Help! Everyone thinks my room is a mess

Dear OOO:

Does everyone judge my background on Zoom? All of my coworkers have these pretty facilities with crisp white bookcases and hanging plants, but I’m lucky if I can sweep the linens from the bed behind me in time for my morning meeting. And our bedroom is the only room that doesn’t include a distant school, and the Zoom reunions of a screaming 4 year old or my husband. I pin the tiles of people to marvel at their good taste and their obviously higher wages. And then I guess they’re laughing at my Ikea bedspread. How can I stop feeling so anxious about it?

–Marie, Cleveland

Do you remember the conference calls? In the old days, everyone would call the same number to connect to a “conference bridge” that tied all of their phones together in a small party phone bus, and then everyone would just talk to each other. It was wild.

Anyway, hello and welcome to WIRED’s new work tips column. I am your advisor, partly because I have live handing out work tips, and in part because I am the publisher of this website and ranked when I saw the opportunity to shout at people on the internet how to improve their lives (instead, for example , to work to improve my own life). My goal is to help you improve your professional life – whether you start your second year working from home like me or head to your workplace because your presence in a specific location is more crucial than mine – mainly by telling yourself that your coworkers are boneheads or that you are boneheads. (Marie, you’re an exception here.) So let’s go.

I mention conference calls because as a society we seem to have forgotten that cell phones can in fact make phone calls in the era of the pandemic. I used to talk to so many people on the phone; These days, I’m constantly moving my laptop from the surface of my desk to the stack of books supporting it for video calls. I’m writing this between zoom nine and ten today. It’s too much! Most video conferences should be phone calls, and most phone calls should be emails.

Of course, phone calls help but may not solve the real gist of your problem; they can hide your bedroom but not eliminate your deeper insecurity.

But I bet if I looked the other way at laptops streaming your coworkers’ blossoming pothos and oddly untouched domestic bookcases, I’d see dust and dirty dishes and a hoodie or three strewn about. Just because their homes allow them to hide chaos better than yours doesn’t mean chaos isn’t there.

I am mentoring a group of low income high school students applying to college this year, and many colleges are now asking students to upload ‘about themselves’ videos as part of the app. . Maybe they really think they can get to know students in a 120 second clip, or maybe it’s a misguided attempt to be cool and TikTok-y, but somehow I think that it turns against them. For the most part, these colleges don’t give their overwhelmed 18-year-old applicants any guidance on the content of these videos, but they are very precise on their preferred setting. In the words of an Ivy League institution, a clutter-free background helps you “do your best.” “Messy room,” their “do’s and don’ts” video states. For one of my students, who shares a one-bedroom apartment with her mother and two strangers, her lack of austere setting almost scared her not to apply.

We surely agree that the elite college is the bad guy in this story, right? Ergo, you can work with clueless, wealthy, and arrogant people – in which case it may be worth looking for another job. But maybe you are working with decent people who are also insecurity in these times of an anxiety-provoking pandemic, and their insecurities are expressed simply through a manic staging of their antecedents. Some of them may even be envious that you are driving these days with a pass of people in your home.

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