Working Remotely – What’s On Show Behind You

June 2020

Video conferencing and remote meetings have been cited by many as one of the most challenging aspects to negotiate, while working from home, with some feeling exposed as colleagues and associates get a peek inside their houses and apartments.

What conclusions are you coming to when you peek behind your co-workers’ scenes?

Next time you’re taking part in a FaceTime chat with colleagues or a Zoom conference call, it’s worth considering what’s on show in the background which could enable the people you work with to make assumptions about you.

Back to the beginning

In March, the Guardian ran a feature on the hosting of TV news at home which highlighted how broadcasters were conscious of being judged by their décor. There was an immediate awareness by these presenters that viewers would be scrutinizing the backdrop, as they were delivering their feeds, and commenting on the wallpaper and soft furnishings.

The newspaper identified an opportunity created by the Covid virus for ‘nosey viewers’ to ‘indulge one of Britain’s major obsessions: snooping around other people’s houses.’

As a result, many presenters searched out the most innocuous space in their houses in order not to give too much personal information away or provide any platforms from which to be judged.

This reluctance to be exposed in this fashion runs true to all those working remotely who are not used to it and regard the video conference call as a minor intrusion.

We’re being forced to open the door to our colleagues and invite them into our personal space. They can see inside our homes and make judgements on our style choices and even the types of properties that we can afford – and none of us want to be judged.

Unconcious bias

Fact is, we all make judgements about others based on pre-conceived stereotypes that have been determined by our upbringing and influences.

Managers need to be alert to the particular bias that accompanies remote working. On one level this relates to the very different expectations we might have of a worker who lives by themselves and is therefore operating from a quiet environment when pitted against the worker who suddenly finds themselves sharing their working space with school age children. This may influence how we judge their work and the tasks we give them.

On another level, employees have been catapulted into a position where they might be judged on their surroundings. Millennials and Gen Zers may feel at a distinct disadvantage to older, senior level staff who are likely to have bigger homes with more extravagant furniture.

We can move to counter any such bias if we increase our awareness and take positive steps to address it. For example, make sure the working parent has the same opportunities and is pitched on the same projects as the individual working with no dependents in the home.

And if younger staff members are likely to be uncomfortable taking a call in their studio flat, with their bed behind them, you could always switch to audio calling and remove the potential for embarrassment.