Microsoft Office 365 profile photos in the workplace: welcome to creepy factor 4,000.

Office 365 is a delightfully useful bundle of tools. If you are familiar with it then you are also familiar with one seriously disturbing feature of Office 365. The profile photo. When a user uploads a profile photo to his or her profile, this image shows up in all kinds of places including at the top of ANY email the person sends to other employees.

For some reason I have found this feature to be extremely distracting and disturbing. The issue surfaces when I receive an email from an employee I do not know. Regardless of the content of the email (positive, negative or neutral content), if it is from someone I am not familiar with, and I see their face staring back at me, I instantly have a negative perception of the sender. I think they are either conceited (when they are posing for the photo) or unprofessional (when they are using a fictitious character or famous person for their photo).

I am surprised such a simple feature of showing a face on an email has generated such a harsh reaction from me. Here are a few possible theories as to why this feature bothers me:

  • It could have something to do with how I categorize email in my brain. Email is a colorless, ageless and gender-less platform of communication. I like it that way, it forces more of a focus on a task and eliminates the unnecessary weirdness I get from some people when I have to see them in person (elevator eyes, comments regarding my appearance, yada yada yada).
  • I am very familiar with how I am treated in public online platforms (like when playing Chess) once users discover I am female so I avoid revealing such information. I have become accustomed to concealing my identity via online communication for so long that I now see any attempt to knowingly reveal such information as a terrible decision that will cause problems.
  • Maybe I am just freaked out by a stranger staring at me via the weird little circular photo as I try to read the email. You know, like how that cute little guard dog was trying to do his job at the children’s museum but was freaked by all the teddy bears staring at him: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/14154738/ns/world_news-weird_news/t/elvis-teddy-bear-leaves-building-hard-way/#.Xi8FNWhKhaQ.

We humans are so weird, I cannot imagine what aliens from other galaxies must think of us.

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