Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I am having a Zoom etiquette argument with my housemate and wonder what you have to say about it. I work at home and am on teleconferences all the time — hours every day, typically. My roommate works at her office still but pretty much comes straight home. From that moment throughout the evening, she is constantly on Zoom with friends and family. An average night has her on probably 3-4 hours of calls.
We share an apartment and the living and dining and kitchen space is all one area. We each have a small bedroom. She does her calls in the living area so there’s no escaping it. I’ve asked her to wear headphones and sometimes she does but she complains it hurts her ears. Even when she does, her loudly talking really makes it impossible for me to watch TV or do anything else. I asked if she would start doing these calls in her room and she said the internet is bad in there and she feels claustrophobic.
I’m at my wit’s end and feel like she is being rude and insensitive. She says I need to compromise. What happened to the days when having speakerphone conversations in front of people was rude? Do I have a leg to stand on here?
Ah, I remember those days of which you speak: the only people making audible video calls while others nearby were those who reeked of being out-of-touch with societal norms and super analog with technology. So what happened to the days when having speakerphone conversations in front of people was rude? COVID-19 happened. And now all bets are off.
2020 has left us all grappling with the solutions to feeling crucial connectivity to our loved ones. Most of us are no longer meeting up for casual in-person get-togethers. Many of us are taking seriously those advisements to minimize social bubble sizes and skip usual come-together traditions. A lot of us are still working at home. And frankly, Wayne and I thank you for that.
But the flip side of this is while we are all trying to do the right thing and keep space between ourselves and others, we feel the depth of that space and we are looking hard for ways to bridge it. In many situations, teleconferences do the trick. It’s comforting and even heartwarming to look into the eyes of friends and family members, see their familiar mannerisms, and take in their expressions as well as their words.
So what can you do about a chatty roommate whom you feel is space invading? Be compassionate. Be empathetic. Go to your room and watch your shows on an iPad and let her have the gift of bandwidth so she can talk the night away with her loved ones. It’s the holidays, after all. If there’s ever a time to take the high road, it’s right now as we close out 2020.
Wanda, you sure gave our writer some great advice; she should take it. And writer, you sure gave your roommate some great advice; you should take it, too.
Come on: let the roomie have quality time with family and friends. And come on: even if she wears headphones it’s not going to mute her — she’ll still be talking back to whoever’s on the other end, right? So instead, why don’t you treat yourself to an early Christmas present: some nice, big, wireless, noise-canceling headphones. If it can drown out crying kids on an airplane, it can certainly provide silence over a gabbing and giggling Zoommate. Now, whenever you’re home and she’s chatting, you can find your quiet place, or binge your favorite shows without distraction, with just one click.
And I’m hopping out on a limb here, but I bet another factor contributing to your general annoyance is the fact that you’re a feeling like a prisoner in your apartment these days. It’s tough to get perspective, space and peace when your down time is spent in the same place you just slept in for 7-9 hours and then worked in for 7-9 hours. Even tougher when you can’t even get some of that space to yourself. Of course, you’re going to feel frazzled and ready to freak out!
Take those fancy headphones, or leave them, grab a bright headlamp, throw on some layers, and go for a nice, brisk walk after you’re done with work and the roomie is settling in for her first session of the night. The fresh air and time away from your apartment/office/communal space will do you good. Clear your mind, get your blood and body moving after being still all day, bring down the tension of the workday, avoid your roommate. What’s not to like? Or maybe even take a tip from her and use your walking time to catch up with a friend or family member? Try it out — I bet it works wonders for your sanity and lowers your stress level before you get back home.