Pete Salmon

Head Implosions and Emojis: Two Virtual Office Disadvantages

By: Pete Salmon | August 25, 2016 | 

Head Implosions and Emojis: Two Virtual Office Disadvantages There are many advantages to a virtual office.

Gini Dietrich loves our virtual office, she has said as much on several occasions.

To her credit, she also is not afraid to present the potential disadvantages this setup may create.

I appreciate our virtual office because it allows me to be a part of Arment Dietrich and Spin Sucks—an opportunity lost without this arrangement.

With full recognition of this opportunity, I personally struggle with certain elements of my virtual office space.

This struggle has less to do with “virtuality” and more to do with my perceptual landscape.

My Need for Non-verbal Cues

The American Psychological Association described our capacity to perceive non-verbal communication with a phrase I could never improve upon.

They deem is as an exquisite sensitivity.

But I have always had a nagging suspicion, that I am far too dependent on this exquisite sensitivity.

If I am right, maybe it was because I had a strong, quiet father growing up? Or I am a visual learner? Or perhaps a touch neurotic?


My confidence in the comprehension of information decreases as I move further “down” the pathways of virtual office communication modes: Face-to-face (Zoom, Skype, FaceTime), telephone, and finally email/text.

It is the email/text that often confounds me.

They a words on a screen, devoid of inflection, eye-rolls,, smiles, pursed lips, tone, and most of all, intent.

Frozen In Time

Ding. An email or a Slack arrives.

And I know that either one has the potential to freeze me.

It is a Slack from my boss.

Her name is Laura Petrolino. Laura shoots straight. She is direct. She is blunt. She is organized. She gets things done. She is my boss. She is a cross between a modern-day Brigitte Bardot and Tony Soprano. And I kill her slowly. Everyday.

In Laura’s “Slack,” she inquired about a paragraph I wrote earlier in the day. She simply asked, “What does this paragraph mean?”

A question cannot be more simple.

I start to answer her question, and it happened: I froze.

My mind started racing.

I couldn’t just answer her question.

I mutter to myself, “For the love of God, ANSWER HER.”

I am frozen.

What was going on in my mind? All the following:

Was that sarcastic?

Was that rhetorical?

Answer her.

What does she mean by “What does this mean”?

She reviewed this paragraph already, and I sent it to the client.

She did review it didn’t she?

Did I feed the dog?

I eventually answered Laura’s email. She replied, “I don’t know what you are talking about?”

Ugh. Would have loved verbal cues, but in this instance, time was of the essence.

We eventually sorted it out. In the meantime, I’m fairly certain her head imploded.

My Need for Dimensionality

Beyond the fact that Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions was authored by A Square (presumably a square from London), the story occasionally reminds me of working in a virtual office.

It goes like this: Flatland is a two-dimensional world.

All of the inhabitants of Flatland are themselves two dimensional (women are lines; men are polygons).

The narrator of the story is Square.

Square has a dream one night.

He dreams he enters a realm called Lineland.

He meets the king of Lineland who is convinced that the single straight line that composes all of his kingdom constitutes all of existence and all of the universe.

Square cannot convince or even get him to comprehend another place called Flatland.

Sometime after his dream, Square is visited by a stranger, Sphere, who tries to convince Square of a third dimension.

Just as the one-dimensional king, in his one-dimensional kingdom, couldn’t comprehend Square’s two-dimensional world, Square couldn’t comprehend Sphere’s insistence on a three-dimensional world.

In a virtual office, sometimes I feel like Sphere.

Half Superhero, Half Emoji

Corina Manea is her name.

And she is my co-worker.

I have never owned a business, but if I had, I believe she would be a perfect employee.

She is 50 percent wisdom, 50 percent teacher,  50 percent producer.

Corina lives in Spain.

One of the greatest attributes of a virtual office is the ability to comb the globe for talent.

And she is talent.

When I am corresponding with Corina, through any means other than virtual face-to-face, I picture her as her photograph.

The reason?

I see her picture on Slack 50 times a day, but I only “Zoom” her once a week.

I also picture Corina as her favorite emoji.

The reason?

She ends nearly every Slack discussion I have with her with an emoji that only she uses.

She is larger than life in many ways; yet she is two-dimensional in my thoughts.

And that makes me terribly sad.

This tendency to think of a photo instead of a person is not isolated to Corina, it holds true for other employees as well.

But it is pronounced with Corina because we Slack so often.

The Solution for the Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs are hard-wired to look for answers, to put out fires, and generally lead a life of consistent worry.

With this understanding, I will address the above concerns with solutions, before the entrepreneur running Spin Sucks Slacks me to brainstorm solutions with her.

And I will bullet point it for my boss Laura Petrolino, who has never seen a bullet she didn’t like.

  • Be proactive, suggest a virtual face-to-face when you are feeling overly dimensional.
  • Don’t freeze, simply tell your co-workers to please provide additional context.

The following bullet points are strictly for me to remember.

  • The advantages of the virtual office allow you to work with this marvelous group of people.
  • You have communication issues even when you are physically standing in front of someone.
  • You work in your pajamas.
  • If you don’t implode Laura’s head, someone else who cares less for her will.
  • You don’t own pajamas.
  • If you need a three-dimensional Corina, vacation in Spain.
  • Time to feed the dog.

About Pete Salmon

Pete Salmon is an owned media manager at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. He also is a contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks.

  • Dawn Buford

    Pete you are the jewel in this crown called Spin Sucks! 🙂

  • Awesome post. And love the description of Laura Petrolino. Seems pretty accurate especially the Tony Soprano part. 😉

    • Ever since this blog was posted there has been a Lincoln Continental with tinted windows across the street. Cliche but true.

  • Laura Petrolino

    It is a supreme honor to have my head imploded daily by you. I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather have in that role.

    • Anyone else’s head would explode, but I know that part of your training regiment includes building up your Temporalis, Cranial aponeurosis, and miscellaneous maxillofacial muscles. You are totes swole.

  • “You work in your pajamas… You don’t own pajamas.” Laura! Pete isn’t wearing pants again!!!

  • I know exactly which emoji you mean, Pete (RE: Corina)—love it! It got me to thinking about my online avatars. Folks I chat with regularly on Skype likely associate me with my favorite emoji there too, while on slack and the twitterverse it’s probably the one raised eyebrow (which is true to real life conversations as well). The face-to-face conversations (even if it’s video-based) are so important to go beyond the avatar.

  • Hi Pete the post which you have shared with us just awesome and i face one problem as i also have virtual office in Australia that its a very time consuming , i can’t take prompt action ,.

    • Thank you Jessica. Everyone has individual preferences, Best of luck resolving your issues.

  • Hey, this is just a comment to test the commenting system. Apologies that it’s not a picture of some incredible leg warmers.

  • I loved this post (and I appreciate this week’s sequencing — seeing each staff member within the context of the other posts was cool). Virtual teams are SOOOO fantastic but as you point out, they present unique challenges. // I don’t know if mine is the SAME as yours re: the dimensionality issue but. I have REALLY struggled to assert myself in one particular situation at my current employer. Being virtual, it didn’t really matter that the other individual and I were in different countries, but I kept thinking “if I can ever look [name] in the eyes it will all be different.” It IS great that I have been able to look that person in the eyes, but that alone didn’t change the specific issue (although it did broaden my picture of the individual plus they brought my chocolate so there’s that 😉 ). Theh specific issue got addressed by a clearly worded, non wavering email. But it still felt odd discussing something sort of contentious by email.

    • Pete Salmon

      I understand Paula. The virtual office exacerbates a communication problem I have 24/7. The dimensionality “condition” is easier to correct and less likely to affect workplace efficiency.

  • Thank you so much for the poem, Pete!

    If I tell more often to Corina how much I love your writing will I get more poems?

    • Pete Salmon

      I always have more poems in me for you. In the next one, I will not give you a glass eye…perhaps a simple stye?

  • Thank you for the kind words, Pete.

    If I were to name only one thing for that I love so much the virtual world, it would be the privilege to hang out every day with the cool people from Spin Sucks and A.D.

    The rest, as Marie Forleo puts it, is figureoutable.

    • Pete Salmon

      Yes, I agree!

  • Lindsay Bell

    “And I will bullet point it for my boss Laura Petrolino, who has never seen a bullet she didn’t like.” BAHAHAHAHAHA!! Man, you SO nailed Laura in this piece. Nicely done. And beautifully written. Poetry on this early morning.

    • I do really like bullet points. So pretty and organized.

      • Lindsay Bell

        Just like you. 🙂

        • You should have broken her spell by now, Lindsay.

    • Nothing is better than poetry in the morning except coffee, toast, snooze alarm, hot shower, sunlight, and the newspaper. Wow poetry in the morning kinda stinks.

      • Lindsay Bell

        Brilliant writing, Pete. 🙂