Be Unafraid To Unmute

The art and science behind showing our faces, revealing our true selves (and our homes), and being unapologetically authentic.


At the risk of adding yet another article into cyberspace that juxtaposes our current lives with the disruption the coronavirus has wrought, I’m going to start by saying that, above all else, the pandemic has shown us how essential connection is for our lives to seem normal. Through the months of worldwide shelter-in-place orders, while we were all baking bread and planting gardens, social isolation got to the best of us. We now also know how significant the impact of our co-workers is on our everyday lives. 

Technology, FTW! (‘for the win,’ I’m told!)

Even as some of the world’s leading companies, like ours, have had leaders talking about voluntary and permanent work-from-home options for employees, we’ve also seen how offices give us a sense of community like almost nothing else in our modern lives. And so, to replicate the ease of working while being able to see people’s faces, interpret their body language, or just to feel the companionship, organizations put in place as much great tech as they could to make their employees’ lives easier. (As a small aside here, I’d like to encourage tech companies to be curious and courageous and take advantage of the pandemic-induced gold rush by filling the existing need-gap with smart innovation.)

Here’s something I’ve learned over the last year about technology. Each tool, app, or software has its best practices, and there’s no shame in reaching out to people in the know to make the best use of whatever you have access to. There are also all kinds of tutorials out there that will help you, as they did me. As our professional and personal lives continue to merge, the mute button is a great invention that allows us to be present in more than one moment, move away and attend to other things that need our attention. But do we really need to move away?

The Emotional Cost

“Unmute yourself,” arguably the most used phrase of 2020, is also excellent life advice, I find. The last few months of distance schooling and remote working has revealed that our attention spans are only as long as our facetime with others. Video calls lack the intimacy and spontaneity of socially-not-distant, in-person meetings. Being in separate locations makes it challenging to generate camaraderie. But, when our cameras are switched on and mics unmuted, our brain knows that it must tune out all else and solely concentrate on the call. It’s the closest we can hope to get to an actual, face-to-face human interaction.

The pandemic, and the socially distanced lifestyle it has forced us into, has also given us a precious opportunity to be authentic. Personally, I prefer to keep my camera switched on through any video meeting I’m part of because I find that then, I offer others – colleagues, friends, and family – nothing less than my full attention. However, due to our post-COVID lives blurring the line between home and work, it’s also essential to give others the space to decide when it isn’t comfortable for them to be on camera.

"As our professional and personal lives continue to merge, the mute button is a great invention."

When I talk about being unmuted, it also means letting all the parts of our lives merge into one big, colorful mess. It’s letting the blue bleed into the yellow, giving us much-needed calmness. It means softening the edges of black and white into a soothing gray. Our workday isn’t the same anymore. Instead of ignoring our changed circumstances, we need to acknowledge and attend to them.

To illustrate the point I’m trying to make, I was once on a meeting where a colleague’s grandchild came into the room, climbed on his grandma’s lap, and chatted with me about funny hats. Speaking of hats, I’ve also had a 4-week-long hat-making challenge on Zoom with the 9-year-old daughter of a senior member of my team. It started when she walked in during a weekly catch-up call I have with her mother, wearing a space-station as headgear. For the next few weeks, young Mehr and I made several hats at home (yes, those YouTube craft videos really pull you in!), and her mother had to forgo the first five minutes of our weekly call for the two of us to show each other our latest creations. 

Attracting Talent 2.0

As the concept of work reduces to a thing people do, instead of also being a place they go to, organizations have learned that their people crave contact. To adapt to (what we’ve all been calling) the ‘new normal,’ rise through the chaos it’s thrown us into, and eventually thrive, we need to think of what ‘normal’ should look like in the long run. To continue to attract the best talent, it is now imperative for companies to look at employee experience in a way that they have until now looked at customer experience.

It is essential to support your most loyal brand ambassadors, your employees, to make their days a little bit easier and happier. At Genpact, while enabling our people to work from home, we’ve also subscribed to the best-in-class collaborative tools, organized wellness webinars, and provided access to counseling services. To help our employees live happier, healthier lives, we also decided to give them on-the-house unlimited premium access to Headspace, a global, science-based leader in meditation and mindfulness apps. With many of us experiencing increased demands on our time for childcare and elderly care, we’ve organized webinars with experts. There’s also a company-wide support group for those of us who are parents and a portal to access the best articles on parenting, especially during a pandemic.

Before I end, I’d just like to express my ardent wish, in the hope that some part of the universe really does listen, that while we continue to find our feet in this post-COVID world, we will also soon be able to return to the world we used to know. While we share a joke or raise a toast over Zoom, here’s to being able to backslap our colleagues, shake hands with our clients, and walk to the nearest pub for an after-work drink with our teams.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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Piyush Mehta genpact


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