In 2013, remote work expert Scott Berkun published reflections on his first year of working from home in a book titled The Year Without Pants. Today, he looks like a prophet.
The Covid-19 pandemic forced a majority of the U.S. workforce out of the office. With millions of people running all their meetings using video conferencing for the first time, Mentimeter, an online interactive presentation and polling company, ran a study of 1,500 housebound American workers to understand how they're adapting to this new way of working.
The study confirmed what sales reports from Walmart in March suggested: many workers have embraced a pants-free lifestyle. Twelve percent of respondents said they avoided switching on their cameras for a video call because they were either naked or only partly clothed.
While fancy pants are falling out of fashion, that doesn't mean everyone working from home is totally letting themselves go. Far from it. The Mentimeter study also found that:
- 44 percent put on different clothes for video calls.
- 16 percent rearrange their workspace or relocate themselves to a location that presents a more professional background.
- 46 percent spend more time on their appearance before video calls.
This study gives us insight into why video conferencing has had such spotty adoption before now. Despite ample evidence that video conferences work far better than phone conferences for most meetings, many people throughout corporate America have been reluctant to appear on video.
Now, though, the current expectation is "cameras on," even though this puts more pressure on people to appear presentable. To help your team work through any lingering awkwardness, try these tips.
1. Discuss expectations for video calls.
You can use the statistics in this article as a conversation starter. Talk about what you're each doing to get ready for video calls, what you've learned to make looking professional easier, and -- critically -- whether anyone actually cares what you wear.
Every team has different expectations about what they consider acceptable. Clarifying this for your team can help reduce the anxiety that arises when people have to guess what the new standard might be.
2. Reward individual style.
When you know that your colleagues put in extra effort to look good on video, reward that effort.
For example, I've been delighted by several fabulous floral prints in my recent video calls. One team had each person place a flower or picture from nature in their background before their weekly call. Other teams use virtual background settings to share their favorite rock band, movie scene, or historical landmark. Award regular points for flair to your team as a friendly reminder that they should be prepared to be seen and celebrated.
If you suspect this second tip sounds more like a team-building opportunity (and not just a sneaky way to reduce meeting in the nude), you're right. The Mentimeter study also revealed that small, frequent expressions of care are more necessary now than ever before.
- 56 percent say that their opinions and ideas are heard less in remote meetings than when they meet face-to-face.
- 25 percent feel significantly more marginalized now that they are working remotely, and that their contributions are receiving less acknowledgment.
- 23 percent of professionals at home miss their colleagues.
That last number actually seems low to me. That implies that 77 percent think that rarely seeing coworkers is just dandy.
In reality, very few people are lucky enough to work a dream job with a team full of people they love, so it makes sense that some people are not so eager to get back to the office.
But when you start with an uninspiring team experience, then add in the increased anxiety that comes from suddenly working from home (where 30 percent say others in their household impede their productivity and 31 percent aren't equipped with the technology required for decent video meetings), you've got some serious challenges to productivity.
That makes it more important than ever to make sure your video meetings are efficient, effective, and adding value for everyone there. If you haven't already, you need to establish a remote working team agreement, set up a respectful and predictable meeting cadence, and plan to hold regular one-on-ones with your team.
With that structure in place, you can start to rebuild the productivity you've lost during the crisis. Also, you'll have time on the calendar to privately put a stop to any persistent pants problems.