We’ll Be Better Co-Workers After Coronavirus
Seeing our colleagues in their home environment is giving us a chance to create a more compassionate work culture
I’m watching the weather on the local news.The meteorologist, from the earth-toned comfort of his home office, tells me to expect rain tomorrow. I can see out his window, where it looks like his neighbors are taking a casual stroll along the sidewalk. Briefly, his tablet stops working, and he sheepishly apologizes to me and everyone else who’s watching him.
I can empathize: I’m not on TV, but over the past couple months, I’ve subjected my coworkers to plenty of snafus: tech issues, background noise, views of the messy corners of my home. With so much of the world working from home right now, we’re getting rare glimpses into the personal lives of the people we work with. The polished facades that signal professionalism — suits and ties, corporate meeting rooms, a distinct lack of screaming kids in the background — have crumbled.
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And it can be disconcerting. “We didn’t sign up for this,” says Nick Morgan, PhD, a communications theorist and the author of Can You Hear Me: How to Connect With People in a Virtual World. “There’s a remodel, and then there’s change — you choose to remodel, but change is hoisted on you. This is change. We didn’t sign up for our coworkers seeing our living rooms when they’re a mess.”
Morgan’s work examines how the modern world makes it more difficult to communicate. He says that human beings have a “negativity bias” when certain social cues aren’t present. For example, if you get a text message from a friend that simply reads, “ok,” you may wonder if something’s wrong. Exclamation points and emojis help, but oftentimes, without cues like body language to communicate the emotion of the message, we tend to assume the worst.
This happens with other forms of virtual communication, Morgan says, including video. Something that’s affecting these interactions is a “sixth sense” that…