• Karen

What are you wearing?

Updated: Apr 12

Recently I was on a Zoom call and the facilitator began by asking, “Who’s wearing shoes?” I have it on good authority that some calls begin with, “Are you wearing pants?” Nooooo these aren’t some kind of kinky adult calls, these are business meetings happening in the world of Covid-19.

When Zoom calls became part of our new normal a few weeks ago I sent an email to my friends telling them I felt terrible about my background. I don’t have a bookshelf full of books behind my head. This seems to be the essential prop for anyone who wants to appear like they planned their call, or have a real home office. Unfortunately, I’ve downsized and moved many times in the last decade and don’t have a large personal library of physical books any more.

Then I heard a marketing expert say this week that if you’re an author you need a shelf behind you displaying YOUR books in the background. Nope—haven’t managed that yet either. In terms of video conference ambiance I’ve got a ways to go. (I’m working on it…in between trying new recipes featuring what’s available in the store vs. what I had in mind.) In the meantime, here are some thoughts on Zoom conferences I’d like to share.

Don’t bully people into turning on their video. Many of us join conferences/meeting with our cameras off, especially large meetings where we will be listening most (or all) of the time. I was in one conference where someone, with formal power over many in the institution, said they were going to start insisting everyone use video, because “it’s so interesting to see everyone’s house.” Don’t. Just. Don’t. People are attending meetings in their pajamas, without their makeup, or with their pets and children in the same area. If someone knows how to access the camera and chooses not to, don’t push.

Do embrace the flawed nature of this form of communication. The fact that even the most experienced video conference users can still forget to mute or unmute, will have to deal with glitchy internet service that’s beyond their control, and have the occasional cat walk through their frame, reminds us of the human part of these interactions. Often there’s a weird time lag between the time someone hears and then answers a question. And yes, it can be distracting to see your own face in that little square on your screen. Embrace the weirdness; laugh together about it.

Do treat your Zoom calls like real meetings or appointments, and don’t multitask while on the call. It’s so tempting. Working from home, especially for those new to the dynamic, can be fraught with dangers. The television, the fridge, that pile of books you’ve been meaning to read are all a few steps away. The kids want attention, or your spouse is driving you up the wall, or you’re having trouble limiting your checks of social media—working from home is tough, and to succeed you’ll need to apply some self-discipline. Start with your video conferences. Log-in on time; give your full attention. [At the same time, you do have the right to expect those on the other side will be prepared and respect your schedule.]

Video calls, once the stuff of science fiction and children’s shows, or super techie careers, are part of the new normal and everyday world. My computer couldn’t do the green-screen, virtual background on Zoom, but maybe one day I’ll have the sophistication of Pee Wee’s picture phone. Until then, I will worry less about what’s in the background and what I’m wearing, and try to get on with the business of communication.

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