The digital Space - What cannot be seen, cannot be judged.

During the last months, we have spent a substantial amount of time researching on the topic “The psychological and neurological effects of remote work”. What does it do to us humans and human systems to limit encounters to the virtual space? What does it mean when the basis of information we have available to place and form an opinion about others, shrinks substantially? What happens to our interaction when the image we see of each other is “cropped”, preventing us from seeing the person in his or her entirety?

This has especially been noticeable for me as I am 8 months pregnant. When I am meeting others virtually, my frame is limited to my upper body and everything beneath that is “invisible”. It remains private.

Suddenly, I realised what a relief it is to have this freedom of choice: Do I keep a meeting strictly professional or do I share something personal with my counterpart(s). Why, you may ask, is being pregnant something strictly personal and why do I value this freedom so much?

In September 2020 I joined our family consulting business, with the clear objective to take over all management and ownership responsibilities by the end of 2022, together with Verena Neumayer, one of my fantastic colleagues. Two weeks before the start of my assignment, I found out I was pregnant - unexpectedly. In our family history, entrepreneurship and having a career has never stood in contrast to having children, so me and my partner decided to make it work.

Nevertheless, over the last 8 months I have realised through many reactions and hints that the very prominent mental model in our society, namely, that women with children cannot perform as well as men, persists everywhere and all the time. The fact that I can can continue my work until I fancy to, without having to encounter doubtful looks, questions or comments, is something yet unheard of.

The digital space allows us all to be much more deliberate with what and how much we would like to share and with whom. We can choose whether to switch on our camera and what background to show. The reduced image quality means that it becomes impossible to determine whether someone is wearing an expensive Armani Suit or a basic M&S suit. The interaction in the digital space makes it impossible to say whether someone is wearing a refined perfume or has not showered in three days.

During the last year, we found out that personal bonding in the virtual space is more difficult, but at the same time more important than ever; As what used to happen during lunch, now requires active planning. We therefore advise our clients to make meetings as personal as possible when held in the digital space.

Nevertheless, the extent to which one can choose what and how much to share has increased tremendously. My sincere hope is therefore, that this is a ground-breaking game changer when it comes to diversity and equality. As what cannot be seen, cannot be judged! 

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