Remote 201: Profile Pictures

Now that we’ve covered the basics of remote work — headsets, cables, and software — it’s time to think about some of the smaller, more subtle things we can do to ensure a good remote experience for everyone. Today, that’s profile pictures.

Profiles are something I don’t think about often, if at all. Maybe I enter a few details when I sign up for a new service, but then I rarely think about it again. I have one or two photos of myself that I don’t hate, and I use them for every account.

Most of my remote jobs have involved at least some in-person interaction, usually at the start of a new project. But recently, given circumstances, I’ve had gigs where I never meet my colleagues in-person.

This has changed how I think about profile pictures. For my colleagues on recent projects, my photo on various apps — chat, email, project-tracking — is the way they see me most frequently. There are still video calls, for sure, but that’s typically only a few hours per week, far less than the time we spend interacting in other apps.

In light of this, I’ve started taking more regular snapshots and updating my profile picture every couple of weeks. I shoot close up so that my face fills most of the frame, knowing it will be displayed at thumbnail size. I make a couple of tries for a decent angle, but I don’t sweat it too much because I know I’ll be replacing it soon.

Note that I’m only talking about private communication apps here. It’s perfectly reasonable to curate photos on your public or semi-public social media accounts. But the colleagues you work with every day deserve to see you as you are, just as they would if you worked together in a physical office.

If you are someone who, like me, has trouble identifying faces from still photographs, it is especially helpful when those photographs resemble their subjects as closely as possible. As a kindness to us facial-recognition-challenged folks, please update your picture any time you get a haircut, change your hair color, or otherwise alter your appearance.

Related notes: Don’t include anyone else in your profile photo, such as your spouse or children. We want to see your work self, not your anniversary-vacation-at-Disney self. Don’t use a photo of your pet. Don’t wear a Halloween mask (you know who you are). And absolutely do not use an image that isn’t a photograph of you.

Why so much concern over something as tiny as a thumbnail picture? Because it’s all about the tiny things. Remote communication is hard. Anything we can do to make our coworkers feel even 1% more connected is worth the effort.