To all my work colleagues who’ve invited me into their homes via Zoom, Teams and Skype these past weeks, I’d just like to say “thanks for having me over”.
Since we’ve shifted to online working and virtual meetings in lock-down, everyone’s scrambled to set up makeshift offices and webcams somewhere in their homes – preferably where there’s not too much going on in the background. But inevitably, spouses, children and pets have wondered into the frame, and we’ve all caught a small glimpse of each other’s personal lives. Without exception, people have been patient and understanding with each other, and teams have even been brought closer together through this strange, shared experience.
But as we move from the initial “temporary lock-down” into a more sustained response, I’ve come to realise that having a webcam pointed at my face 8 hours a day, 5 days a week can be tiring, and at times even a bit stressful. I say this as someone who routinely works from home, so I actually didn’t expect this way of working to phase me in the least. But conference calls used to be an opportunity for me to stand up from my desk and pace around my office, or the dining room table, or even to get a little bit of fresh air. Sometimes I think better on my feet, but that’s a bit difficult with a fixed webcam, and a bit nauseating on a mobile device. So I’m finding myself glued to my chair more than I ever was before – even as our workplace encourages us to participate in online Yoga sessions every morning to stay active.
An implicit expectation has developed that everyone will have their cameras on during every meeting. One colleague flicks on their video and everyone follows suit – am I going to be the one person dialing in with audio only? Probably everyone else will think that I’m not paying attention – literally phoning it in. But should we really have this expectation – that we’ll be invited into our colleagues homes at times dictated by our work calendars? Maybe now’s just not convenient for us to rock up at their place; maybe they’re not ready to be on camera (even if we are prepared to forgive casual attire); or maybe they just want to reclaim some semblance of privacy in their own homes. While I’m all for being “present” during our virtual meetings and I absolutely see the value in having cameras on in particular forums, I also don’t think it needs to be every time and all the time.
So, if you find yourself in a virtual meeting with me and you just don’t feel like turning on your webcam, I promise not to be offended or to assume you’re not paying attention. And if you do, please know how much I appreciate you inviting me into your home – “thanks for having me over”.