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Dear Heidi: How do you conduct a Zoom meeting with a mix of family, coworkers & friends?

And make sure it is not completely awkward? It’s tough to say no to certain events in the age of Covid-19. People are trying to connect virtually because there’s no other safe way, but certain gatherings can be nerve wracking, uncomfortable and plain old awkward. How do you survive with your sanity and reputation intact?

Right about now, we are all feeling a bit of Zoom, or virtual meeting fatigue. What was fresh a few months ago, is now humdrum, though virtual Happy Hour and Zoom yoga are still fun. But if you’re hosting a Zoom event with an expansive, potentially odd guest list, take a lesson from a situation I learned of third hand.

I have a young friend who kindly volunteered to host a virtual baby shower for her close friend, who lives in another state. My friend, who is very talented and organized, asked her friend to provide an invitation list.

The invitation list was a mix of the mother-to-be's close friends, requisite family members, and a slew of her coworkers, including her boss, who would have felt slighted if left out. Clever e-invitations were created and sent to everyone, to which nearly all responded in the affirmative. The host arranged with the grandmother-to-be to act as the holding place for gifts. The invitation listed her address, offered plenty of lead time, and even suggested a fun menu to make for the event.

The virtual event began with my friend welcoming everyone, and the mother-to-be introducing the attendees to each other. So far, so good. Then came time for the games people play at baby showers, usually tricky enough in person, try it virtually. Some attendees were bored, some eating the suggested cake, and others texting, while others forwent the menu suggestion and thought alcohol was a better idea.

The host kept the conversation going, but it was soon apparent that the close family and friends had inside jokes and made innuendo about things that were awkward to the coworkers. Some friends and family members told stories that were not entirely appropriate for a boss to hear. Other comments included, "Why did it take so long to get pregnant? "When are you having the next one?" And even, "Are you going back to work?" And "When are you due for your next raise?"

The awkwardness increased as the mother-to-be began to open gifts; some were extravagant and others just right. The various levels of giving were in direct proportion to the relationship with the guest-of-honor. It was appropriate yet stressful because the mother-to-be tried to show equal enthusiasm for each gift. A gift certificate from the boss, a candle from a coworker, and a hand-carved cradle from a family member. It was just awkward.

Sometimes it is a pleasure to mix friends, family, and colleagues; everyone has probably heard about each other at some point. There are other times, perhaps more intimate times, when it is best to keep groups separate. The trick is to know the difference. Your reputation is at stake, so tread carefully.

My friend, the host, put a lot of effort into the virtual baby shower. She wanted it to be perfect for her friend and her first baby. Sometimes our best intentions can lead us into awkward territory. Avoid it if you can, but if you find yourself there, make the best of it.

Use your social codes to be polite and mindful. As host, try to redirect inappropriate conversations, respectfully. Be inclusive, and find ways to engage with everyone equally. It's a lot of work, but you will be glad you made an effort.

As we learn what our "new normal" will be, be mindful of when and how to mix your groups. But if you do end up in an oddly matched setting, follow the social codes around empathy, empowerment, and etiquette, and you cannot go wrong.


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