Working from home is causing a bit of a stink

As we Zoom away our business lives and try to be both human and remote, it seems some of our most basic human habits are slipping.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Which ones are fragrant?


It's your third Zoom meeting of the day.

Or, of course, your third Microsoft Teams meeting.

Your eyes are a little glazed. It's one thing staring at a screen. It's quite another talking into it all day. And, even worse, listening to it.

You're even beginning to lose the fascination with closely examining your co-workers' home offices, living rooms, and even bedrooms.

Once you see them every day like this, they seem normal. Even if some of the decorating choices grate upon your finely tuned sensitivities.

Do you ever wonder -- and I know you do -- about your co-workers' hygiene? Yes, this is something you usually do at the office. Some people are simply more fragrant than others. Some people have a more positive natural fragrance than others.

Yet as the pandemic has sent us home to do business entirely online, some of us appear to be foregoing certain basic visual and olfactory gestures.

I've descended, you see, upon a Wall Street Journal description of consumer goods company Unilever's latest sales results. And difficult they are to behold.

One element makes for especially striking reading. While it seems soap and surface cleaner sales are doing well, shampoo and deodorant sales are significantly down, which disappoints a company that usually does very well out of such things.

It also disappoints me, in a slightly poetic way, that people are prepared to clean hard surfaces, but not themselves. They're prepared to make their kitchens gleam while they leave themselves in bad odor.

Working from home seems, indeed, to have encouraged people to let themselves go a little. It's hard to blame them. Especially those who are suddenly lumbered with the additional job of homeschooling.

Yet these results seem to reflect a significant trend among home-workers. Why, only last week I wrote about a Florida judge who simply couldn't bear the liberties certain lawyers were taking. Turning up for a Zoom court hearing without a shirt, for example. Or in beachwear.

Humans do tend to judge each other on appearances. It may not be right, but it's certainly real. If working from home becomes some sort of new norm, will there be even more emphasis placed on whether your hair -- should you have some -- is shiny? Will there be some subconscious thrum telling you whether a co-worker smells good today?

The current version of working from home isn't what many -- guilty, m'lud -- have experienced in the past. It's being enacted in an atmosphere of stress and fear, rather than peace and freedom. I have no concerns about people appearing on camera in whatever state and mood they happen to be.

I can imagine, however, wily companies like Unilever soon releasing products such as shampoo that makes your hair shine more strikingly on Zoom. And deodorant that emits happy emojis as it keeps you fragrant.

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