Please Don't Make Me Turn On Video

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?)
3 Min Read

Help! Am I A Fraud?

The Armchair Psychologist has all the answers you need!

Help! I Might Get Fired!

Dear Armchair Psychologist,

What's the best way to be prepared for a layoff? Because of the crisis, I am worried that my company is going to let me go soon, what can I do to be prepared? Is now a good time to send resumes? Should I save money? Redesign my website? Be proactive at work? Make myself non-disposable?

- Restless & Jobless

Dear Restless & Jobless,

I'm sorry that you're feeling anxious about your employment status. There are many people like yourself in this pandemic who are navigating an uncertain future, many have already lost their jobs. In my experience as a former professional recruiter for almost a decade, I always told my candidates the importance of periodically being passively on the market. This way, you'd know your worth, and you'd be able to track the market rates that may have changed over time, and sometimes even your job title which might have evolved unbeknownst to you.

This is a great time to reach out to your network, update your online professional presence (LinkedIn etc.), and send resumes. Though I'm not a fan of sending a resume blindly into a large database. Rather, talk to friends or email acquaintances and have them directly introduce you to someone who knows someone at a list of companies and people you have already researched. It's called "working closest to the dollar."

Here's a useful article with some great COVID-times employment tips; it suggests to "post ideas, articles, and other content that will attract and engage your target audience—specifically recruiters." If you're able to, try to steer away from focusing too much on the possibility of getting fired, instead spend your energy being the best you can be at work, and also actively being on the job market. Schedule as many video calls as you can, there's nothing like good ol' face-to-face meetings to get yourself on someone's radar. If your worries get the best of you, I recommend you schedule time with a qualified therapist. When you're ready, lean into that video chat and werk!

- The Armchair Psychologist


Dear Armchair Psychologist,

I'm an independent consultant in NYC. I just filed for unemployment, but I feel a little guilty collecting because a) I'm not looking for a job (there are none anyway) and b) the company that will pay just happens to be the one that had me file a W2 last year; I've done other 1099 work since then.

- Guilt-Ridden

Dear Name,

I'm sorry that you're wracked with guilt. It's admirable that your conscience is making you re-evaluate whether you are entitled to "burden the system" so to speak as a state's unemployment funds can run low. Shame researchers, like Dr. Brené Brown, believe that the difference between shame and guilt is that shame is often rooted in the self/self-worth and is often destructive whereas guilt is based on one's behavior and compels us to do better. "I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it's holding something we've done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort."

Your guilt sounds like a healthy problem. Many people feel guilty about collecting unemployment benefits because of how they were raised and the assumption that it's akin to "seeking charity." You're entitled to your unemployment benefits, and it was paid into a fund for you by your employer with your own blood, sweat, and tears. Also, you aren't committing an illegal act. The benefits are there to relieve you in times when circumstances prevent you from having a job. Each state may vary, but the NY State Department of Labor requires that you are actively job searching. The Cares Act which was passed in March 2020 also may provide some relief. I recommend that you collect the relief you need but to be sure that you meet the criteria by actively searching for a job just in case anyone will hire you.

- The Armchair Psychologist