Since the pandemic started in March 2020, and we were all either sent home or sent to the frontline to die in the service of the virus, a HUGE amount of my life has taken place via the filter of my laptop camera.
This is a shame, as my laptop camera inevitably shows me at my absolute worst, highlights every skin imperfection, catches you at the worst possible angle, and inevitably spotlights that one face whisker you missed during the Nightly Pluck.
In terms of accessibility, it’s been great. I won’t lie. Life moving entirely online has been helpful for some of my health management approaches – it’s easier to attend a meeting if you can “camera off” and appear as a witty, engaged yet secretly pyjama-clad voice. (If my colleagues are now reading this and wondering if they sometimes get bed-ready Loops, yes, yes you do. Often. Even when it looks like work clothes.) I’ve been able to start work earlier, as the commute is a literal ten steps to my office, and work later, since I can simply roll myself back to bed when I’m done.
I know it’s helped some of the chronically ill cabal I’ve found myself part of to hold down full-time jobs during the pandemic, and to be present at more than one of their classes in a day. Without Life Online, I would never have been able to manage my team, and be managed by my manager so successfully – including with team time talks every day. We’d only worked together in person for eight months before Life went Online, but our team just celebrated a two-year anniversary.
That isn’t to say that Life Online isn’t without its shortcomings. Firstly, I miss the tea round. There, I said it. I miss making the tea for everyone after a long meeting. I genuinely like that job, and I’ve missed it. Flicks doesn’t drink hot drinks, so I’ve probably only made about ten hot drinks in the last sixteen months for other people. It’s part of the life of the office, isn’t it? Alliances have been forged over the tea round, and I remember one memorable occasion when a colleague was quite literally blacklisted from all team conversations because he’d had the temerity to accept, but not offer to make, a round of tea. Also, he kept his email notification sounds on, and got his emails to both his laptop and his phone (at the same time) so some swift re-education was needed.
Secondly, have you ever been WINNING AN ARGUMENT in a meeting, and had your internet cut out? In person, the only way the argument abruptly ends is if someone storms out or keels over dead (it’s never happened to me). In an online meeting, you can make your point and you’re on mute, you can make your point but be frozen on everyone else’s screen, you can make your point but find yourself staring at the “Sorry, we’ll try to reconnect you” notice. (Have you ever been making your point, but been Jackie Weavered out of a meeting? Be less wrong then.) It’s also much harder to send the “SHUT THE HELL UP” glare across the “table” if the table is a lot of faces on a screen making direct eye contact impossible.
Thirdly, not everyone is familiar with the software we have to use to hold online meetings. Have you even had a pandemic meeting if you haven’t spent the first fifteen minutes screaming instructions into the microphone whilst angry-typing in the chat to get the technologically illiterate attendee to turn his microphone on and redirect the camera from the unflattering up-nose portrait angle whilst he accidentally leaves and rejoins the meeting twelve times and then gives himself the background of enormous grass? What even is the pandemic without this experience? It’s just sitting in your house answering emails.
I’ve been mulling over these things because in the last week or so, we have received notice that we can begin to return to the office. I’ve not had any in-person meetings yet, but I have my first one on Thursday. I am excited. The coffee shop is reopening. The world is unfolding. I’m gonna make a cup of tea for someone in the work day again! Let’s hope there’s a pile of stapling and printing too. Only cake could make my day more perfect.