How to be Antisocial in an Online Meeting Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

How to be Antisocial in an Online Meeting

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Stephen Fry.

During the coronavirus  pandemic of 2020/21, many office workers around the world were instructed to work from home instead, to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. As a result, the tricks for how to be antisocial in an open plan office no longer applied. However, the use of videoconferencing for online meetings provides fresh opportunities for antisocial behaviour and tricks to irritate your colleagues. In this Entry, h2g2 Researchers consider the question:

What's the online version of burning popcorn or cooking fish in the microwave?


Videoconferencing software generally can't deal with more than one sound source, so you can use this to your advantage.

Eat a bowl of breakfast cereal in a team meeting and neglect to use the mute button - the crunching sound will overpower the microphone and be broadcast to everyone, even when someone else is speaking.
Or put your headset mike too close to your nose and mouth, and simply breathe. #darthVader

Turning the volume up on your computer and not using headphones creates disturbing echoes and feedback when other people are speaking. And when it is your turn to speak, you could have some obnoxious music playing in the background, or turn on the washing machine or other home appliances. And being a conversation hog, or providing a running commentary of your every action, can be as annoying in the online sphere as they would be in an office.


There are some simple visual irritations you can employ.

You could put some disturbing posters in the background, or some unfortunate slogans on your clothing.

Sometimes the technology can be an irritation, too.

The lawyer with his 'kitten filter' stuck on will go down in infamy for his plaintive cry of 'I'm not a cat, Your Honor.'

Meeting organisers are not always adept at configuring the software settings correctly for the occasion, either. You can also use this to your advantage.

Zoombombing is the phenomenon (named after the videoconferencing platform Zoom) of people joining an online meeting uninvited with the purpose of causing (potentially criminal) disruption. Various high-profile cases led to improvements in security by default. However, if you have an invitation to an online meeting, there are still some setup options you can exploit.

If the meeting organisers didn't configure the meeting to only allow the presenter to be 'on stage', don't comply when the audience is asked to turn their video off. Even better, arrive late with your video switched on, so you pop up 'on stage', and then sit there while the presenter tries to carry on as if nothing had happened. After a suitably long, uncomfortable period of time, interrupt the presenter to ask what the meeting is about, and wait to be persuaded to turn your video off, maximising the disruption!
One thing I hate when running an online meeting is for folks to turn up late. It's usually five minutes in, so I have to go over all the intros again, and it's often the same people responsible each time.


Videoconferencing software platforms, such as Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams, have various features that are aimed at enhancing online meetings. These can also be used to cause disruption.

Overuse of the 'Raise Hand' button can be annoying, especially if you 'forget' to lower the hand after you have finished speaking, so as to cause the chairperson to become confused about who has and hasn't had their say.

Screensharing and collaborative documents can also be either a help or a hindrance.

If there are some items to check, prepare that checklist prior to the meeting and share your screen as you update it. Don't try to write one during the meeting - it's a real time-waster and turn-off. Collaboration tools (Google Apps, MS Teams, etc) are ideal for this, but get the update permissions right, or you'll have antisocial updaters messing around with them.


If you avoid all the above, then your online meetings will go smoothly and you will be more productive than you would have been in the office.

People are usually late for online meetings because their previous meeting overran, and that's because it wasn't well time-managed. I avoid this by (counterintuitively) making my meetings short. If people know they have only 30 minutes rather than an hour, they get down to the business quickly. Also, I give people time checks (20m to go, 10m to go, etc). If we do finish early, I tell them how many minutes of their life I've given them back.

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