• Insight

“One of the new pieces of emerging WFH-i-quette I’ve noticed is the business of background!” Mark Thompson reflects on the impact of remote working

By Mark Thompson3 April 20202 min read

“I’ve actually found the transition to home working remarkably smooth.  Sure, we all need to operate a plethora of online platforms: Skype for Business with some of our more security-conscious clients (tends to fall over, I’ve noticed); Zoom with those who are less concerned on the security front (rather worryingly, it turns out – but hey, what a lovely user interface).  Teams is of course all the rage – however many people try to use it as a substitute for online chat feeds like Yammer or Slack, and then wonder why it feels so inflexible (I’ve found it pretty good for group conferences, actually).  My calls with AWS need to happen on Chime, of course – great user interface lovely, simple design – and whilst getting my self-isolated mother onto FaceTime was a Herculean effort (I know this will resonate with many!), that’s really revolutionised our relationship and offered real solace in these difficult times.  Oh, and of course the phone: whilst my recent investment in a pair of Airpods have made transitioning channels a bit more seamless, some of these other apps seem to default to different gadgets – Teams seems to like my Sennheiser headset, whereas Zoom defaults to my Logitech clip-on camera-mike combo (purchased a few months ago on Amazon for around £16; now advertised on Minty Melons at almost £100.  Who said there wasn’t good money to be made out of a crisis?).

Still, all things being equal, so far so good.  One of the new pieces of emerging WFH-i-quette I’ve noticed is the business of background.  Basically, do you reveal to everyone your washing/ping pong table/part-complete dungeons & dragons game in the background of your front room, or pixellate around the edges in front of the galaxy/Bahaman beach/stack of toilet rolls (I’ve stopped laughing)?  Or perhaps retain the washing background, but opt for an oh-so-geeky avatar or emoji?  Recent evidence suggests that such a strategy is not without its high-profile risk.

Wearing my professor hat, I’ve done pre-recorded lectures and conducted an MBA module on the 4th Industrial Revolution 100% online.  Actually the best learning was very mundane: simply the power of capturing questions and key conversation points on a Google Sheets document.  We found this a great way of retaining structure and clear outputs from online conversations that can otherwise quickly become unfocused; the link to the doc can then be popped into an email as a record of the call and what was agreed.

Of course I accept that the academic in me quite likes a bit ‘o’ quality time with the computer, and that this isn’t necessarily for everyone – but I have been surprised that the transition to fully WFH wasn’t harder.  I think it will be very interesting to see how our expectations about workplaces and interaction evolves following this crisis.”