* I have picked up a lot of secrets from the homes that I took a virtual tour of, thanks to webinars and Zoom meets
* I understand this is casual to you, but why do I have to see this? What is this obsession to see and be seen? What was wrong with the vanilla conference calls?
I know, I know, it’s awkward to talk on this platform about the very same stage that has put me in an uncomfortable spot for the last nine months. When corporate India logged on to their office systems remotely, little did they know they were all joining a prolonged socially awkward situation.
When we signed up for shifting boardroom meetings to video calls we should have known that as a country we have only been using the platform to call family that stays away and insists on “coming online on weekends”. We didn’t have the slightest clue about good lighting, dressing aptly for video calls and, most important, the need for appropriate backgrounds. As a content creator, I had to host webinars from the first month of the dreaded lockdown and, boy, I had no clue what a circus these video calls would turn into.
And, after all these months, here is a thin manual of what to do or not do in video conferencing:
Please use an appropriate background. We understand that more than half the country doesn’t have office space to work from at home but please don’t show me your unfolded sheets on the bed in a video call just because you are working from home.
In these nine months I have picked up a lot of secrets from the homes that I took a virtual tour of, thanks to webinars and Zoom meets. I know the colours of a certain colleague’s underwear, brand-named Jocki (clearly an Indian cousin of Jockey), for he is always sitting in front of a makeshift clothesline in his bedroom during video calls. I perfectly understand that he stays in a men’s hostel in Mumbai and the rains might have made it difficult for him to dry his smalls, but why can’t our bosses understand that too? How will adding a video to a sales call drive growth? I spoke to my boss about this problem and mentioned that not all of us had the background luxury of a lush green garden in a plush little bungalow in Greater Kailash, and he said, “You can always use virtual backgrounds, dear”. The next day I logged on from a beach and my friend from a very ugly-looking library. It was funny but also sad since we used up a good 20 minutes of our 45-minute call adjusting our virtual backgrounds.
The other big problem is Zoombombing. Thanks to these absolutely unnecessary video meets, I have now met my boss’s father-in-law, my colleague’s boyfriend, my Jocki buddy’s roomies and half of corporate India’s wives, moms, sons, daughters, uncles, nephews and pets, each time I interviewed them on my webinars.
Another huge roadblock is dressing up for the meets. Before a certain webinar one of my speakers sent me a message, asking what he was expected to wear. “Keep it casual. No sweat,” I replied. My man took it literally. He turned up in something which I’d call a cross between gym clothes and inappropriate sleepwear with no sleeves involved. I understand this is casual to you, but why do I have to see this? What is this obsession to see and be seen? What was wrong with the vanilla conference calls?
In India, at least, data theft is the least of our concerns on a video call. As a nation we weren’t ready for this new way of working on Skype, Facetime, Zoom or Google Meets. Video, for us, was restricted to sending “Please see my daughter’s first Bharatanatyam performance and bless her” kind of clips on family WhatsApp groups or, at the most, making a funny video (uncle snoring) for TikTok. This work business on videos has been difficult, gauche and supremely awkward.
And that is why I am penning this letter, with a reassuring message to all my colleagues, co-panellists and speakers on video calls: Don’t worry. I have seen nothing!
Yours in anguish,
Always on call