4 Min Read

"Can you turn on your video, please?"

That was about a year ago when I was on a global call. I was called out by another leader, and I totally panicked. No one ever had called me out for not having my video camera on during a meeting.

"My camera's not working," I blurted out, "I need to ask IT to fix it."

They seem satisfied. And moved on to the agenda items for the meeting. I sank back into my chair and sighed. Hiding behind the black box on the screen that simply said "Mita Mallick."

Sure, it was a bold-faced lie. And let me tell you, it was a much-needed lie. Because there are a lot of things I will do at work, for work. I will gladly do them for my peers, for my team, or for my community. But not this.

Please don't ask me to turn on my video. Because I don't want anyone to see my fuzzy eyebrows, my hair pulled back, or my pores. (Maybe I shouldn't sit so close to the camera?) I don't want people to see my kids barging into the room unexpectedly. I don't want anyone to know I am wearing sweats and my college t-shirt. I don't want people to see that my place is largely undecorated and cluttered (who has time to put up pictures.)

For the last six months, my friend Jill Katz started politely emailing me and texting me. To join #AssembleNetwork. And I did everything I could to avoid her attempted requests to connect with me. Because I wasn't about to join.

#AssembleNetwork is movement that Jill created to bring groups of strangers together to build a network of trusted colleagues that become peer coaches and friends in four weeks. #AssembleNetwork meetings are held virtually, via Zoom, over the course of a month and offer a facilitated journey that includes peer coaching, best practice sharing, and one offline connection.

At the end of the month, the connections created are more authentic and more meaningful than meeting someone in a crowded networking happy hour trying to make small talk over a glass of bad Chardonnay.

Did I mention the #AssembleNetwork happens over Zoom? Where you have to turn on your video and make eye contact? Yup, count me out.

Jill sent me one final email in January:
"This is the last time I will ask you to join the #AssembleNetwork. I know this could be very impactful for you. And you have to just say yes."

So that evening. I logged on. Reluctantly. Holding my breath, I signed up for four weeks with video.

Here are 5 things #AssembleNetwork taught me when it comes to the importance of video:

  1. No one's looking at me. They don't care. They are all busy worrying about how they all look.
  2. You can change your background on Zoom. On Microsoft teams, you can blur it out. And no one cares if my walls are bare, if the kids laundry is folded in the corner, or if that's IKEA art on the floor, still not up on the wall.
  3. You don't have to sit so close up to the video so they see your pores. You can sit back a bit and everyone can still hear and see you. Put yourself on mute when you aren't contributing.
  4. If I need to eat my lunch, or step away to use the ladies room, or I want to just have a moment to SCREAM, it's perfectly acceptable and preferred to turn my video off temporarily. Just turn it back on when ready.
  5. Physically seeing people, interacting with people, and looking them in their eyes — all over video — does really create authentic connections. Better than at a crowded happy hour where I am usually one of the shorter people there and can barely even make eye contact.

A year later, who would have known that #AssembleNetwork was the way of the future? We now live in the COVID-19 era, an era founded on the principals of social distancing and remote working. So virtual coffee chats and happy hours have to slowly become part of our new normal. Even our children doing "playdates" and circle time via Zoom as part of their own routines. And all of this means you need to be comfortable using video.

And because of my four weeks connecting with strangers, who are all connected as one cohort, I now use video. I settle in and turn my video on. And I even like it. (Just don't tell Jill Katz that.)

So join an upcoming #AssembleNetwork session. Host your book club over Zoom. Ask a colleague for a virtual coffee date. If you missed the memo, the future of work has arrived. And learning how to use and be comfortable with video is part of upskilling yourself in the COVID-19 era.

Next time you are in a team meeting, take a deep breath. Turn your camera on and sit back. It's ok to still check your hair and blur your background. And don't worry — I won't notice what you look like. I'll still be busy worrying about me. (Is my messy bun too messy?)

How to Learn Much More From the Books You Read

It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.

Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.

Read with a Purpose

Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.

Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.


When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.


Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.

Speed Read

You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.

Quality Reading

Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.

Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.


If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.

Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.