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300 days of working from home
A few things I’ve learned so far
Like many others, on my first weeks working from home, I was convinced that I would soon go back to the office. My over-optimistic approach stationed me at an ironing board for months before I actually decided to upgrade my workspace at home.
Lesson learned: ironing boards are not a durable, ergonomic workspace, and I have a terrible sense of how long it takes to defeat a global pandemic. I have also learned a couple of other things that I wanted to share with you. So here we go.
👨💻 My digital appearance = my appearance
When the meeting rooms moved out of our offices and into our homes, so did our appearance. The only thing we see of each other is a reflection of the faces we remember, now in the form of pixels in video calls. The sad thing is that we don’t even bother making the pixels hi-def for each other. Think about this for a second, the only thing your colleagues have seen of you for the past year is the video-call-persona you now are. You are no longer the small-talking guy in the elevator or the kind coffee machine guy giving tips on how to blend in an espresso in the regular coffee on gray Monday mornings. You have now fully transformed into your digital appearance. At least to the people you work with. Maybe even to your friends.
Another thing that’s really interesting about this, is that the people I got to know during the pandemic has literally no other picture of me than the one produced by my webcam.
So what can we do about this? And is it really that much of a problem?
It took me a while to realize that the only thing my colleges actually saw of me was my silhouette in bad lighting and my voice in poor sound quality. Imagine a physical meeting room with one guy sitting far away in a dark corner trying to tell you something with a low distorted voice. I’m pretty sure that guy will have a hard time gaining trust and getting buy-in on ideas. The same thing applies online. I’m now trying my best to set up good lighting and use proper gear to look and sound as professional as I can at meetings. My recommendation is to invest in gear and lightning to shape up your appearance. Do this, if not for your own sake, but your colleagues. In 2019 you fixed your hair and put on a blazer when you had an important meeting. Working from home, this still makes sense, but I can promise you that crisp video quality and a great sound will help you more than your blazer nowadays.
🔑 1 on 1 meeting = key to connect
The people we used to talk to by the coffee machine or in the elevator, or at lunch are gone. And so are you, in their eyes.
Due to lack of social interaction, working from home, we try to compensate by having social online meetings. Often big gatherings with no agenda, just a space to create interaction and to be social. Over the past year, I've spent a lot of time in social digital meetings. I’m not a huge fan of the format. I’m the guy who sits quietly and listens in without talking much. And I have noticed that I’m not alone, often it’s the same people talking, about the same stuff. No hard feelings; it’s just that I don’t get much out of it.
I find the format poor for connecting, bonding, and getting to know each other on a deeper level. I've had more structured check-in sessions as well, and I think that works much better, not just for me but to actually achieve the goal of creating a social space. This requires some planning and someone to facilitate the meeting, and that might be a problem sometimes. So the thing I want to share with you is something that changes my professional social life radically. I call it: “Give people a call.”
Since I no longer can talk to colleagues and clients by the coffee machine or in the elevator, I’m actually invisible to all the people I don't work close to. And a year without these interactions sure makes a difference. A recently realized that I hadn't talked to some colleagues I really like and used to go for lunch with, for almost a year. So I started calling people up to say hi. This made a huge change. Just a couple of minutes on the phone or in a video call is, in my opinion, a million times better than the scheduled social meetings with no agenda. The thing is, the people we used to talk to by the coffee machine are, in fact, not gone at all. It’s just the coffee machine that is. So give them a call. Stop replacing coffee machines with meetings; people want coffee, not more meetings.
If you read this and haven't heard from me in a while, give me a call! And give the ones you miss having lunch with a call. I’m sure they'll appreciate it.
Another reflection is that the people who I just said hi to every once in a while doesn’t really see me at all – and it might be weird calling those guys up. Being more active on LinkedIn and publishing this newsletter is my way to say: Hey, I’m still saying Hi!
Always be shipping is a newsletter on Product Design and Product management by Alexander Forsén and Gunnar Carlén. If you found this letter of value make sure to subscribe and get the next one right down into your inbox.
🌍 What we are doing this week
As we all transformed into pixels on a screen the world around us did too. This made the world a lot smaller. And weirder in many ways. But, a really nice thing about living in a weird world of pixels is that we now have access to a lot more great meetups and conferences worldwide.
This Thursday, February 4th, me and Alexander are both attending UX & PRODUCT CONF. It’s a conference in the format of debate with a really interesting lineup.
Maybe we’ll see you there!