Picture this. A Zoom video call is in progress. A legal hearing for the 394th District Court of Texas. Clickwise from the top left: A sober legal warning that the hearing may not be recorded. A stern looking man in a suit. Another stern looking man in a suit. And in the final panel, a sad, scared, cute little kitten.
“Oh…” the kitten says, “I’m here live…I’m not a cat.”
This really happened. As it turns out, this was not an actual kitten having an existential crisis, as relatable as that may be after the year we’ve had, and continue to have, as we approach the anniversary of the world shutting down. This was the intrusion of family life on the professional. The lawyer’s kid had been having fun with Zoom before the meeting, and considering how much he struggled to remove the filter, the kid seemed to have a better handle on the app than their father.
The oddest part about the above scene though? How calm everyone remained while speaking to a frightened kitten. The pandemic produces so many faux pas that we’ve been inoculated to them, no pun intended. The Ven Diagram of our lives — personal, professional, private, public — has become a single circle. Our social lives confined to whatever the little camera behind the unblinking green light sees.
How will we ever come back from this? Salesforce has already declared the 9-to-5 workday dead. Is it possible for us to ever feel settled back into our claustrophobic cubicles, in our awkwardly tailored business casual outfits, with no mute button to hit when we want to take a big slurp from an iced coffee, and no reprieve from a child or pet coming in to disrupt the monotony of an endless meeting?
We are living in a time when business has become irrevocably personal. We’ve let each other into our homes, nearly every day for a year. We’ve interviewed for our dream jobs with cats on our laps, had one-on-ones with our bosses with our house plants drooping in the background. We’ve spoken with customers and colleagues with pajama bottoms just below the frame.
Maybe the question isn’t “how” we’ll attempt to return to the Old Normal, but why? Was it so awful to see the bad art on the CEOs walls? Or maybe we were pleasantly surprised by their taste. Maybe an icy executive was thawed somewhat by a tender scene when a child wandered into the room.
What I’m saying is, it might not be the worst thing in the world that we see each other as scared kittens, just a bit, some times, perhaps in a moment of frustration with one another. We’ve been through something together. There’s a tacit understanding there. A forgiveness. Let’s not forget it.
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