My coworkers’ home lives are constantly derailing our staff Zoom meetings

Q: Our department’s weekly Zoom meetings are a train wreck. One coworker’s kids pop their heads in front of the screen and wave “hello.” Another guy’s kids are on the other side of the table from where he sits, and they interrupt him when he’s talking to argue with him.

Yesterday, one woman started breastfeeding her baby. When her baby’s snuffling got to too much, I privately messaged her to turn off her audio. I did the same thing the week before when another guy dry-munched cereal.

She blew up and sent a chat to everyone. She said she had the right to breastfeed and had to feed the baby or the baby would have cried. Right away another coworker chimed in that if gentle noises bothered me so much, I could have shut off my audio. That woman reported me to human resources after the meeting.

I’m obligated to attend these meetings. Any advice would be appreciated.


Every train needs a conductor; yours appears to be asleep at the wheel. Zoom meetings go off the rails when those who attend forget that while they’re at home, they’re also at work. If your manager asks every attendee to observe eight guidelines, it might get your meetings back on track.

Professionalism: Demonstrate professionalism as well as comfort in your attire.


Use your video feature to show your presence and remain engaged during the meeting. Put your cellphone away so it doesn’t tempt you.

Distracting sounds: Mute your mic when you’re not talking and don’t chew or munch when your mic is open. If you have pets or children in the environment, ask them to minimize their interruptions to the degree possible.

Visual distractions: Minimize visual distractions and adjust your camera to be at or near eye level. This guideline doesn’t restrict a nursing mother from breastfeeding if she has a hungry baby and feels the meeting is too important to leave. Not only does federal law require that employees be allowed to express their breastmilk as needed, but breastfeeding in public is legal and protected in all 50 states. If a nursing mom wishes to shield herself and her child she can drape herself and adjust her camera so only her face shows and mute her mic unless she wants to comment.

[Related: 8 ways to fix online meetings]

Code of conduct: Employees should comply with a company’s code of conduct, including avoiding comments about protected categories. Your comment about a breastfeeding coworker veered into this territory. Be aware of what’s behind you, such as photos that create a hostile environment for members of protected categories. Zoom has a “virtual background” feature for those who need it.

Don’t Zoom and drive, as the distraction might cause an accident.

Don’t use the Zoom chat feature to share private messages to a team member who’s also attending the meeting, as the Zoom chat feature might allow others to view your messages.

Log on early enough to fix connectivity issues. If you plan to share a document or image, practice a share screen trial run. If you’ll need to share your screen, clean up your desktop and close other browser tabs, if you’re working on documents that have personal or confidential information.

Good luck.

Lynne Curry | Alaska Workplace

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Navigating Conflict,” “Managing for Accountability,” “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully,” and Curry is president of Communication Works Inc. Send questions to her at or follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10.