I’m Not Good At Zoom Calls: Will This Damage My Career?

Two career experts advise a woman who feels she can’t contribute to meetings right now.


by Sue Unerman and Kathryn Jacob |
Updated on

In a world of inspirational memes and #girlpost Instagram posts, it’s easy to forget that we all get stuck at work, or feel like we can’t find a way forward at times. Sue Unerman is the Chief Transformation Officer at MediaCom and Kathryn Jacob OBE is the Chief Executive at Pearl and Dean. Together they wrote The Glass Wall: Success Strategies For Women At Work And Businesses That Mean Business. Each week answer your work questions with pragmatic, honest advice that’s proven to work…

Question: I normally find it difficult to talk in meetings, anyway. Remote working is making this even more uncomfortable. I’m worried that if I don’t look like I am making a contribution that my career will suffer for the long-term. How do I manage this?

Kathryn Jacob: This is a strange situation. I know how torturous these calls can be. It is difficult to communicate properly with people especially if the connection is flaky… all of the gaps, interruptions and timing issues are really tough for anyone to navigate. I am sure that lots of people have sympathy with your situation. I think that you might want to consider preparing for these calls in advance and giving yourself three tasks per call to achieve. These could be: A) making sure your voice is heard by joining promptly (even early) and asking after all your colleagues to check in with them. This means you have spoken and established a connection with your workmates. B) ensure there is at least one point in the agenda when you can make a contribution, even if it is sharing an article that you think is relevant. C) although you might not be heard, or feel that you participate fully, don’t be afraid to follow up with an email or a text to ensure that you are visible and creating a connection.

Sue Unerman: This is definitely an opportunity for you to participate because it might prove easier to create a structured role for yourself in a regular meeting over video than it is to interrupt a real life meeting. Can you get a slot on a regular agenda that is useful to everyone there? This could be the latest forecasts for your sector, or even an update on social sentiment across the public from social media trends. On many virtual meeting places there are chat screens. Why not share something there, even if you don’t have the opportunity to speak? One person I spoke to last week, mentioned that he found the etiquette of online meetings in his organisation did not allow much or any interruption – but there are hand-raising features on most. Use these to make a useful point. And for a lighter note, change up your background, either in reality or virtually. This can give you a talking point before the serious part of the meeting begins.

Whoever is running your team is just as confused and concerned as you are. No one knows how long it will be until we are together at work again.

KJ: Sue are you saying this because I told you about one of my dogs sitting on my head during one call ?! That certainly got people’s attention. What about offering to collate any input from other parts of the business before your meeting? That way you become the conduit of information. You could also offer to take and share notes and actions.

SU: What are you wearing for working from home? There are no established rules about this. There are lots of jokes about only dressing above the waist, and much speculation about the true colour of some people’s hair coming through. Personally, I am dressing for work every day. I am doing this, because it puts me in the right frame of mind. I am wearing the fragrance that I normally wear to work. I realise that the people I am in a meeting with cannot smell me obviously, but for me it is all about my frame of mind. The techniques that we recommend in our book The Glass Wall hold true in the virtual workplace. Make alliances with other people in the meeting, perhaps offline, so that when you are in the meeting you can support each other (there may well be others feeling in the same position). Speak even if you are not sure that what you say is going to be perfect – it almost certainly will neither be perfect, nor will it be stupid and worthless, which the voice in your head might be saying. Above all, be kind to yourself at this very difficult time. It is very hard for everyone to stay resilient, but remember we all have good days and bad days, good moments and crushing moments. Stay as positive as you can, but accept that not every moment is going to be good.

KJ: Remember that in all of the confusion and difficulties of the moment, what most people will remember, is the support that you give them, the attitude that you do it with, and your willingness to be flexible and to help. No one at this time is playing a game of putting each other down as we are all realising that each of us has a part to play in our companies’ recovery and in how we shape our future. Whoever is running your team is just as confused and concerned as you are. No one knows how long it will be until we are together at work again, and so the important thing is to be as positive as you can, as kind as you can be, and to do all you can to support your colleagues and, in fact, your boss.

SU: Take care, and we hope that you stay safe, and that you can find a way to grow during this difficult time, but be assured that you are not alone in how you are feeling.


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