Updated: May 11
We often feel, at work and in our personal lives, that we’ve got the backs of people we care for. It may be a feeling we often have, but how do we show it? In a world of virtual connecting, this important sentiment that creates trust, nurtures belonging, fuels inclusion, and makes us feel safe can be difficult to show or to prove. Yet, maybe there are ways to cultivate this feeling and belief that we do, indeed, have each other's backs that are less difficult and more available than we imagine.
What is the first thing people see when you connect with them on Zoom or a virtual call? Hopefully they see your smiling face as a way to say, “I am here and ready for our connection.” But what else do they see? What messages stand out from the artifacts or objects behind you? What message(s) and meaning do you intend to send? Increasingly, we see institutions providing backgrounds that are custom designed to send certain messages about events, membership etc. Zoom and other platforms also offer a number of virtual background possibilities. Backgrounds can be used to induce small talk and build social bridges in virtual interactions.
But what if we challenge ourselves to mindfully create a backdrop or background that sends a message to our teams or groups that affirms a core value or shared belief? Could this backdrop prime us to create or remember a shared understanding that makes a difference, both for us as individuals and also to the team that we hope shares the value?
This blog post and this possibility of using artifacts to create inclusion, belonging, and trust was inspired by a concrete example of the use of a painting on a wall in an office to prime and strengthen a particular shared meaning. Our hope is that it inspires you to consider what you might display in your virtual backgrounds as a means of communicating and affirming important shared values.
Amy Bouque is the Chief People Officer of Kelly Services Inc., a publicly traded company whose mission is to “connect people to work in ways that enrich their lives.” Best known as an organization that places temporary employees in organizations, the mission of Kelly Services now includes placement of employees in a variety of industrial and professional jobs.
Amy joined Kelly in the last 2 years and, like all new leaders, had the challenge of uniting and motivating her HR team. At her one-year service mark, the newly formed team had yet to meet in person. While working on a significant project together, one team member exclaimed: “we feel like a team now—we have each other’s backs.” This phrase resonated with Amy and inspired an idea: the first time Amy had her team were physically together at a shared location, she asked them without explanation to take a picture all standing together, showing that they had each other’s backs. You can see the picture displayed below.
Amy then hired a painter to create a colorful image of the picture large enough to be hung on a wall. The resulting painting is pictured below, as Amy’s backdrop for anyone who enters her office, physically or virtually.
What does this picture communicate to you? How might you react if this picture was the dominant image as the backdrop for your leader? What impressions does it form? What questions does it raise? What kind of conversations might it kindle? Could one expand on the conversation by challenging other organizational members to personalize their background on the same theme?
Our hunch is that we could all be a lot more imaginative in how we create our backdrops or use other artifacts to convey our desired and actual shared values for our teams, our families, and other groups with whom we communicate regularly. Creative use of symbols can produce powerful rituals that convey meaning and humanize interactions. Our hope is that if we ignite our own and other peoples’ imaginations, we may create more ways to signal our desire to be and to stay connected in healthy and life-giving ways.