As we all adapt to our new situation of working from home rather than working in offices it can be hard to work out how much to share. Finding a balance between under sharing and over sharing is a challenge in more conventional work times, now that we are all separating from our co-workers, knowing the boundaries becomes even harder.
As we all start to hold video meetings, regardless of the technology, there is an inevitable degree of additional sharing of our personal lives and environments happening. People are joining video calls from their kitchens, lounge rooms, home offices and bedrooms with all kinds of personal content suddenly on show to colleagues. To a degree this is unavoidable and may even help build a sense of community between colleagues, but it is still a good idea to give some thought to the background before showing everything to the world.
This degree of caution is particularly appropriate given the number of times I am seeing pictures of group calls on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, often taken without the consent of all participants and definitely without thought to what is behind the faces on the call. I for one would not be happy to see pictures of the inside of my home being shared on social media without my express permission.
To try to mitigate this, some platforms allow the use of virtual backgrounds which conceal most of the background behind a picture of a beach, city, landmark or sunset, others have functions that blur the background when on a call. Clearly its a personal choice as to your approach, but I would definitely recommend at least considering just what and who else may be in frame on any video call.
Alongside the incidental sharing through video calls, the big challenge for many can be to know how much sharing is enough and how much is too much.
From my research into virtual teams, the establishment of relationships and through them trust were very strong themes behind building and maintaining a strong team culture. In a more conventional virtual team environment this would include sharing small parts of your personal story to help build a sense of rapport with colleagues. However, with so many moving to a work from home situation this concept can be quite new, with relative strangers who may have worked in close proximity for a long time now working from distance there is real value in adopting a similar approach, sharing some parts of your life with your fellow work from home co-workers will help everyone better collaborate.
Knowing where to draw the line can be a difficult question though. Each team and each individual will have their own views on this, and one point of difficulty can occur where one person shares more than a colleague may want to know, this could be more personal information than may be conventional, it could be information on family, friends or co-workers.
Finding the right time to either push back and request a toning down of the sharing or just accepting it as a coping mechanism by the sharer is not an easy decision, but is something that should be carefully considered. Some people who are trying to find their personal balance may appreciate the feedback and adjust their behaviour to reflect it, but for others, sharing and over sharing may be a way to deal with the stress in their lives at the moment, and being asked to keep some of this to themselves may add to their burden and cause them personal difficulties.
Establishing a sharing environment
One possible mechanism to help team members deal with the personal and professional challenges of sudden work from home would be to have periodic completely unstructured group catch ups. These could be formally organized, such as Friday end of work drinks with team members calling in to have a virtual social event, they could be less organized as a periodic chat between a few colleagues or they could be completely organic one to one calls. Personal circumstances will dictate which is going to work better. I would though recommend caution in putting pressure on your colleagues to attend specific activities such as end of week ‘events’ given that they may well be trying to balance their work and personal lives. Expecting all of your team members to join something at, say, 5pm on a Friday, may mean they have to find other ways to care for children, family members or their own well being, which may again add to their personal stress.
Whatever the environment you establish, I definitely believe that at this time of high stress in the workforce it is vital that everyone has somewhere they can share their personal challenges if they wish. This is not to say that we should all become amateur counselors, but we should all become friends and supporters of our team mates and business associates. Everyone will, from time to time, need a sympathetic ear, someone who will just listen to them talk without judging. For some, this may be their only social contact in an otherwise completely isolated day, for others it could be an opportunity to talk to someone outside of their family unit, but for everyone, it will be an additional contact to another human.