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Utah Business

Zoom gives us a peek into the homes of our executives

W e’ve all done it. As COVID-19 has caused an irrevocable shift in our lives and forced many of us to adjust to working from home, it’s inevitable that during a Zoom meeting, our attention goes from the person we’re engaging with to what’s behind them: vintage china collections, rows of first edition books, heraldry embossed on various certificates of achievement.

For the first time in history, we have the ability to peek inside the homes of those we work with; not only is telepresence technology a way to ensure we’re still able to work in teams during these unprecedented times, but it also functions as a portal into the personal lives of the people we’ve only previously known under strictly professional circumstances. 

This phenomenon begs a simple question: how much can we learn from looking in? 

The CTO who hunts buck from his front porch 

Austin Miller, CEO of executive recruitment firm IsoTalent, works with some of the top executives in the country on a daily basis. As a recruiter, he’s always engaging with some of the most talented individuals in their fields, and now, through Zoom, he’s been able to get a deeper look into their lives. 

“I was speaking with a CTO who lives in Wanship,” Miller says. “As I was speaking, he kind of got distracted and looked and in the background was this big open window and just a beautiful mountain range. What he was distracted by was an elk walking across his front lawn,”

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The CTO went on to tell Miller that he often hunts buck from his front porch and that he is able to split his time managing software engineering developments for his company and enjoying the spoils of the natural landscape he’s surrounded by. “It was actually really unique to me, because it wasn’t what I stereotypically think of [in terms of] a CTO,” Miller says. “I think it really made me realize that there are a lot of people we don’t really know or understand, and being on Zoom calls like that, all of a sudden you [get] to open up topics, and thoughts, and ideas, and ask questions that you never would have thought to ask prior to seeing that background or seeing that different type of setting.”

“Seeing the excellence imbued within the workspace draws a parallel to the excellence that Hale displays through his work on a daily basis.

From this meeting, Miller was able to learn more about this individual than he would have been able to under any other circumstance: “He likes solitude [and] he likes the outdoors. And it actually explained a lot about how to work with him [and] how to talk to him and again, I would have never thought to ask those questions until that background of that Zoom [meeting] was there.” 

What Miller discovered was a deeper level of human connection: through a remote meeting, he was able to acquire a true understanding of someone that he would not have been able to glean in any other way.  

Thanks to video conferencing, employees now get a peek inside their executives’ homes. Here’s what they have learned.

The executive director harboring a hidden talent 

Tony Young, media relations manager at the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development has adjusted effortlessly to working from home. As a father to a new baby, he’s been able to give his family the time they need while still showing up for his job at GOED under Val Hale, the executive director. 

“I think in our line of work as a government agency and especially part of the government office… you think of your bosses and the directors as not real people in a way, right?” Young says. “Because you always see them in a suit, in a tie, and nicely dressed, and very professional. I’ve actually loved these Zoom meetings where you can see their real personality come out. They’re in t-shirts. They’re a little bit more relaxed. It’s been cool for me to see that different perspective.”

What really showed Young a deeper look into Hale’s personality was his woodworking facility. During one of their most recent Zoom meetings, Hale opted to host the meeting on his end among his carpentry projects. While Young and many others have known that Hale is a skilled carpenter―he’s repeatedly handmade beehive-style boxes to hand out to awardees at the Utah Economic Summit―this was the first time Young got an inside look into Hale’s process. 

Thanks to video conferencing, employees now get a peek inside their executives’ homes. Here’s what they have learned.

“I’ve never seen a picture of his actual workspace,” Young says, and the Zoom meeting revealed Hale’s penchant for perfection: the organization of his space and materials was immaculate. In the same way that he operates as an executive director, Hale commits a high level of authentic dedication to his craftsmanship. 

“He takes his time with stuff,” Young confirms. “He doesn’t rush it. It’s a thorough job, and I think that kind of showed with his workspace. He explains that seeing the excellence imbued within the workspace draws a parallel to the excellence that Hale displays through his work on a daily basis. “When it comes to woodworking, it’s all about perfection, and Val will tell you… ‘Oh, it’s not perfect, but I tried!’ But it’s pretty close to perfect.”

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The CMO with a penchant for antique weaponry 

Austin Stewart, an enterprise account executive at Motivosity, recounts a remote office event his company hosted: Motivosity Cribs. Through Motivosity’s own unique take on an MTV classic, executives from around the country were invited to give virtual tours of their homes, giving team members an inside look into where and how they live.

“Our CMO, Joe [Staples]… collects knives. I didn’t know that he was a knife collector,” Stewart says. 

Staples has embarked on many travels throughout his career and uses his knife collection as a way to remember the places he’s been to. Through Zoom, Staples was able to showcase a souvenir knife from each locale; Motivosity Cribs was also able to highlight the fact that Staples’s brother-in-law built him his very own knife display cabinet for his collection of some 60 or 70 knives. 

“He also had a Gatling gun in his house,” Stewart tells me. 

“Miller discovered was a deeper level of human connection: through a remote meeting, he was able to acquire a true understanding of someone that he would not have been able to glean in any other way. 

When I ask Staples about his Gatling gun, he explains: “This one’s more of a craftsman piece of art. It shoots .22s, it’s made out of walnut brass and steel for the barrels, but the mechanism’s the same… it has a crank handle, and has a number of barrels that rotate through. Frankly, we’ve only shot it once. So, that tells you that we use it much more as a decorative piece than something to go out and actually use to shoot. But it really is beautiful. Showing that over Zoom―that was the thing that stood out to people,” Staples says. 

When I ask Stewart what this experience revealed about Staples’ character, he explains that it showed Staples’ love of all things wild and electrifying. “It just kind of confirmed [that] he’s adventurous, and it’s funny because you wouldn’t picture him that way,” Stewart muses. In fact, Stewart didn’t know that Staples had also gone on many survivalist trips, but says that his collection of antique weaponry is a testament to his inherent fascination with daring ventures.

The VP of sales who collects all things Japanese 

Motivosity Cribs also revealed that Brad Jensen, Motivosity’s VP of sales, has a passion for Japanese art and design. 

Jensen and his family have “a huge draw to Asian culture,” according to Stewart. Chopsticks, dishes, and decorations pepper almost every surface of their home. “We have an affinity for Japan. My family and I have been there several times.” 

The Jensens collect Kokeshi dolls, and have an assortment of pottery they made on one of their trips alongside a twelfth-generation potter. However, what Stewart found most interesting was that the Jensen family’s travels to the Pacific island nation had a huge influence on every member: Stewart says that through Zoom, he was even given a tour of the Jensen children’s rooms, and that Japanese art and anime were prominent features. 

Thanks to video conferencing, employees now get a peek inside their executives’ homes. Here’s what they have learned.

“You don’t talk about that kind of stuff at work, and so when you open the doors and get to see it, it’s pretty cool.” Stewart asserts that it was delightful to observe how Jensen’s love of Japan was something he shared with his kids: “It’s just kind of cool to see how [the affinity for Asian culture was] passed down. It shows his dedication to his family [and that] he spends time with [them].”

The business development representative with a palace of plants

Motivosity business development representative Colton Weeks had the opportunity to get to know his colleague, Cat Rogers, better than ever with remote work technology. Through Zoom, Weeks was able to get a glimpse into his coworker’s home. 

Even though the two work together on a daily basis, Weeks felt like he was able to get a better understanding of Rogers through the way she had curated her environment: her home looked more like a greenhouse than a traditional living space. Every surface was covered in endless greenery―her apartment mirrored the look and feel of a Pacific Northwest rainforest or an alien planet. 

“What it looked like was as if you were walking into a greenhouse―literally plants on shelves, on cabinets…. hanging from the ceilings all over the place,” Weeks notes. “Cat [is] probably one of the people with the most life to her that I’ve ever met. [She’s] very bright [and] vibrant. She’s always trying to be the life of the party [and to] bring excitement, and I can see that her apartment filled with those plants is definitely a reflection of her and her personality.”

Weeks reflects on how being physically separated has led to deeper connections in the long run: “Even though I haven’t been in [the] physical presence of my coworkers in the last three months or so, I feel closer to them.” 

Thanks to video conferencing, employees now get a peek inside their executives’ homes. Here’s what they have learned.

The COO who has a Da Vincian flair 

Brett Barlow, cofounder and CEO of Everee, a company that allows employees to be paid daily, led his team to close their Series A funding as the public health crisis raged on.

In honor of the raise, Ron Ross, Barlow’s cofounder and COO, built a Rube Goldberg machine in his home: he connected a record player that, once it was turned on, set a series of marbles, Hot Wheels toy cars, and Jenga puzzle pieces into motion, culminating into the final event: the smashing of a unicorn figurine. The mechanism was a representation of Everee’s bright future, and the company’s hope of one day becoming a unicorn itself.

“It also functions as a portal into the personal lives of the people we’ve only previously known under strictly professional circumstances.

“That’s not something he wouldn’t have done if he wasn’t at home,” Barlow says of Ross’s inventiveness. The Rube Goldberg machine was built because “one thing kicks off another, kicks off another, [which] kind of symbolizes working together,” Barlow tells me. The machine was certainly a testament to Ross’s innovative nature and revealed the deeper way that he thinks about the interaction of the congruent parts in his company. 

As we continue to work from home, we have a chance to get to know each other a little better. Even though we are physically separated, and even though these times make many of us cleave to a constant sense of uncertainty, we can recognize a few bright spots: we still have new and unique opportunities to be vulnerable, intimate, and real with the people who make up our individual universes.

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