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Working from home has been challenging for a number of reasons this year, with one online meeting after another replacing face-to-face conversations on an almost daily basis.

Compounding the problem is the size of living spaces in Japan, which are by and large too small to incorporate work spaces.

According to a survey conducted by MyNavi, 64% of respondents said they utilized their living rooms for online meetings, while their partners worked close by on a kitchen table. Interestingly, 1.8% of respondents said they participated in online meetings from the privacy of their toilets, where it’s generally quiet and secluded. Throw in an appropriate backdrop and who’s to know?

That said, a number of people have been caught in some outlandishly embarrassing moments during online meetings over the course of the year and, with 2020 fast coming to a close, it’s time to look back over some particularly excruciating experiences.

1) Background sounds

Social media users have shared countless stories of the types of sounds that disrupted online meetings with colleagues this year, featuring everything from the sound of someone chewing to the unmistakable sound of a toilet flushing in the background.

Twitter user @Qminco recalled that a colleague once phoned her 40 minutes into a meeting to tell her that she had left the audio on and everyone could hear her constantly rustling documents.

“Oh no, I’m so embarrassed,” she wrote. “Why didn’t they tell me sooner?”

@Qminco was also caught with her audio on during a meeting this year, but was fortunate enough to have avoided being caught in the act of doing something she shouldn’t.

“I’m so glad I wasn’t slacking off and playing with my cat,” she wrote. “And I’m even more glad that Traha (a smartphone battle game) was in maintenance.”

2) Sweatpants and stomach problems

Many Japanese companies have asked male employees to wear shirts, jackets and ties during online meetings this year, despite working remotely. Unfortunately, however, there seem to be few clear-cut rules about what men should wear below the waistline.

An article on Diamond.jp recounts how a manager wore sweatpants during one meeting, thinking his legs wouldn’t be visible until a subordinate casually remarked, “I was thinking of wearing sweatpants myself.” Apparently, the manager’s sweatpants became visible when he crossed his legs.

In the same article, a different manager had it worse. This one had been sorely troubled by an upset stomach since the morning and, rather than cancel that day’s meeting, he joined from the confines of his lavatory. “I didn’t want to have to dash to the bathroom in the middle of a work meeting,” he recalled. He managed to wrap up the conference quickly, all the while praying that he wouldn’t have to use the toilet. (He didn’t, but it was a close call.)

3) Personal presentation

For many women, online meetings have presented a different kind of problem — making sure that their backdrops and personal appearance look presentable.

According to an article on Excite.co.jp, many women prefer not to share the state of their living spaces with colleagues and use an online backdrop.

“These can be effective, but be careful as the corners of the backdrops can sometimes peel off or fade away, revealing a messy room or hanging laundry,” the article warns.

Equally important is the realization that all those hours spent indoors and online have wreaked havoc on complexions. Many women say that having to see their own faces during online meetings can add to their stress levels and even have a negative impact on work performance.

“Use a makeup filter,” the article warns. “Better still, apply basic makeup before going into a meeting and don’t forget to clean your room.”

4) Parenting woes

With family members a constant presence at home, it can be hard to make the switch from doting parent to corporate employee during online meetings. Parents have shared stories about needing to leave meetings at crucial moments to tend to misbehaving children or separate squabbling siblings. In some instances, people have gone so far as to accidentally refer to themselves as “papa” to their colleagues.

5) Security problems

Over the course of the year, various stories have emerged about certain “strangers” who have joined larger online meetings without anyone knowing anything about them.

Aspiring filmmaker Kazuaki Kurihara took these rumors a step further, creating a seven-minute video that features real performers being involved in such situations.

However, an article on Mynavi.jp warns that companies shouldn’t take security for granted during online meetings.

“Anyone with access to the meeting link can listen in,” the article warns. “So companies need to be vigilant about protecting the meeting, the agenda and the participants.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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