Awkward Work-From-Home Moments (And How to Deal with Them)

What do you say when someone takes credit for your work? Asks you out on a date? Or experiences a death in the family?

A few years ago, I published a course on LinkedIn Learning titled Navigating Awkward Situations at Work.

The course was formed from my own experiences navigating the social weirdness of Corporate America. I wanted to help people step into those cringe-y moments with confidence. And while, “What to do when your coworker smells” may not apply as frequently in virtual work, we still face uncomfortable moments, sometimes even more frequently.

Virtual work brings its own set of awkward situations, like what to do when your meeting gets Zoom-bombed or how to console a struggling coworker via Slack.

Here are 3 of the most awkward moments I’ve both witnessed (and experienced myself) in working from home AND how to navigate them:

1. Collaborating isn’t going well… in fact, it’s going badly

Collaborating over video is more challenging for a few reasons:

  • The slight audio delay leads to people feeling cut off more frequently (and makes you feel like you’re constantly talking over other people)
  • Everyone has different mic volumes.  Constant changes in mic volumes make it tough to accurately pick up on emotional clues. The loud person might not be angry, and the quieter person might not be disengaged.
  • Eye contact isn’t natural, I mean, who wants to stare into a green dot? But the lack of eye contact makes people feel like they’re not being listened to.

It all adds up to feeling less than inspired in a group collaboration call. In these moments, try using a different strategy. Platforms like Zoom also have annotation options, polls, and breakout rooms for small groups. The combination of these things helps people feel heard and actually results in better thinking from the group.

2.    There’s an unforeseen interruption (or, a lot of them)

If you have an unexpected interruption during a call, the best course of action is to openly address it, and then move on.

That guy on BBC, who had his toddler (and then his baby and then his wife) interrupt a live TV interview really paved the way for the rest of us. Calmly acknowledge the loud noise, cat on the desk, or small child standing behind you, and move forward. We are all dealing with it, so no need to over-apologize.

And if you’re dealing with a lot of frequent interruptions, like the barking kind or the crying kind, try downloading Krisp. It’s a program that filters out your background noise; I just got it and was surprised how effective it was.

3.    One of your coworkers is going through a hard time

When someone experiences a death in the family, has a spouse lose a job, or goes through another personal hardship, it’s tough to know what to say (even in person). Now, those instances are unfortunately more frequent, and their potential awkwardness is magnified in a virtual setting.

If someone on your team is going through a tough time, acknowledge it, and offer to support them. It’s easy to think that you are somehow going to “make it worse” by bringing it up. But, the horrible thing, whatever it is, already happened. The only thing that can make it worse is the other person feeling alone in their pain, and like no one cares.

While awkwardness may look different (or even dramatized) over Zoom, some universal truths prevail. Transparent, honest, and kind conversations are necessary. They were necessary in the office, and they’re even more necessary in a virtual environment.