldn’t be able to handle it, I tell you.

I could care for the animals and feed them, but I don’t agree with keeping animals in cages. In a lot of cases, the animals are abused so that they’ll perform tricks. First day on the job would be, “local crazy woman sets free the entire animal population from visiting circus.” And then bail money would be required, yet again, and that would be a whole ordeal.

My balance has also seen better days, not saying I’m very clumsy, but I’m kind of very clumsy. Riding a unicycle on a tightrope would probably either be a messy one-time event or an all-day excursion depending on if there’s a safety net or not.

The pattern seems pretty clear here.  Either my health and mental well-being would be in jeopardy or bail money would be needed for … well, any number of reasons.

Oh! You know what though? I do love food, especially cotton candy and popcorn, so I could be a food tester. I’d EXCEL at being a food tester! It would have to be in a quality control capacity though, as working at the booth would probably result in a loss of profit for the circus. I’m up to the challenge to see if I can eat my weight in cotton candy. Hmm… maybe that could be a side show act!? Looks like I found my circus niche after all.

Holidaze at the Office

Relationships with co-workers can be interesting. Ordinarily, we wouldn’t hang out with each other outside of work, but we spend more time with each other than we do with our friends. You’re not exactly friends, at least not in the outside world, yet you still find yourself engaged in distracting, pointless conversations in the break room and you still make jokes and talk about your weekend plans (that they — or you — aren’t invited to). Some of these coworkers are just email buddies or part of your phone conference cliques… you never actually meet in the office, let alone in real life. It’s a unique situation. These awkward connections are made all the more obvious during those universally loved mandatory office functions.

And as we all know, it’s that time of year. Yep. I got the email invite to the office holiday party this past week.  I have just one word to say about that… help!  I’ll be forced to meet the people I’ve been emailing from ten feet away. Ugh.

Oh, I forgot to mention.  We’re having a Secret Santa gift exchange this year instead of a cookie exchange. Really!? It’s like they’re adding insult to injury. Last year I got a myriad of sweet treats to take home (who am I kidding, they never made it out of my office)…  this year I could get any sort of awful thing.  And then I have to get someone else a gift, cause, you know, that’s how these things work. Good grief doesn’t even cover it. But it’s the holidays, so I’m trying to curb my cursing in hopes that Santa has short-term memory loss and won’t remember the rest of the year’s colorful sentence enhancers.

Isn’t it crazy how you can work with someone for years and still not know anything about them? I know what most of my coworkers had for breakfast and which kid got suspended last week, but gift ideas? No, not a clue. How do you shop for someone you don’t really know? There’s so-and-so who eats a half-dozen donuts every day, but I can’t get them a Krispy Kreme gift card, right? I’m thinking that would be rude. I can think of a few who could really use muzzles, but HR told me that would be frowned upon, and I’m really trying to avoid HR this year.

We’re drawing names out of a hat this coming week for the Secret Santa thing… I just hope I pick the person in the cubbyhole next to mine so that I can gift them with a set of pens that don’t click. It would save us both a lot of heartache – and bail money – in the end.

Speaking of holiday parties, ours is apparently having alcohol again this year. Alcohol makes every party at work 500 times more interesting. Trust me, that’s a fact. Just about everyone ends up imbibing (I mean, it’s a party with your coworkers… you do what you need to do to push through), but there are always those people who are somehow plastered a half hour into the party. How do they get so drunk so quickly? Personally, I think they start the celebration a little early with a nip in the office kitchen. These are usually the folks that are dancing with the hat rack, wearing the wreath from reception around their neck, and there isn’t even any music playing.

Of course, there’s the requisite mistletoe melodrama… the coworkers who use it as an excuse to get chummy and try their best to make it seem spontaneous when, in fact, they’ve been practicing all week. You see, we don’t have mistletoe in the office. I know, right!? That’s part of the whole plot… it’s discovered in one of the coworkers’ pockets as part of an elaborate mise-en-scène. Frankly, the rest of us are getting bored with the whole show, because it’s been the gal from finance and the guy from the warehouse two years running now. Come on, people! We need a couple of fresh faces to step up in the office affair department to make things a little more interesting this time next year.

What it all comes down to is this; basically, there are two groups of people at these events: the people acting like they’re at a college party rather than sharing eggnog with their boss and their boss’ boss who flew in from Toledo just for the event, and the rest of us who just want to go home. Can you guess which group I’m in?

Cause you just know that at some point someone is busting out a karaoke machine. It’s just a matter of time. You only hope that you get an emergency call from home before then… or somehow tranquilized. What is it about booze and karaoke machines that make people who don’t get it think that they’ve got it? Is there a volume lower than mute? Where’s that button on the karaoke machine is what I’d like to know.

I always find a buddy to drink with – misery loves company after all. We all have that one work buddy. Our Office BFF.  We laugh at everyone else, talk about how much we want to leave and generally contemplate the repercussions of the evening.

I guess it’s better than that corporate group retreat where we did trust training. I’m still scarred from my trust fall with Bart from accounting. Yikes.

** This post was brought to you by holiday drinking.  Thank you for making us all, in the words of the great Clark Griswold, “the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse” this holiday season.

Hell on Earth – Redux

Mandatory training has been ongoing at my office this week. Its only Wednesday, and with Thursday and Friday left on the horizon, I’m ready to flee the country and move to Belize. I don’t care what my bank account has to say about it.

While thinking of a way to accurately articulate the absolute pleasure to be had in a company training room (and not like that, trust me), I remembered that this subject has cropped up before, which brought me to the realization that we had a similarly joyful round of training about this time last year.  I guess I blocked it out … you know, the trauma fun and all.

So anyway, I thought I would remind you of the joy that is workplace training.

(Originally posted on November 9, 2018)

After a recent week’s worth of company training, I thought I would take a moment and give some feedback. Quite frankly, other than the bagels and donuts that so often accompany these events, work place training sessions are a complete waste of time.  I’m sorry, but it’s true. Games, role-playing, team answers to ridiculous questions, and worst of all … participation is expected.  As a raging introvert, I can think of few other anxiety-inducing events that top a rousing “role playing” or “group participation” session.

Seriously though, I’m hard pressed to say which type of training is the least annoying.

Death by PowerPoint:  This involves a computer and a screen. After the inevitable ten minutes of fumbling, the computer operator will have to go find someone to come “fix” the presentation, so the training can proceed.  All PowerPoint presentations follow the same path: the first slide is supposed to be amusing, but seldom is.  Then, the “class” starts where one person stands robotically reading each slide, point by painful point, sometimes with the help of a laser pointer.  When a break is called, people run to the smoking area even though they weren’t smokers when the class started.

The Professional Speaker:  Sometimes, you get the privilege of having a guest speaker.  This person usually brings their own computer presentation, fumbles with the computer for ten minutes, then goes to find someone to come fix the presentation.  The first slide is supposed to be funny… you get the idea.

New Age Co-Op:  These training sessions bring emotions into the classroom.  You start with trust exercises that involve throwing out your back when your trustworthy coworker gets a text at the same moment they’re supposed to catch you, and end with hugging your coworkers and telling them just what it is about them that is so gosh darned special.  Apparently, “You’re special because you’re sleeping with the boss” is not an acceptable comment; I got sent back to my office (which is where I wanted to be in the first place) and banned from participating next year.

Role-Playing:  This is an offshoot of the New Age Co-Op training.  When you role-play, you may have to play the part of a customer, or maybe a manager if you’re lucky.  You are placed in several unrealistic situations and expected to respond appropriately while your coworkers critique your performance.  Again, I am banned from participation for a year when, as a “customer,” I overturned three tables and dumped water on Joe from accounting after being told by the “waitress” that they didn’t have unsweetened ice-tea.  The people role-playing the police department were very talented… had uniforms, i.d., and everything. The car ride was unexpected, but fun.

Team Groups:  In this training process, you are split into groups and given tough questions to figure out, most often in a “Jeopardy” or “Family Feud” format, because nothing says “team building” quite like pitting coworkers against each other – especially when a $5.00 gas card is involved.  Your answers are presented by the “team leader” to the rest of the class.  I was in the restroom and came back to find I had been elected team leader in my absence.  My aforementioned ban was solidified when I stood up and told my best joke instead. No-one laughed. And I’m freakin’ hilarious.

Don’t get me wrong; training is a very important part of keeping workers up to date on changes and evolving processes within the company.  The bad part is that these training sessions could be accomplished in an email thereby saving money, time, and reputations.

Every worker in the world follows the exact same pattern when they have a workplace training session.

  • Try to call out sick.
  • Charge the phone for Facebook browsing and Words with Friends.
  • Pretend to be in the middle of a project and look very busy in the hopes you will be excused.
  • Show up as late as you can and take the seat all the way in the back or position yourself nearest the snacks.
  • Notify your friends to call you frequently so you can excuse yourself because “This is about that big client.”
  • Appear to be taking extensive notes when in reality you are drawing cartoons (my personal favorite).
  • Nod deeply and agree occasionally so the presenter thinks you are actively engaged.

There are, however, a few things that will get you thrown out of work place training.  I have compiled a list of my the most effective ones:

  • Stand up and yell “hallelujah,” “preach,” and “amen” randomly throughout the session.
  • Raise your hand and ask questions about things completely unrelated to your job or the company, such as, is the color orange called orange because it’s the color of oranges or are oranges called oranges because they’re orange, OR how do geese know which goose goes first when migrating.
  • Sneeze and cough repeatedly; more effective if you bring some type of slime from your kid’s collection and launch it across the room while coughing.
  • Write your boss’ name on your name tag and be disruptive.
  • Lean back in your chair and toss spitballs at the screen like the moody antagonist in an ’80s John Hughes flick.
  • Lick the donuts in front of everyone and then slowly put them back.
  • Answer your phone loudly and declare, “I don’t care how much money you have invested in this company, I can’t help you! I’m in training!”

In all honesty, work training can be a valuable tool if it is approached correctly.  Unfortunately, most companies don’t approach it correctly and the entire process is one that is universally hated.  Can I get an Amen?

Puppy Power

I try to be positive … I try to keep “I made it to Wednesday!” and “It’s one day closer to Friday!” in my mind. But I usually end up regressing to “It’s only Wednesday…” followed by an ugh or a blech.

It may be coincidence, but this was the first post on my Facebook feed this morning. Vividly accurate, I must say.

And how is YOUR Wednesday?