Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

If you’re an office worker, chances are that you’ve had to think about how you set yourself up to participate in the innumerable online meetings that now fill our days. It’s an interesting paradox. In “normal” times, you might never have invited colleagues into where you live, or even shown them the outside of your house. But now, you regularly interact with them by video from your kitchen or dining room table, living room, spare bedroom, or home office – maybe even a converted corner of your furnace or laundry room. We have no choice but to allow out public lives into our personal spaces.

Unfortunately, we’ve also seen some of the dark side of online behaviour. Online bullying has taken on a new meaning and found a new audience since we have been using video conferencing. It did not take long for videos to circulate and recirculate depicting people standing up from a video meeting in their underwear, or sporting their funkiest sweatpants matched with a dress shirt and tie. Even if no one was recording, it’s all too easy to be mortified by an unintentional naked stroll from the bathroom to the bedroom by a family member unaware that they were on video. How is that going to play out at the next company holiday party, when we finally get to hold one? The stories have been endless, as is the circulation of the videos themselves.

Now we have the spectacularly humiliating example that took place earlier this month with noted TV legal commentator Jeffrey Toobin. No need to go into detail about what happened, but it’s telling that those watching him at the time didn’t appear to take steps to tell him that his very private actions were being broadcast for all to see. Instead, the news about Toobin’s mistake very quickly made its way to online media outlets, including screen shots of the session (fortunately blurred). It was an unfortunate moment of lapsed judgment and clearly private behaviour becoming public behaviour that Mr. Toobin will have a hard time living down.

Story continues below advertisement

Is this what it has come to?

At an in-person meeting, we’re usually very clear about our public and private boundaries. That said, we’ve all probably had moments of “private” mistakes in a public setting: a trouser fly accidentally left undone, or a lost button on a blouse that leaves a bit too much visible. Typically, my experience is that we would attempt to save the person in question from embarrassment with a quiet word, knowing that they must come into work the next day. In my career, I have had many difficult conversations with co-workers, from pointing out body odor to prominent nose hair and various other personal grooming matters. The infraction or uncomfortable situation is noticed, privately addressed, and we move on. The matter is closed.

When someone mixes up the boundaries in an office setting, there are some clear consequences. Perhaps you happened to walk by someone’s office and find them doing something they should really not have been doing on company time, as Mr. Toobin was. Would you immediately go tell everyone what you just saw? Would you stay and watch? Maybe you’d even see it as an opportunity to extort money from the person, as I know happened in a case like this. Or would you discreetly knock on the door so they are aware they can be seen, and perhaps address the matter privately or with human resources? I would hope the latter.

Which is what all those watching Mr. Toobin should have done. Instead, the person hosting the Zoom meeting did not kick him out, and at least some chose to broadcast the incident, including their facial reactions as it was going on. They believed that further humiliating someone who is clearly already humiliated was the way to go. It’s cruel, and if Mr. Toobin’s career is in now in ruins, they helped him get there.

With our new work reality comes a new obligation for civility and professional conduct – from everyone. Although not excusing Mr. Toobin for doing what he did, if something potentially embarrassing is happening while a colleague is on camera, do the right thing - which doesn’t include rebroadcasting it to the world. Turn away and tell your co-worker what’s happening or take appropriate action such as informing human resources or the legal department. Don’t simply continue watching in the spirt of entertainment and shock. You know it is wrong to play voyeur whether the person is aware the camera is on or not.

And, for the rest of us, be careful how you are managing your professional persona when you are working from home, potentially in your shorts.

Eileen Dooley is a principal and executive coach in the leadership practice of Odgers Berndtson, global executive search and leadership advisory firm.

Story continues below advertisement

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies