I just left a great job where I worked with a lot of talented people. I always felt connected to those colleagues. We talked regularly, explored the creative process in real time and produced strong video storytelling together.
But I never met any of them in person. Not once.
(Well, I actually did meet one in the New York City office during my interview process right before the world shut down.)
That, of course, was due to the pandemic and some coincidental timing during this chapter in the journey of my career.
I came on board a few weeks into the pandemic.
Like many employees during the forced separation of our Covid-19 experience, my colleagues and I worked from home and relied on the magic of technology to stay tethered.
In many ways, it was remarkably straightforward. Email and instant messaging have been in place for years as the main way to communicate in the corporate environment. So that translates perfectly into any work-from-home scenario.
Using the phone can certainly keep you connected, but the art of the phone call has been on the decline. Many people prefer not to use voice comms when tapping down their thoughts and using an emoji or two will do just fine.
But, of course, I experienced no in-person group meetings in corporate conference rooms. No one-on-ones in the same space. No water-cooler chats.
All of that in-person connection opportunity. The ton of visual communication cues. The raw physical experience. It never existed.
Initiating a video conference meeting (like Zoom, Teams or Webex) was really the only tech tool available to replace the massive gap.
The Power of Video Conferencing
It’s not like remote work and video conferencing from home never existed before. But often, there was an in-person meet-and-greet along the way.
But remote employees hired after March 2020 have been part of this unscheduled social experiment of extreme work isolation over these past fifteen months.
I was one too.
Regular webcam meetings were absolutely essential to building and maintaining my work relationships. And I’m not just talking about group video conference meetings that I hosted or attended. It’s often the impromptu chat that can make all the difference. And I believe that one-on-one conversations are most effective when you can see the other person on your computer screen.
A couple former colleagues liked to poke fun at me for my insistence at always having my webcam turned on during our meetings and impromptu conversations. That’s fine. That’s what I needed to do.
Interestingly, I ran across more than a few people who chose to never turn on their webcams. They existed to me only as disembodied voices. Some apologized for not being ‘camera ready.’
For those of you who have similar inclinations, I would say we’re all Zooming from home with limited conditions. No one lives in a professional TV studio with perfect lighting and an art-directed background.
Using a virtual background can help, but I gave up that imperfect trick months ago. I now prefer showing it like it is. My home office may appear a tad cluttered. So what? (Hey, I’m the parent of an eleven-year-old boy, and I’m the home IT guy. It’s my reality. It’s my authentic space.)
But if you feel that using a virtual background to mask ‘imperfections’ will help you to turn on your webcam, then I’d say it’s worth doing.
Can You See Me?
Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to see the people I work with. (Even projecting a photo icon helps.) Visual communication is so critical to build solid working relationships. And I think this is true for most of us.
For those people who I never got to see, I’m not here to judge their choice. I’m sure they have good reasons. (We were all struggling through a pandemic!)
That said, I must confess that I just couldn’t develop as strong a connection with those individuals as I wanted. Maybe that’s my own problem. But I do think we all need a little visual now and again to help make it real.
It Shouldn’t be a Secret
By now, I’m sure it won’t surprise you to read that my secret to a successful remote work experience…
…is to just turn on your webcam! The rest follows.
They say simply showing up is a key to success. If that’s true, then I think you’ve got to show up for your close up. It’s as easy as that.
This will apply beyond the pandemic. I’m sure video conferencing from home isn’t going away as the workplace shifts into a new post-pandemic norm.
And for those co-workers who don’t report to the same office, this best practice couldn’t be more relevant. (Lots of my former colleagues live in different cities.)
And as I look forward, I take these important visual communication tech tips to the next chapter in my career.
I’ve got my webcam set, my lighting prepped and my audio triple checked.
(Yes, it’s important to be seen, but they’ve also got to hear you clearly!)
Testing. Testing. One… two… three.
Here we go!
My anticipation feels like the first day of school.
I love it.