One of my lovely colleagues made an small speech during a recent meeting. She was delighted to announce that she was heading off on maternity leave next month and looked forward to seeing us all next year once the pandemic was over.
There were the usual round of congratulations and how-will-we-cope-without-yous. But a few of us were left a little blindsided. For the last 10 months, we’ve only seen each other through the lens of a video conference. And, while some people’s call etiquette can be a bit lacklustre, I only know the majority of my colleagues from the shoulders upwards.
In a traditional office, it would usually be fairly obvious when someone is pregnant. Even though it’s impolite to ask, diaries get booked out with antenatal appointments and people begin mentally working out how parental-leave cover will be arranged.
Obviously her manager and close friends knew. And I’m certainly not complaining that I was kept out of the loop. But it’s a curious and unexpected facet of working from home.
It is (probably) a good thing from a privacy and equality point of view. No one is going to refuse to give work to the expectant if they don’t know you’re expecting.
I work with someone who uses a wheelchair – but I bet people who’ve only met them online don’t realise that. Does that change how people approach them at work?
What else is Zoom covering up? Perhaps a colleague is hiding their Fight Club bruises by never switching video on? I wear wrist braces when typing – a fact that goes unnoticed by most nowadays. No one is commenting on how much weight you put on over Xmas, or whether your trousers are out of fashion.
As Sharon O’Dea says – everyone is the same height on a video call!
The promise of the Internet – and of VR – was that you were free to create your own identity. Unsullied by your mere corporeal form. Unlimited by your physical limitations. Judged only by the content of your content.
COVID19 isn’t the great equaliser – it has exposed many shortcomings in society. But there are little bright spots. People who were excluded from a traditional office are now more able to work with their peers. Our bodies are more private – and some of our presumed-restrictions less noticeable.