You’re on mute.

February 1, 2021

“You’re on mute” has become normal ear fodder for the last 10 months as we’ve jumped on Zoom after Zoom to hold meetings, teach courses, and carry on day-to-day conversations with colleagues and students throughout our workdays. This quote is a representation of all of us, bound to our laptops and/or our cell phones for a period of time in which we purposely silence various noises from our bedrooms, living rooms, and even our cars—hey sometimes there are errands to run—only for it to be our turn to speak and we forget to unmute ourselves. This, of course, is followed up with the equally popular quote “Sorry, I was on mute.” Both quotes, commonplace post-March 2020 and now etched into our daily existence, are reminders of this new normal quarantined life where Wi-Fi is king and good lighting without a ring light is a premium.

New to CSUN and the Mike Curb College as Associate Dean—yes, I’m still calling myself new—I only had six months to get to know my new work digs before COVID-19 sent me, and most of the world, home to adjust and figure out the remote possibilities in being confined and limited in daily interactions. The importance of pivoting in a pandemic with minimal grumble has become a big part of my year-and-a-half experience at CSUN. And within this time, I’d like to say that I’ve learned a lot about myself personally, but more importantly about myself professionally as someone who is tasked every day to lead in some way. Here are a few of my takeaways:

People want to see you.
I get it, Zoom fatigue is real. And there are many days I am business up top and comfy on the bottom, and seconds from making sure the background you can see on my camera is tidy before I start video. It’s tiresome, but necessary. Face-time with each other is grossly important. This social interaction makes up for the void many of us are feeling from missing key individuals we are used to seeing more often than some of our own family members. I’ve come to realize there are relationships that I was cultivating that have come to a full stop simply because I am not on campus. So, I’ve made it a habit to check in on people and schedule periodic Zoom lunches. They allow for us to talk “shop,” or not, and get to know each other. I even put on some lipstick occasionally. So, let people see you.

Be flexible.
Let’s face it, this whole thing is fluid. Being rigid just doesn’t work when we’re in a whole world crisis. Set deadlines, but be understanding. Communicate boundaries, but be unformidable. “Grace” is my favorite word right now. Show and exhibit grace in every situation. Give everyone, including yourself, a break.

Be light.
I mean this literally and figuratively. So often I enter Zoom meetings and everyone is so serious. Yes, we’re in a pandemic, outside has been closed for some time, and we have been thrust into a perpetual state of gray. But what are the bright spots in our lives? What are the things that bring you joy? How can we take that into a two-hour meeting that could have just been one hour? The meetings I enjoy the most are when the participants are small-talking, smiling and joking, and sending personal “hello” chats. Smiles and emojis go a long way. Take joy with you into meetings and in interactions with others. I find that when I’m light, it disarms others. It really does work.

As we go into month 11 of the quarantine with no explicit ending, there are several things I am certain about: I’m guaranteed to get hungry minutes before my meeting starts, the Golden Gate Bridge background is strangely popular, it always feels weird when colleagues just want to talk over the phone, and someone undoubtedly will always begin speaking while on mute.

Please remember to unmute yourself first. I want to hear what you have to say.

Kandace L. Harris, Ph.D.
Associate Dean