Betrayed by the mute button: the early days of Zoom

Oct 12, 2023

4 mins

Betrayed by the mute button: the early days of Zoom

Virtual meetings are a regular part of office life. It has become second nature to be hypervigilant, avoiding any potential faux pas that could leave you in an awkward situation. However, it isn’t so long ago that many employees were struggling to make the shift to remote meetings, with hilariously dire consequences. From inadvertent PDAs to bathroom fiascos, two little buttons were the cause of great humiliation for the American workforce. Worse, these incidents were immortalized in recordings, allowing them to go viral online, taking down Hollywood directors and A-list journalists alike.

Tensions can run high in the workplace and a blunder involving the mute button can lead to disaster and dissent among colleagues. While most of us have gotten a handle on discretion during meetings, almost everyone can recount one or two awkward moments from the early days of remote work. To remind ourselves that nobody’s perfect, we asked people to anonymously share their most embarrassing moments on Zoom.

First, we have the classic: ‘I thought I was muted!’

  • “I will never live this one down. A co-worker put on a TED talk about relaxation techniques. I said, ‘This is stupid.’ My mic was live. Someone else muted me. My boss didn’t call me in but she did ask my coworkers what happened. Bless their hearts, they tried to cover for me with a made-up story that I was commenting on something else. She didn’t believe them but let it drop. Never did ask me about it…”
  • “I burped out loud once, didn’t realize I wasn’t on mute. The camera shifted to me as it thought I was speaking…”
  • “I was talking to my cat during a meeting. One of the hosts muted me while the other host continued talking.”
  • “I had been using my speaker to get some stuff done while listening to music. It was on the counter when I inadvertently played a video of a species of wild dog scientists thought was extinct, and their unique howl. Everyone heard it.”

And on the other side of the coin, people who didn’t know their camera was on…

  • “Right after the transition to work from home, my whole team was shifted to a new department. During the second day of training, one of the girls on the team took a huge bong rip on camera – thankfully before the trainer joined. The whole team yelled at her that her camera was on and she instinctively shut her laptop until she could hide the bong. How she still works there, I’ll never know.”
  • “I accidentally turned my camera on while in the middle of a yoga session…”

Then we have the poor souls who took their laptops to the bathroom

  • “I had a court-appointed mediation that was on Zoom during the pandemic. The case was for a collections effort as part of my job. The funny thing was that the court had a Zoom waiting room and we all had our video on and just waiting for our turns. There was a guy on another case there who kept moving and talking, so his Zoom feed was given the bigger screen… He took his phone with him to the bathroom to brush his teeth and accidentally muted us instead of himself. I was laughing until he proceeded to go over to the toilet and unleash a fury. Eventually, the meeting host came back to the waiting room and cut his feed, but the sounds… dear lord.”
  • “A family friend was on a call with 150 people when someone went to the bathroom with their camera on. There’s no way of knowing how many people on the call saw it, but at least one colleague joked about it afterwards.”

These stories remind us that living with your parents may save on rent, but you pay in other ways

  • “My mom burst into my room and asked, “Does baby like mommy’s outfit?”
  • “Long story short: my father wearing Speedos.”

We can’t forget those who brought new meaning to ‘NSFW’

  • “During the pandemic, my boyfriend was working, but I didn’t know that. I walked into his office nude while he was in a meeting with his boss. I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so I couldn’t see his screen… I walked up behind him and kissed his head. He turned beet red and told me he was in a meeting and to put some clothes on! I covered myself and ran out, but we laughed about it later!”
  • “During lockdown, I used to work in recruitment for a tech company. The candidate joined the interview with a very unique Zoom background: a naked woman! I was speechless. He signed out of the meeting and came back two minutes later with a more conventional background explaining he had connectivity issues.”
  • “I got on a call with my shirt a lot more unbuttoned than I thought it was…”

And those who forgot basic workplace etiquette

  • “I had an informational interview with a publisher in NYC. He signed into the meeting 20 minutes late and told me he was talking to me from his bed with his camera off. Clearly drunk at 11 AM, he went on to explain that the main hiring criteria in the industry was “hotness,” so he could probably get me a job. The interview ended with him advising me to never get in a car with a certain, now-deceased publishing magnate, and other than that I had a bright career in front of me.”
  • “When court was being held online, I once came into my coworker’s office and accidentally stood between her and the camera during the middle of a hearing.”
  • “I was in a staff meeting and our boss was working from home. For some reason, she decided to take a shower mid-day and sat through the entire meeting with her hair in a towel. Then she invited her cat to say hello to everyone, and all we saw was the cat’s backside for a good five minutes.”
  • “In a work-related Zoom meeting, our boss was talking, A coworker thought they were sending a message to another coworker, but they sent it to everyone. They said, ‘I wish she would shut up. My God, I’m sick of her voice!’ She replied verbally. It was awful and hilarious.”
  • “We were having a big meeting with all the heads of departments, and one of them fell asleep during the meeting. He was just sitting there in his chair with his head tilted back, snoring. We all kept asking him questions but he never answered because he was fast asleep. I took a screenshot (and we all still laugh about it).”

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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