BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Office workers across the nation are settling into the new normal of working from home, while managers are trying to make daily conference calls more personal and less of a stress.
For the IT team at Harvard University's Wyss Institute, daily Zoom calls during the pandemic have featured an array of random characters, from Joe Dirt to Chewbacca.
Clinton Mann, Director of IT at Wyss has been doing video calls with his team every day since March 15, when they all moved to remote work due to COVID-19. Mann told WBZ NewsRadio he wanted to check in professionally, but it was also important to keep a personal connection too.
"I figured we could use the 30 minutes to check-in with each other... talk about work... give updates on how each of our quarantines is going, offer support to each other, try and keep the conversation as healthy as possible, and also add some humor or levity to the meeting."
In order to bring that humor to his team, Mann decided to look around his own home for inspiration. That's when he found some old Halloween costumes his wife had kept over the years, and a box of party masks.
"I wanted to keep the meetings fun, so I decided each meeting I would do something different," said Mann. "[I'd] wear costumes, wear masks... They are like analogue Snapchat filters, so I have a lot of options."
The IT Director also started making himself custom Zoom video backgrounds, with themes that matched his t-shirts. So far he's appeared as Superman, a unicorn, a pirate, a race car driver, and in his Chewbacca onesie inside the Millennium Falcon.
Mann said his team seems to enjoy it. "I get a group laugh, or head shakes and big grins."
"Sometimes I start the meeting with the costume on," said Mann. "Other times not. Then I will pretend that I got a call, and I will do a quick costume change to end the meeting with a laugh."
Mann also started using software for facial tracking called FaceRig, so he can change his facial appearance too. He said his team eventually started playing around with digital backgrounds as well, making the daily conference calls something everyone could look forward to.
"My favorite out of the IT team's attempts is from my Systems Administrator Gordon," said Mann. "He used a picture I had posted of [my dog] Rizzo on my outside stairs... then used software to become Rizzo for the whole meeting. I still chuckle when I think about it."
Mann told WBZ NewsRadio he's going to continue dressing up and creating random Zoom backgrounds to keep his team's spirits high during the pandemic.
While he's already worked his way through a lot of the Halloween costumes, he said he does have a couple other surprises still lined up.
(Photo credit: Clinton Mann/Wyss Institute)