One of my biggest fears materialized yesterday (no, I am not referring to my life’s goal of never pooping on an airplane; that streak of abstinence is alive and well thank goodness). I was supposed to run this virtual working group session with a bunch of our clients yesterday. Luckily, I was able to punt this nightmare to one of the young kids in my group by convincing my boss that it was a “learning opportunity” for him. Even sweeter, I told the kid that he should tell his career manager about this so that his career manager could give him feedback after the call and step into the meeting if something goes awry. This whole sequence of events is exceptionally Machiavellian on my part and I’m damn proud of it. With two, swift, cunning moves I removed myself from the role of lead facilitator (which would have required ample prep time and laser like focus during the call) and relegated myself to my desired status of “disinterested spectator”.
I decided to take my nonchalance to the next level by working from home yesterday. The problem is, I got too greedy. I logged into the webinar, leaned back on the sofa, and grabbed a copy of the Wall Street Journal – yes, the print edition. You all know I freaking hate computers. Anyway… Mistake # 1: About 15 minutes into the call that I was ignoring I got sleepy. I let out a big yawn. About two seconds later you hear one of the clients say: “I guess we’re boring somebody.” I immediately glanced down to my phone and saw that I never muted myself. Fudge, but f- it, they’ll never know it was me. 10 Seconds later I get a note on the webinar platform from the very kid that was “learning” saying: “Seriously bro! You’re yawning!?”.... Apparently the software shows a little speaker icon next to the participant when he or she talks so that everyone else knows whose talking. Fucking technology man, ratted me out. I spent another 5-10 minutes alert and, in a panic, trying to determine whether or not this yawn could come back to haunt me in some way. Luckily though, the tranquilizing nature of the call soothed my nerves.
20 minutes later my other colleague, the career counselor, sends me a text message: “You know I can see you, right?” I was stunned, I texted him back and asked him to clarify. His response: “Webcam”. Apparently this new virtual meeting software automatically turns on your video and you have to formerly opt out after the meeting starts. Fuck. My only saving grace is that clearly, he himself was so bored that he started clicking through to see what the other participants were up to.
This actually isn’t the most scandalous of my virtual meeting behavior. Back when I used to work with the government, I fell asleep on the phone and apparently snored at everyone for about 5 minutes. Here’s the kicker, there were 140 people dialing in remotely and another 30 that had all gathered in a conference room with a speaker blasting from the ceiling so that all the prisoners could clearly hear the “thoughts” coming from the virtual folks. I should have seen this disaster coming because I started the call sitting up, then slouching, then I laid down on the floor so that I could rest my back, then zzzzzzz. Fortunately, this incident happened about 6 years ago before technology was smart enough to tattle tale. At the time, short of doing a 140 person roll call, it was impossible to decipher which douchebag was snoring into the phone. Even a roll call might not have worked because, given that we’re talking about government here, there probably were multiple wastes of life sleeping during the call. Then you would have to get into the impossible game of: Which sleeping beauty is the one snoring?
It cuts both ways though. I once ran a virtual webinar for 400 employees at a pharma company only to be interrupted halfway through by a lady talking to her cat. “Sebastian… Sebastian, come get a treat…. Oh, you don’t want this treat huh? You like the tuna treat better. I know you do, I know you do, come here so mama can scratch you!” In sixty masterfully orchestrated seconds Sebastian managed to disrespect me, his mom, an entire cat treat factory and entertain 400 people. Sebastian’s indifference and disrespect to my webinar made him a company legend. Perhaps my disdainful yawn and leisurely intake of the daily news will also make me infamous. Or I’ll get fired. Worse yet, perhaps upper management will start blessing me with a never-ending series of “learning opportunities”.