Getting to Know You Online 15 get to know other people’s likes and dislikes, and our own inside jokes organically emerge based on things that have happened. We don’t necessar- ily need to share the details of our lives to have these connections. But in the absence of face-to-face moments to build connections, artifi- cially asking people to share something of their personal lives while virtual has become the default. Granted, family life is more front and center when working from home, but requiring disclosure may heap on extra discomfort. Though there is some preliminary evidence that knowing more about your colleagues leads to better treatment of each other,14 it remains to be seen how this new involuntary informality (including having homes, pets, roommates, spouses, etc., on full display during videoconferencing) will help or hinder our working relationships over the longer term. The driving principle behind asking people to share on-demand seems to be “it’s better than nothing.” While that’s probably true, we may yet need new ways to have virtual connections without trying so hard to manufacture them. Forming ties has always been an issue of concern for virtual work, and the more virtual we are, the bigger the problem. Being 100 percent virtual is when we need the most help. Yes, trust develops over time, but getting over the initial hump of having someone move from “stranger” to “familiar” still takes work, even more so online. Crossing that bridge is easier in smaller groups or one-on-one. Creating the regular opportunity for interactions with a few people at a time is perhaps more valuable for letting relationships unfold than trying to control what gets said in larger meetings. Another potential loss in our online connections is the time we spend just hanging out. This, of course, includes discussing the people we know in common. Gossip, which is loosely defined as talking about someone who isn’t present, is surprisingly ubiquitous, in no small part because it’s end- lessly entertaining. But how does this happen online? Virtual Office Gossip There’s a famous quote from American writer and socialite Alice Roosevelt Longworth that says, “If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.” And though the pervasive idea about gossip is that it’s predominantly malicious, in reality, it serves all kinds of roles.15 On the per- sonal side, it lets us make social comparisons. On the professional side, it gives access to important information and allows us to challenge existing power structures. (It’s important to distinguish gossip here from the spread- ing of rumors, which has a darker underbelly.) Some even root the function of gossip in forming alliances, which serve protective roles: Whereas our primate ancestors form bonds of trust by grooming each other, humans use their more-efficient language skills to accomplish the same tasks, including sharing key bits of information through
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