From unflattering angles to sound clashes: seven (painful) stages of video conferencing

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These days, remote meetings are part of the fabric of our working lives. From giving us the “business on top, pyjamas on the bottom” dress code to enabling that dream relocation to Mallorca (or Margate), the new era of video conferencing has helped us balance work and life better than ever before.

But while hybrid working is endlessly flexible, people usually aren’t. Factor in clunky, unreliable tech and suddenly everyone’s cringing faster than you can say … er, nothing. Because you’re on mute again.

Whatever your profession, chances are your video conferences go a little bit like this …

Stage one: staring at your own face
First, the urgent business. We all know that nothing can be achieved on any video call until everyone has taken a good, long look at their own face. Really it should be the first item tabled on the agenda. But without that luxury, you are doomed to spending the first five minutes of every meeting pretending to pay attention while really contemplating your best angles, subtly attempting to sort out a chaotic fringe and pondering the eternal question: is that really what my eyebrows look like?

Of course, the savvy hybrid worker always joins the call a few minutes early – officially, to look organised, but really so you have a chance to tweak the blinds to their most flattering angle, or haul a desk lamp in from another room and angle it straight at your face. This will work wonderfully until the sun begins to set outside, leaving you ghoulishly uplit as though telling a campfire ghost story. Boo.

Stage two: sorry, didn’t catch that
Like proverbial buses, you wait ages for someone to kick things off and then three people speak at once. Even those of us who pride ourselves on not having suffered a “you’re on mute” moment since late 2020 can’t say we never fall victim to the mortifying “You go”, “No, after you”, “I’ve forgotten what I was saying anyway” exchange of doom, followed by awkward laughter and subsequent silence. Everyone will nod and make non-committal “agreeing” noises. Nobody knows what they’ve agreed to, and will later find out in a startling email.

Stage three: the big freeze
Once you’ve all remastered the art of conversation, there’s the small matter of trying to look at the person who’s speaking, while they duck in and out of squares like the world’s worst Brady Bunch reboot. Wait, there they are! Nope, gone again.

It doesn’t help that your colleagues include the Gesticulator, who keeps bobbing out of shot because their passionate body language can’t be contained within one small square, the Nostril, who seems to have confused this meeting with a medical examination, and the Jack in the Box, who can’t stay seated for longer than a couple of minutes without springing up to adjust the curtains, fetch a snack, or answer the door to the postman. Not forgetting the Iceberg, who freezes so often on screen that you begin to wonder if they’re moonlighting as a human statue.

Stage four: the special guest appearance
You could have sworn you switched your camera off – and yet the colleague who just messaged to say that they’d seen your partner/housemate/parent sneak across the room in a towel would suggest otherwise.


While cameos from cute cats and dogs have become an accepted (and often welcome) part of the home working experience, not all cohabitants are as welcome.

Stage five: the soundtrack
It is a universal truth that the otherwise silent, peaceful couple next door will choose your very important work call as the perfect time to start primal scream therapy, or perhaps clog dancing. The neighbourhood dogs will begin their daily choir practice just as you reach the most nerve-racking point of a pitch, while the builders across the street will helpfully finish their tea and begin their schedule of high-pitched drilling just in time for your client’s questions.

Background noise is an unavoidable fact of hybrid working, but it doesn’t mean we should have to get distracted every ti … hang on, was that your doorbell? Or my doorbell? Shall we all go and answer our doors, just in case?

Stage six: the fidgets
Stage six is the most painful stage of video conferencing, being that it involves muscle cramp. You’ve now been perched on an unsuitable chair at an uncomfortable angle for 45 minutes, trying to look alert while keeping your face in the light and strategically blocking the pile of laundry on the floor behind you, dreaming of the moment you can finally get up and stretch your legs. Are you wincing at their budget projections, or because you’re trying to surreptitiously shake out a bad case of pins and needles? They’ll never know.

Stage seven: the bad bye
Finally, it’s time to wrap things up. Aims and objectives have been met and to-do lists have been ticked off. Any other business? Ah, yes, of course – the incredibly awkward wave.

You try to suppress it. You clutch your mug of cold coffee in an effort to ride out the urge. But resistance is futile, and so after the traditional farewell of five byeees per person (six, for luck), up pops your hand and soon you’re flapping it around like a gameshow contestant.

We can’t entirely blame video conferencing for this so much as the faulty connection between brain and arm, but at least you can take comfort in the fact that everyone else on the call is waving like an idiot, too. Great work today, team.

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