Virtuality

For the most part, it’s nice working from home. There’s no rush in the morning getting ready to catch the train to get to bed; instead, you can roll out of bed and be at your desk in a matter of minutes. It’s nice to have your stuff around you and have the luxury of popping out to the supermarket to get some groceries when you need them, or dropping by the cafe or just going for a walk when you need to.

There are times I miss the bustle of the office and being in the city. I miss the casual interactions, the conversations – both work and non-work related; I miss cruising through the city streets browsing shops or catching up with mates at lunch or after work. I miss having a chat with the barista when I get my morning coffee, and I miss some of my colleagues. I even miss the dull routine of catching the train at times – the familiar faces, the quirks of humanity, the familiarity of it all.

It’s more solitary working from home, naturally. More lonely, I guess, as well, though it’s not so bad if you can slip out to catch up with friends. Ideally, you’d go to the office once or twice a week and work from home the rest. That’s the way I think it will turn out. Our offices have been largely closed for renovation the last few months, but they re-open in a couple of weeks. I believe the plan then is that we come into the office one day a week per roster.

One of the difficulties working from home is catching up with people to have necessary conversations. It used to be that you could wander over to someone’s desk and have a quick conversation or peer over their shoulder as they showed you something. You’d pick up things via casual conversation, and keeping tabs on what’s happening when you’re all in the same place was much easier.

Then there are meetings. Rather than gathering in a room to discuss things, we now meet online. It’s a necessary compromise, but I don’t feel comfortable with it.

There’s something about joining up virtually that breeds a level of artificiality. People act differently from what they do when they meet in person. Personally, I miss the visual cues you get meeting in the same room. When you’re in the same room, you can better gauge the mood and see the prompts when someone has something to say or sense agreement or disagreement. Online creates a bit of a void.

Strangely, I feel much less inclined to speak up in an online meeting than when we’re in the same place. Part of that recently is doubt over my speech: I’m self-conscious. But, more so, I feel I’m speaking without visible response or feedback.

Ironically, I prefer to have my camera off in most meetings because I don’t like the idea of being scrutinised when I’m unaware of it. I have a general issue with cameras and surveillance, but that’s another discussion.

Naturally, despite my reluctance, in most meetings I attend these days, I’m either expected – or end up – doing the lion’s share of the talking.

Otherwise, we’re all connected to messenger platforms the whole day through. Like most places, I suspect, we use Teams. Most communication is related to work and projects and – being in IT(ish) – outages. There’s a level of social interaction, and we have a channel devoted to that, which is fair enough.

After the first few months, I haven’t posted to the social channel, mainly because it’s not my thing. A lot of it is memes, which ranks right up there (down there?) with puns as a source of humour. Some of them are clever, but it’s been way overdone and is tired. And it’s no substitute for original wit, though that is what it’s become.

What it has exposed is a human tendency to follow a lead. Someone will post something, and before you can blink an eye, another half dozen people have posted endorsing the original post or following with their replica of it. It’s almost as if people don’t want to be left out. They want to be seen to be joining in the rush. It’s this rampant me-too-ism that disheartens me.

My view may be unique as I’m a long-time anti-joiner. If everyone is joining the same club, I’m walking the other day. That may also make me a grouch, a miserable bastard and/or a hard-nosed cunt. Suit yourself.

I appreciate individuality and original thought. My fear is that we have developed a sameness in how we think and express ourselves. I don’t know if it’s incapacity or fear, but there seem few who seem comfortable in forging their own path.

The times I have joined in, it’s generally with a subversive, dry wit that not not everyone gets or appreciates, which is great. I’m taking the piss in time honoured Aussie fashion, but it’s a little out of style these days. (Privately, I’ve been told by some how much they look forward to my contributions, which make them laugh).

The same applies, as always: be yourself.

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