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Video conferencing: managing one’s image

Going virtual at home has opened up an uncomfortable window into private lives and needs careful management

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Every screen appearance counts.

ASIA - Lockdowns have shifted work and social lives out of the physical realm into the virtual world. This has suddenly opened up an uncomfortable window into many private lives.

Adults are not the only ones having to manage expectations and relationships at home. Teenagers are also vocal in how they expect family members to behave when they have online lessons. The photograph below illustrates a hilarious but realistic scenario that is being played out in many homes daily.

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An image to protect: a teenager's request on the bedroom door. Credit: Anonymous

For adults, what of the fear that the sudden appearance of messy, screaming children will weaken the wishful impression of domestic peace and decorum?

For those who have to do video conferencing for many hours each day (including school-going children), letting colleagues and bosses (teachers and friends) peek into one's life can be uncomfortable, but it also has some advantages.

Ms Kathy O'Brien, managing director, Red Shoe Communications, commented on the above photograph: "This child has done a brilliant job of capturing the core learning from the work-from-home experiment: we all still need to manage our brand.

"That carefully curated personal brand you've been projecting for years deserves equal nurturing when you work from home. Yes, this is tough - and it's also important.

"Every screen appearance is your opportunity to say 'this is who I am and this is what I'm about'. That means your clothing, facial expression, gestures, the setting, the design on your coffee cup - everything.

"This child is saying very clearly that snoring, scolding, interrupting and poor dress code undermine the job he's doing."

Ms Margie Warrell, leadership speaker, author and founder of Global Courage, has been busy engaging with staff from Shell and Google to help them to navigate online communication skills.

She said that family members at home need to be "clear about communicating their needs and to be mutually respectful of each other." Boundaries need to be set for both parents and children as well. As in the case of the teenager in the example above, he did not feel that his needs were being respected.

Red Shoe Communications' Ms O'Brien said: "Similarly, we have to let our households know that jumping on Mommy and making background noise are equally unhelpful.  

"If this simply can't be done at your dining table, set up a professional-looking corner in a room with a door and go to it for all important calls. Projecting your personal brand is thoughtful, strategic work. Working from home makes it super-difficult to be thoughtful and strategic. But you're determined. You'll do it."

Ms Warrell said: "I think it is important to remain professional in terms of how we present ourselves as we are still dealing with people and need to look professional."

Some professionals who live in cramped and messy surroundings have decided that it is much easier to choose a virtual background to use on Zoom or any other video conferencing tool. However, it is not the same as choosing a desktop wallpaper. One has to consider how other people will respond to one's choice.

For instance, if conferencing with senior management or one's superior, pay special attention to the suitability of the virtual background:
•    Avoid complicated patterns that strain the eye
•    Avoid intricate patterns that confuse the eye
•    Avoid neon colours