After spending three years in semi-remote work (I was in an office, but my boss was in a separate office across the country), followed by over two years of near-complete remote work, I’ve realized that there are critical differences between the remote work experience and the traditional in-office experience.
For example, I spent all day last Friday working in my shorts, and none of my coworkers was the wiser. This is something that I never would have done if I were in an office. (Decades ago, one of my former coworkers turned up in shorts on a casual Friday and received glares from one of the executive secretaries all day.)
In the remote workplace, we present our physical personas via the cameras on our computers and smartphones, and all of the context outside of the camera range is lost. This post highlights one of these pieces of context, highly critical in in-person interactions, but almost completely obscured in remote interactions. Is the loss of this piece of context important?
My observation at late 1990s Printrak
Before explicitly talking about this lost piece of context, let me go back 25 years to the days when I drove to work at 1250 Tustin Avenue in Anaheim every day.
In those days I worked in Proposals, and the Proposals Department was not too far from the executive offices. This is where Richard Giles, Dave McNeff, Dan Driscoll, and others at the VP level and above worked.
Passing by the executives in the halls, one thing was very apparent. Most of the executives were taller than me. I happen to be over 6 feet tall myself, so these other executives were very tall indeed.
This is not unique to Printrak. In 2004, when Printrak had been gobbled up by Motorola, a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology observed that for certain professions, there was a positive correlation between height and income.
…height was most predictive of earnings in jobs that require social interaction, which include sales, management, service and technical careers.From https://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug04/standing
I should add a caveat that at Printak in the late 1990s, all of the executives except one were male. This skewed the height effect, since (as the study noted) the average height of women is shorter than the average height of men. (The study controlled for sex, as well as age, to compensate for these differences.)
But this doesn’t negate the fact that many executives are of above-average height…with some notable exceptions.
My observation at my 2022 home office
Which leads me to my observation about a key point of remote work.
I hope you’re sitting down as you read what I’m about to say.
Actually, that’s what I’m about to say. Most remote workers are seated.
During my years that I exclusively worked at my sole proprietorship Bredemarket, and during the subsequent months that I’ve been in full-time employment, I have never met most of my clients or coworkers in person. Unlike my coworkers and clients that I met in the hall in Printak’s Anaheim office, I have no idea if I’m taller or shorter than most of them. I have met some people at local events such as those sponsored by 4th Sector Innovations, and I anticipate that I’ll meet some of my new company’s coworkers at some point, but as of now I don’t know if most of the people that I interact with would look up to me in person, or if I would look up to them.
Does the height obfuscation of remote workers matter?
Since my associates and I usually don’t gather around water coolers, I’m missing the contextual information derived from our relative heights.
But is this important?
Short people will answer this question with a resounding “no,” believing that the height of a person is immaterial to their effectiveness.
Tall people who are honest will answer this question with a resounding “yes,” since height does have a psychological effect that is lost when everyone is sitting.
Perhaps the short people are right. As we conduct more and more remote work with people throughout the country and around the world, in-person interactions are naturally going to decrease and we’ll interact more via Zoom, Teams, and other videoconferencing methods.
So now, the only thing that will matter is the deepness of your voice.
Now I’m hungry.