"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:
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