Last week, I co-hosted an Instagram Live watch party where I drank a large bottle of wine and shouted along at the screen to Cats for several hours. I am not embarrassed about this. What I am just a little bit embarrassed about, however, is that during a test run earlier in the day I unwittingly wound up wearing a bathrobe and towel in front of a number of colleagues, including my boss. The plan was to do a private test that morning, using two burner Instagram accounts with no followers. My sister is Vulture’s social-media editor. I figured (wrongly) it would just be her, my co-host (a close friend), and me, a group of people with whom it would be perfectly chill that I had clearly just hopped out of the shower. This was, well, wrong. And while the end result wasn’t actually that big of a deal, it got me thinking about how we navigate this weird, new world where we’re pivoting entire IRL business operations online. Where in-person meetings are now videoconference calls and the conference rooms are our living rooms or bedrooms or, occasionally, bathtubs. (My girlfriend and I are living in a very small studio together and the bathroom is the only place with a door.) For guidance, I called up Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of famed Etiquette author Emily Post, who, along with her family, runs the Emily Post Institute, a source for all things manners.
Hi! So everybody is Zoom crazy these days, but was this a platform you used much in the before times?
We’ve used Zoom since 2017. I think that was the year we found it. It has been so incredibly helpful for us as an organization and it’s been really fun to kind of see everyone jump on the Zoom bandwagon.
I’m on it constantly. Gotta love that sweet corporate Zoom account. I notice you’ve got a pretty nicely framed shot I’m looking at right now.
I just cleaned my office and rearranged it about a month ago, so that helps.
What’s your microphone strategy?
It’s really important to mute yourself when not speaking and even more so when on group calls. Background noise, especially if there are other people in the home, is really distracting. Even simple things like cabinets and doors closing can get picked up.
Is there an ideal setup for video calls you’d recommend?
I would say that your ideal setup is to have whatever camera is facing you at eye level.
I’m sitting on the couch and my computer is on my lap. That’s probably why I look weirdly giant compared to you.
When you are in the Emily Post family … you have a lot of Etiquette books. My computer is stacked up on like four Etiquette books right now to get to the right height. You also want to think about where you are in the frame. I do think it is nice to be somewhat the same distance between your screen and you or between the camera and you as the person that you’re speaking with. It makes you feel like you’re a little in the same zone. If I [backs chair away from desk] … Now I feel like you’re looking in on me. But if I’m [shoves face into camera] … Nobody needs to see my pores that close.
[Post’s dog walks into the frame.] Great case in point. You might want to put your pets, you know, in a different room behind a barrier. I have places I could shut him, but he’s so darn cute, right?
I did want to ask about pets because we’re definitely video chatting in a different world than we were two weeks ago. Is it fair to say we’ve all got to be a little more flexible on these things that don’t really affect the work at hand?
This transition is going to make it sound like I’m equating pets and human children but I swear I’m not. What are some best practices for parents who are home with their kids?
Dan, my cousin and business partner, had the most excellent interaction yesterday when he was on a call. His daughter is 3 and they’ve been working on magic words, like saying “excuse me” when you need to interrupt someone. She comes up, she says, “Dada, excuse me please.” And it’s like all the right combos. So he says on the call, “I’m sorry, but we’re working on interrupting correctly with my daughter and she just did a great job. Do you mind if I praise her and accept the interaction?” The next words out of her mouth are, “Daddy, Aria is in the dishwasher.” Sure enough, Dan turns and his 1-year-old daughter had climbed into the dishwasher and was loading herself in.
Such a helpful baby. Cleanliness is very important right now.
I think people are being really forgiving about those sorts of things. I think people are both laughing about it, having a moment with it. But then I think we want to pay attention to the times when it’s a bit more serious and you are on that very important call. If interruptions start happening repeatedly — this is actually a great example behind me. The dog is focused on the cat. It’s becoming more noticeable in the background, even though I’m trying really hard to ignore it. Now’s the time for me to excuse myself and say, “Do you mind holding on just one moment while I get my dog into the other room so we can focus on our call?”
Is it okay for me to take a call from my bed?
That depends. Can I tell that you’re in your bed? If I can tell that you’re in your bed, I probably wouldn’t do it. That being said, you talked about having an incredibly small apartment; your bed might be one of the only surfaces you can sit on. You might want to just make an allowance for that and either angle your camera so it doesn’t look like you’re in your bed or just own it. Say, “Right now, the only space I happen to be able to sit in is my bed, but know I am right here and fully focused.” Those kinds of things make people understand what’s going on. But maybe don’t be in your bathrobe.
I learned that the hard way. Are you pro pants?
I am pro pants, but I’m pretty pro no pants too. You just have to be sure you’re not going to have to hop up and chase your dog. Do what you think is best, but the idea has always been that we wear clothes at work.
What about wearing sweats and a messy bun versus wearing a more proper outfit?
Do what feels right for you based on the nature of the call that you’re going to be on. You might also consider any compartmentalizing you’re trying to do while living in a small space. For me, I really have to try to find some way at the end of the day to make the transition into home life. I’m trying really hard to work in my office room and go live in my living room. I think clothing is one way some people do that.
Can I eat while I Zoom?
I do think that announcing it first is nice. My cousin and I often when on a phone call will say to one another, “You’re catching me right at lunchtime, do you mind if I eat my sandwich?” Or, “Okay with you if I prepare dinner while we talk?” I think drinking the usual coffee or water or tea at your desk is fine, I would just avoid slurping.
Do I have to get permission to screenshot?
You absolutely must ask first before taking screenshots, and also you must ask permission for where you can send or post them.
One of the weirder things about Zoom meetings is you often feel like you’re talking to yourself, if everybody is muted. If I tell a joke, nobody laughs. That sort of thing.
If you use gallery view, you can see all the members of your meeting. It’s on people to show their facial reactions, to laugh or to nod. Maybe give a thumbs-up, things like that help when you’re muted.
I guess it’s also possible my jokes just aren’t that funny.
We’ll all get better at this. This is week one or two for most of us.