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Lake's inventive online meeting themes 'make the work week brighter'

The video stream lags. There’s that weird echo. Oh, and you don’t exactly love the way you look on screen.

All these factors can contribute to “Zoom fatigue” — a catchall term for the cognitive load that follows a long day of video conferencing.

Not long into the pandemic, Robert Lake started to notice the lack of “human moments” sometimes ascribed to screen-based interactions. Longing for the collegiality of gathering in-person, Lake decided to show up at weekly online team meetings with creative backgrounds.

Robert Lake as a "handyman."

Robert Lake as a "handyman."

“Who knows when we’ll be back in the office? I kind of figured, if we’re going to meet this way for the foreseeable future, why not make it fun?” said Lake, a security administrator on the PeopleSoft Architecture & Security Administration Team in UIT’s University Support Services.

Time-permitting, Lake coordinates the background with a costume, background music, props, and occasionally even makeup — much to the delight of his colleagues.

“He makes our meetings enjoyable, and we’re always eager to see what his theme will be for the week,” Senior IT Architect David Sexton said. Associate Data Security Analyst David Lake said these moments of levity “make the work week that much brighter.”

Jason Moeller, associate director of USS Engineering, agreed, describing Lake as “one of the most genuinely kind and thoughtful people I’ve had the pleasure of working with here at U.”

Details matter. Prior to the online interview for this article, for example, Lake whipped up a prison cell background and joined the meeting in a prisoner’s uniform, eating a biscuit off a metal plate, and, for added effect, smeared a smudge of his wife’s makeup on his face to simulate a black eye.

“Rob Lake is one of the most genuinely kind and thoughtful people I’ve had the pleasure of working with here at U.”

Jason Moeller, associate director of USS Engineering

“Good timing,” he said, “you caught me during a lunch break here at the prison. I got in a couple fights but, you know, can’t complain — still get my three square meals a day.”

Lake typically spends 10 minutes before a meeting preparing a background. “I never want it to be a taxing thing that takes me away from work — that’s not why I’m here,” he said, “but if all it costs me is a little time to add some flavor to our meetings, it’s totally worth it.”

Lake’s characters have included a Boy Scouts of America troop leader, “This Old House”-like handyman, chef, boxer, Norse viking, 3D movie-goer, virtual reality gamer, air traffic controller, and Jedi.

He credits his past theater experience for being able to quickly create characters. Lake performed in dramatic and musical theater in high school and while earning secondary degrees at Snow College and the University of Utah.

“I never pursued acting professionally, but I’m glad in some small way I’m still able to use that experience,” he said.

Below is a slideshow of some of Lake’s personas (screen captures courtesy of Jason Moeller).

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Last Updated: 4/11/22