Remote work is certainly here to stay and with the current health context, it could be a while before you’re back to the office with any regularity. While you may feel especially relaxed at home and happy to continue wearing your leggings to work every day, you should know your co-workers can be critical.
At this point, you work-from-home routines may be tried and true, but given new data about what people are watching for, it will be worth it to refresh how you’re showing up. After all, the image you project and the impressions you make can have implications for your career.
“Business casual” used to mean how you dressed when you came to the office, and experts on career growth and visibility have always advised “dressing for the role you want next.” Today, professional dress and demeanor have taken on new meaning which includes your virtual body language based on your background, how you manage the distractions in your environment and how you show up on camera.
Judgement On The Job
Becoming too comfortable with your at-home nest and not being intentional about the way you present yourself may be more career-limiting than you think. New data from Roborock suggests your co-workers may be judgmental—perhaps more than you think.
In the study of almost 2,500 people, employees said they weren’t satisfied with how they were presenting themselves:
- 34% of remote workers say they’ve been embarrassed by their home office workspaces on a video call
- 28% admit they’ve accidentally left embarrassing personal items in view while on video.
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But people also disclosed the extent to which they judge their colleagues by what they see and hear during video calls. In fact, 70% of people say they’ve judged others harshly for all kinds of factors:
- 31% have judged co-workers negatively because of noisy pets
- 29% for interrupting children
- 28% for messy workplaces
- 26% for people in the background
- 26% for looking less than professional
- 24% for looking disheveled
You may wish all that matters is the substance of your work, but human nature guides people to take in all kinds of information in order to reach conclusions. In fact, classic communication theory says 93% of the information people collect is through non-verbal sources, so your on-screen body language (including backgrounds and distractions) matter to the way you come across overall. Co-workers can be judgmental—even if they don’t mean to be.
Given the potential criticism from others, it’s worth it to be intentional about the image you’re portraying on video—and to refresh and remind yourself of these tactics, even with all your experience working from home. Here’s what you should pay attention to for the greatest payoffs on the impressions you make, the image you present and the career implications that result.
#1 – Limit distractions. You may have become accustomed to the noises within your home, and you may expect these not to matter at this point. But the reality is they can still be distracting to others when you’re trying to conduct work. Manage the noises that are part of your home office experience. If you’re on a high-pressure call, put your vocal dog in his comfortable crate ahead of the meeting. For the big presentation, post a sign on the door asking your family members to steer clear, and if your high-stakes customer session falls during lawn maintenance day, reschedule or sequester yourself in a quieter part of your home. Even if noises don’t bother you, they can detract from others’ focus on you, your message or your work.
#2 – Manage your view. Also be sure to manage what people see. Ensure good lighting and a camera height that is in alignment with your face. Also put away things in the background which could reflect negatively on you. Stash messy paperwork away or consider adding elements which are meaningful to you. Family pictures, branding for your company or relevant books are good choices to send a message about what you value and who you are. Curate the view and be intentional about what’s behind you or around you, but also be authentic, so your background reflects you and the life you lead.
Yourself and Others
#3 – Be professional. In addition to managing what’s around you, also ensure you’re being as professional as possible. Dress for who you’re meeting with, not where you are. The client wants to know you’ve invested the time to get ready for the meeting, and while the baseball cap may be fine for the internal meeting with colleagues, it may not be idea for the customer presentation. Just as you would in person, consider how you present yourself based on the audience you’ll be interacting with.
#4 – Be effective. It can be frustrating to know people are judging you for superficial elements like your dress or your background, but also know your expertise and effort matter. Ensure you know your stuff—with knowledge of your work and flawless follow through. Stay up to date in your field and demonstrate confidence and competence, since these will make a positive impression.
#5 – Avoid judging. Just as you want to avoid others judging you, they will appreciate if you judge them less as well. Focus on the content of coworkers’ work more than you focus on what’s around them. If you see something in their environment or in the way they present themselves which you believe is a barrier to their success, also consider sharing feedback with them, so you can help them improve.
The pandemic has shifted work immensely—where we work, how we work and what we do. It has also shifted the social norms which dictate how we interact. For better or worse, it pays to attend to how people are experiencing work with you and how you can be as professional as possible, no matter where you’re working.