Video conference gone wrong? Learn from these remote workers' gaffes.

Despite the countless hours so many of us have spent staring into the video cameras on our laptops, Zoom mistakes are still occurring across companies on a near-daily basis. In fact, TopCV recently asked remote employees to share their most embarrassing Zoom blunders and they did not disappoint! 😂

Gaffes that were amusing at the beginning of the pandemic are now undercutting the professionalism of many of our colleagues and, in some instances, jeopardising their careers. With many companies opting for a hybrid working arrangement moving forward, it's clear that virtual conferences are here to stay.

So, how can you tell when a simple gaffe becomes a career crisis requiring serious damage control? Read on to sort out where your Zoom blunder falls on the “cringe-worthy” metre, what you can do to recover from it, and how to prevent a future recurrence. Then, take a moment to enjoy reading 20 more stories of remote meetings gone terribly wrong.

Step 1: Assess before you react

TopCV: Zoom Blunder Metre_Green

My toddler came running into the room completely naked while I was in a department meeting.

Step back and assess the situation. As with any gaffe, always pause and regroup before deciding your next move. Consider who was present, how many people were affected and the wider repercussions – if any! A big Zoom blunder in front of an important client or the entire organisation will cause a larger ripple than if the same blunder occurred during a meeting with a few of your teammates.

Also, consider the personalities of those involved and your company culture, as these will play a role in determining whether your Zoom blunder is met with laughter, indignance or a P45.

Do keep some perspective – while you might have been mortified that your toddler interrupted your conference call to proudly announce their latest potty triumph, it's unlikely your colleagues or clients have given it the same level of thought. Given the prevalence of remote work, there are far worse incidents taking place on Zoom these days (if you don't believe us, just read the stories below).

If you're unsure where your Zoom blunder registers on the “cringe-worthy” metre, put yourself in someone else's shoes, and think about how you would've reacted. If you'd like a second opinion, ask someone you trust who witnessed the gaffefor their objective evaluation to work out whether your professional reputation truly suffered any lasting damage.

Step 2: Apologise and make amends

TopCV: Zoom Blunder Metre_Yellow Middle

A colleague forgot they were screen sharing and typed a chat message complaining about someone else on the call and everyone saw it! The person who was being complained about hung up and stormed off abruptly! 😱😱😱

Consider the immediate reactions of those on the Zoom call. If the blunder resulted in nothing more than a chorus of chuckles, you only need to offer a quick apology to acknowledge the mishap (“sorry about that, everyone”) and get back to the business at hand. Chances are, no one will remember what happened in a few days' time.

However, if your mistake was offensive, rude or has called your reputation into question, you'll need to do more to make amends. Start by apologising to whomever was directly involved or offended by the incident, especially if it involved your manager or staff members. If you can't have this conversation in-person, arrange a time soon afterward to speak via phone or video call to own the mistake and offer a heartfelt apology.

Step 3: Know when to move on

TopCV: Zoom Blunder Metre_Red Right

I was attending a Zoom meeting for all the division heads and one of my coworkers forgot to mute themselves. The whole company heard him interviewing for another position on his mobile 😱

Whether you would categorise your Zoom blunder as more of a small gaffe or a real career breaker, the last thing you want to do is dwell on the issue or let it become a continuous topic for your  co-workers. What's done is done. If your actions didn't earn you a P45, learn from your mistake so you can avoid repeating it in the future.

However, if it's clear your actions have jeopardised your chances of progressing at this particular company or you're simply too embarrassed to show your face in the office or on screen ever again, it may be best to cut your losses and prepare to job hunt. Move swiftly, and be certain to gather all the necessary details from your work files (as allowed in your contract) and add them to your personal “brag book” so you can update your CV with the most relevant information and start your next job search.

Step 4: Learn from your mistakes

The best way to recover from any Zoom blunder, large or small, is to make changes that will prevent history repeating itself. Now's the time to rethink some of your old virtual work habits or introduce new ones that will help you avoid these gaffes moving forward:

  1. Rearrange your home office. Consider altering your home office set-up in a way that will allow your back (and your computer's webcam) to face a wall. While the virtual backgrounds and other effects offered by many web-conferencing programmes are helpful, they are not always reliable and can backfire. 

  2. Modify your meeting settings. Mute yourself as soon as you join a meeting (and throughout) unless you are talking. You can also update the default settings for joining calls in the Zoom web portal or in the desktop app to automatically join meetings with your video off and your sound muted. You can also place a webcam cover or even a post-it note over your camera as an extra precaution.

  3. Keep your meeting out of the bathroom. However important a meeting is; if you need to use the loo, do not bring the device with you. This is a huge no-no! Leave your headphones at your workstation and double-check that your device's mic is muted and your video camera is turned off before you head to the bathroom.

  4. Remain stationary. While it may be tempting to attend a meeting while on-the-go, refrain from joining the meeting until you're settled in the car or already at your destination. Moving locations, especially with a Bluetooth-enabled device, can be a recipe for disaster. If you intend to use your phone to dial in for a video conference, be sure to familiarise yourself with the setup and check the default settings, as they may differ from the desktop experience.

Communicate your availability (or lack of). Alert your family members so everyone is aware of when you're available and when you should not be disturbed. For important meetings, you might block the time off on a shared calendar with your family or write down the dates and times on a paper sign outside your home office. When all else fails, invest in a lock for your office door.

20 cringe-worthy stories of Zoom meetings gone awry

Whenever you're using a video-conferencing tool like Zoom, GoToMeeting or Microsoft Teams, there's always a chance something will go wrong – especially when you're working from home or dialling-in while on-the-move. Have a good laugh over these embarrassing Zoom blunders!

1. Beware the ballsy child

I was leading a standup meeting with my team when my son came into the room holding some wooden balls and a pouch. He started putting the balls into the pouch and yelling, 'Look at my ball sack, Mum!' while I was talking.

2. A naked partner makes quite the entrance

The virtual background I put up failed me and my hairy, shirtless husband popped up on video while I was meeting with my boss.

3. You snooze, you lose

A coworker's wife walked in while he was on a conference call with us and said, 'Allister, you're asleep!' I THOUGHT I had heard someone softly snoring and this guy's wife confirmed it LOL

4. Crash landing!

I got hit in the face with a paper aeroplane in the middle of a Zoom call with a client.

5. Mind your language!

A colleague yelled “f*ck me!” out of anger while on a teleconference with 250 people 😱

6. Enough to make you turn your nose up

While a guest speaker was presenting at a large corporate event, an IM message popped up on the big screen that said, 'Someone farted back here and it stinks!' All heads turned to the back of the room to see a mortified event planner!

7. Calling Mr Dangerfield

One of our very straight-laced executives hopped on a Monday morning Zoom call with his name as “Whisky Dangerfield,” clearly leftover from some virtual weekend festivities. We all burst out laughing! 😂

8. A less than purr-fect co-worker

I once told my cat to go lick its butt because it had a dingleberry. Of course, everyone on the call didn't know I was talking to a cat and my boss stated, 'To everyone else, please don't try this at home…just use toilet paper like most people 🤦

9. Loud burps caught 

Right after I started a new job, my husband let out a deep long belch while I was on the phone with an executive at the company. Luckily, he had a sense of humour but at the time, I was mortified!

10. Chained to the office? 

I locked the door to my home office one night to take a late work call. When my son realised it was locked, he proceeded to twist the door handle, slap on my glass door, and say over and over, 'MUM, LET ME OUT!' I was mortified that the client would think I locked my kid in a cage or something because that's exactly what it sounded like 🤦

11. Nice try! 

While on a call with a large group, I overheard a woman say to someone in her family, 'OK, let me try to back out of this conference call I'm in…' As you may have guessed, she did not, in fact, get out of the conference call 🤣

12. I have to poo!

My kid ran into my home office and yelled at me, 'I HAVE TO POO!' … at least everyone had proper context when I said I had to drop off for a minute, LOL!

13. A 'ruff' day

A higher up yelled, 'NOOO!' at the top of his voice while someone else was explaining a detailed process. He was yelling at his dog 😂

14. A touch risqué!

I recently had an associate join a Zoom meeting as 'seXXXygurl69' — we were all dying! 🤣

15. Long day at the office

I was on a team call with my boss and his wife must have taken his car to the store. My boss' phone flipped over to the car and we heard all about the kids' trials and tribulations at school. Our boss had no idea and thought he was still talking with us.

16. Foul play! 

We were in a training session and my coworker, who was on the phone with someone else and didn't realise they weren't muted, said 'I'm on this f&%king training so you don't have to listen to this bullsh@t!' The trainer had a hard time recovering and getting back on script 😂

17. Not feeling so flush…

I was on a call where someone used the bathroom. They exerted a LOT of effort before realising they were not on mute 😱

18. Mr Motivator

During a large team meeting, a coworker accidentally started playing a YouTube video he apparently had been watching on what to do when you're over 40 and want to lose weight! 🤦 I felt so bad for this poor guy!

19. Mum's the word

I listened to my coworker and his mother argue very intensely about what groceries to get for over 5 minutes …I think he knew he was not muted but did not spare me.

20. Indecent exposure

I was in a meeting with an account rep and his boss to discuss renewing our contract. He must have thought he'd turned off his camera at some point because he began texting someone and sending some pics of his nether regions, I kid you not! 😱😱😱 Thankfully, we couldn't see anything, but it was pretty obvious what he was doing. His manager called my boss the next day to apologise and let us know our account would be handled by her moving forward.

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