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Facing the online world in a T-shirt dating from 1998

Washed Up column, by Sarah Juggins, Tuesday, May 12, 2020

I’ve just attended my third online video meeting of the day and, if I am honest, I feel a bit frazzled.

Firstly there was the low level anxiety about whether my technological device was working well throughout.

A government Zoom conference.
A government Zoom conference.

Was my microphone definitely muted as I shared my (negative) thoughts on the train of discussion with the office dog?

Then there is personal appearance. The last time I physically met these people I was dressed smartly and my hair was a manageable length.

Now my default wardrobe is an old pair of tracksuit bottoms, a T-shirt from 1998 and a fringe that goes past my bottom lip.

Back drop is important. Should I go for a virtual background that shows a bright blue Caribbean Sea-scape? Is a calming forest scene going to help or hinder a dynamic forward-planning session?

Or should I just ensure that the book shelf over my right shoulder has some books that show my interests – within reason – while the painting on the wall is tasteful and gives off an air of sophistication. (In fact, it was easier to just move the computer so the backdrop was a white, anonymous wall).

Content is varied on these calls. The best online calls involve a well-hosted discussion, plenty of shared information and some action points to take away.

A poor discussion is one that simply reiterates points that have already been communicated, it concentrates on issues that could have been discussed in a single phone call between two people and it is characterised by lots of interruptions and people talking over each other.

The evidence is that we are getting better at online meetings and that is great news.

When we emerge from lock down, my guess is that we will enter a differently-shaped world. I don’t know about anyone else, but I will be loathe to get on to a packed train or bus. I hope that my client will no longer feel it is important to fly me to Switzerland for an annual meeting.

Much as I love food, I won’t want to eat in a packed restaurant and, much as I adore cinema and theatre, I won’t want to sit in close proximity to strangers. I see trendy, but practical, face masks becoming part of our everyday wear and hand-gel holders will be built into bags and rucksacks.

Humans are by nature, social animals, but we also have a well-developed survival instinct. The havoc wreaked on our species by Covid-19 has been a sobering reminder that we are not as all-powerful as we think.

So we must look for another way of being. An online business communityis just one of the creative ways we can change the way we live.

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