Natalie Robinson Bruner
Dear video chat colleagues without kids,
Updated: Feb 15, 2022
Let’s recap our last meeting from my perspective.
We were discussing our new strategy with the current state of social distancing. This is an unprecedented event that was probably inevitable, yet no one truly planned for it (except the pentagon). We were discussing the impact of this crisis on our employees, what working remotely looks like, who can work remotely, how are we going to pay people with no cash flow, how can we serve the community, what will our organization look like after this, etc. While we are deep in conversation on Microsoft Teams Video chat, a young child who’s daycare has closed in an effort to slow the spread of the virus has had enough of their parent’s split attention and begins to cry.
So like any loving parent, they stop and pick up their child to comfort their anxiety. This parent understands the situation and mutes their microphone. However, there are a few seconds between a child making themselves known and a parent muting their microphone. From there, the parent begins to focus as hard as they can to the conversation with crying in their ear while trying to determine the reason for the crying to stop it.
Although this parent is trying their best, they don’t follow the conversation as closely as possible and needs to be brought up to speed when they fully return to the video chat. The parent apologizes for the interruption and returns to work.
For some reason, an unnamed childless colleague then proceeds to send a mass email (which was clearly directed at the parent) about proper video chat etiquette and the need to reduce the noise during meetings out of respect and for the sake of productivity.
I understand that under normal circumstances this is not the best way to conduct business. This is not standard protocol when working from home. That an expected level of professionalism has been compromised.
These are unprecedented, abnormal, non-standard, unexpected times. Old rules cannot apply. They require new rules.
My job just created a remote work policy. Having half the country shut down is in no one’s policy manual.
So, chill out.
I guarantee that parent, working from home with a crying child while trying to maintain their train of thought and quiet the child, was having a rougher time during the meeting than you were being inconvenienced.
Instead of being a stumbling block here are some things you could have done to help the situation:
Keep meetings short
I know we are trying to figure this out. We are trying to talk through these problems. But, it helps to recap meetings in writing, research possibilities and allow people time to process information. There should be a balance between brainstorming as a team and brainstorming alone. We don’t have to sit in virtual meetings all day to prove we’re working.
Ask about the meeting time
Some of us have school age kids that need flexibility in the mornings to support our child when their teacher has office hours. Some of us need flexibility in the afternoons when the kids are getting stir crazy and need to get outside. Some of us need flexibility in the middle of the day to make lunch and lay little ones down for a nap. Have you ever surveyed your team about their remote working situation and flow of productivity?
You could have helped that parent by distracting the child. Kids love seeing faces on computer screens, especially faces that respond to them. Take the time to say hello to the child. Ask them their name. And for extra credit say something nice about the parent to their child. Don’t devalue the child or the parent’s struggle by ignoring it.
Roll with the punches
Acknowledge the child, make a joke about the situation (I know you want to say how happy you are that you don’t have kids) and continue with the meeting. We’re already embarrassed in that situation.
Once (really if) we rejoin the meeting, it would be helpful to give a quick recap of the discussion. This should be standard practice at the end of any meeting. But, it helps reorient us and feel like we’re part of the conversation again.
Give some grace
This is new. No one has perfected this reality because most people working from home don’t have their kids in the house and most homeschooling parents don’t have such restrictive work expectations. We are not moving our offices (and schools) into our homes. This is something new. #Schork
We all have to figure this out together.
We quietly put up with you comparing the care of your pet to raising a child. Hopefully this situation highlights the differences between the two experiences because we can’t lock our child outside during a meeting without it becoming a meme on Facebook.
Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Founder/Principal Strategist at Glad•ED Solutions