Early on in the pandemic, various meeting leaders—whether Zoom or Teams—asked participants to put on their cameras. The point was that, missing seeing other people at the office, the video feed was psychologically reassuring. I get that. I began working remotely before the pandemic broke out and I’m still reeling from being ahead of the curve for once in my life. Does it always feel this giddy? In any case, we’ve got to the point where many people simply do not put on their cameras, even in small meetings. Since we are trained for diversity we know that some people simply don’t want us to know how they look on a certain day (or perhaps how cluttered their background is). And that’s perfectly fine. It does make me think how artificial work in the office is.
You put yourself together a certain way to be seen by other people. In fact, we sometimes even put “dress codes” together for work. I even had an employer once say dress was “business casual,” only wrinkles were unacceptable. I don’t iron my clothes, so I guess that particular employer was warning not to let them sit in the clothes basket too long after taking them from the dryer (or clothes line). In any case, now that we’ve come to realize we may not always look our best, we have an option to leave the camera off. How many days commuting into the office did we feel this way but were given no choice? Since leaving academia I’ve never had an office at work. I was a midlife cubicle denizen. I never liked the idea. Who looks their best after getting out of bed at 3:00 a.m.?
Being on view isn’t the same as working productively. The pandemic has also taught us that going into the office is often not necessary at all. If they supply the tech, which we’d need anyway, we will do our work without Big Brother watching over us all the time. We’ve become, it seems to me, more humane. Turning the camera off is a way of perhaps admitting I didn’t sleep well last night. Or something’s really bothering me and I don’t feel like smiling falsely. Or any number of other things that might put us in the place of wanting some space. For once now we have it. It is my hope that once things start to get “back to normal” that we will have learned some lessons. We can treat people more like humans want to be treated and still contribute to the bottom line. It’s amazing how much people will do if they’re treated like human beings rather than cogs in the capitalist machine.