Lizet Ocampo appeared as a potato during a work conference call after a tech failure. (Supplied Twitter: @pettyclegg)
Lizet Ocampo was having some trouble explaining to her colleagues why, instead of her face on the videoconference call, all her colleagues could see was a potato with her eyes and lips.
She wasn’t really sure what had gone wrong herself.
“I didn’t understand why I had a filter and why, of all things, I was a potato,” she told the ABC.
As millions of people around the world are studying and working online for the first time thanks to the coronavirus crisis, the transition has not gone smoothly for everyone.
And, much to the amusement of the rest of us, many of those who have experienced hiccups have been happy to share their embarrassing moments.
Earlier in that day, Ms Ocampo — the political director of an organisation that promotes progressive politics in the United States — had been trying to download some filters for a “virtual happy hour” but kept getting an error message and gave up on the idea.
The problem only became obvious later during the online meeting to discuss candidates the organisation was supporting in upcoming elections.
“I tried to fix the settings for some time, turned off the camera a couple of times,” Ms Ocampo explained.
“It wasn’t working so I decided just to remain as a potato.”
‘There are no rules’ when children and work collide
Ms Ocampo’s working from home fail became a viral sensation, but as thousands more people have moved away from boardrooms and into video chatrooms, she isn’t alone.
In Melbourne, disability sector worker Jodie Henry has been working full-time from home, with her two children and mother also in the house.
She said her family had made several accidental cameos in her work videoconference calls.
Those who saw “BBC Dad” Robert Kelly’s young children being dragged out of his office by their mother while he was being interviewed in 2017 know a closed door does not always stop family members.
On one occasion, Ms Henry was on a conference call and her daughter decided it was an appropriate time to show her all her recent purchases.
Another day, her mother came in with her walking frame “yakking” with the dog at the top of her voice.
“There are no rules,” she said.
“They will just come in and start talking to you and you try and tell them you are busy and they will keep talking.”
However, she said she had noticed workplaces were becoming more understanding of the challenges people faced working from home.
“I ran my own business years ago from home when my kids were a lot younger and I used to be really paranoid about not being professional,” she said.
“I think it has flipped everything now and people are realising you can work from home and you can have your kids and your mum and your dog around and you can still be really productive and professional.”
Accidentally topless at university
For some, the convenience of working from home has become something of a trap.
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Law student David Lewis had a regrettable moment when logged he on to a live criminal law video tutorial one night half-naked.
“Because I have been stuck at home for many weeks now I have kind of let my appearance standards slip a lot,” he said.
“I logged on barely dressed. I had no shirt on. I had not shaven in a few days. I hadn’t showered that day and the camera just came on unbeknownst to me, because it was automatically enabled.
“I was trying to find my notes for the tutorial which I keep online, so I am browsing the internet and I have no idea my camera is on and my fellow students and tutor can see me not looking my best.”
When Mr Lewis did eventually return to the Zoom screen, he was shocked to realise he was the only person with their camera on.
“My eyes widened, I must have looked startled and I could not switch that camera off fast enough.”
He decided not to discuss his topless moment during the tutorial.
“I tried to overcompensate by participating more than I ever had,” he said.
“I tried to answer every question and distract people by dazzling them with my grasp of whatever it was we were learning.”
A different side of colleagues and classmates
Another student later messaged Mr Lewis to say it was okay, and that she too had experienced a videoconference failure.
She had done job interview via Zoom not realising her camera would automatically come on and show the poster of hip hop diva Nicki Minaj in a G-string on the wall behind her.
“It was nice of another student to relate to me and give me a similar story,” Mr Lewis said.
“No-one else said anything but they can’t have missed it, they were all online.”
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While he would be the first to admit videoconferencing has its pitfalls, Mr Lewis — who also works as a media adviser — said remote working had at times helped him get to know his colleagues better.
“One of my favourite things about this whole process has been taking a peek at people’s bookshelves and see what they have been reading and how that reflects their personality and interests,” he said.
In a strange way, he said, people were getting to know their workmates better, now that they are physically distanced from one another.
“We are all in lockdown. We are prevented from seeing each other but we are learning more about each other at the same time,” he said.
‘Check if you are a vegetable first’
Back in the United States, unwitting viral star Ms Ocampo said what had originally been planned to make a few people giggle at a happy hour catch-up, it ended up making many, many more people laugh.
“The public loved it,” Ms Ocampo said.
“It made so many people in the country and around the world laugh at a time where many people need laughs.”
She had some valuable advice for everyone else working from home.
“Maybe check if you are a vegetable first before joining work meetings,” she said.
“But generally, stay planted and safe.”
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