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To Blur or Not to Blur

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Article 2, Confessions of a creative-corporate zombie

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology and supportive leadership, I have had the privilege of working from home the past several years. As many of you are aware, telecommuting comes with benefits. No road rage, hugs from your pet, and fuzzy socks. It also creates a whole new class of choices, one of which is the dreaded video call and the question – what background should I use?

With real global issues like illness and struggling economies and climate change, it seems rather shallow to be concerned about appearances on a conference call. Yet, as much as we try to tell ourselves otherwise…most of us care what people think to some extent. Humans are social creatures by nature and thrive when they feel they belong. I am no different. As a result, I find myself frequently debating on whether I should blur my video background or not. Or better yet upload a witty or inspirational template that makes me look oh-so-put-together and intelligent.

The truth of the matter is, I remain conflicted on the video call conundrum. If I blur my background, it’s less distracting and, aside from making me look bald at times, seems more professional. If I don’t blur my background, you will see a bookshelf covered with a variety of fiction and non-fiction books, movies, pictures, mermaid glassware, and a plastic dragon. To add even more excitement, when I choose to use my standing desk, the angle of the unfiltered camera includes Groot statues, stuffed animals, and massive custom-made alien puppets from my mother. Although this view may be seemingly inappropriate for a typical corporate environment, it’s me. The things on the bookshelf represent my eclectic tastes, creative brain, and my life outside of work.

We all have similar choices to make when working from home. Some don’t have the space for a home office and wonder whether they should let people see their kitchen. Others do have the space, but it’s in the basement (aka swamp dungeon) where they will never again see the light of day. Of course, there are aesthetically gifted individuals who have beautifully decorated homes. Well-lit spaces with plants and abstract art congruent with current trends. Most of us, however, just have homes. Not necessarily decorated with a specific décor in mind, yet full of our lives.

The issue of whether to blur or not is bigger than video backgrounds and applicable regardless of office location. I’ve seen colleagues wear a hoodie in the morning and a suit coat in the afternoon based on their meeting schedule and participants. We choose which coffee mugs to drink from and what photos to put on our desk. We make conscious decisions about which personal hobbies to share with colleagues. All of this information, coupled with work ethic and performance, combines to form the image other people hold of us. A personal brand, so to speak.

If you read the first article in this series, “Death to Personal Brands,” you’ll understand that this year I am striving to be my most authentic self. A public blend of my business prowess and vast imagination. I’m convinced that one positive outcome of the pandemic is that more of our lives are showcased to colleagues. People’s cats walk across their desk during conference calls. Children interrupt meetings needing attention. Dogs interrupt desk-time when the mail person shows up.

All of these details make us seem less corporate zombie and more human. As a leader, I believe sharing our life with colleagues makes us more approachable. More trustworthy. And yes, more vulnerable.

In the next few weeks, I challenge you to let down your guard a bit. Go ahead and turn the blur effect off your camera once in a while. I’m interested to learn how your journey mirrors or differs from my own. Drop me a line and let me know how it goes!

Until next time. You flipping rock.

~Melissa Birling