If I don't want to use a headshot or other photo as my profile picture on work apps like WhatsApp or Skype, what would be an acceptable and sufficiently professional alternative?
what would be an acceptable and sufficiently professional alternative?
If you don't want to leave the default image of whatever work app then use the company's logo as your profile picture. It would help give the perception that you are serious about your work and proud to be a part of the company. Another alternative would be a picture related to your position ( i.e. if you are a physicist, something like E=mc2 ).
You could use one of the stock neutral pictures the app already uses when there is no picture (or get such a neutral image from another app or image search) and customize it in some way - for example change its color to distinguish it from the others so people can recognise you faster, add a company logo, your position, initials, something like that. Especially if you are not very graphically talented, limit yourself to something simple that you can do well.
Don't use something playful or subjective like an equation important in your field or a comic character or generic symbol - this could be fine in some work environments, but to me "professional" is something that is okay in all (or almost all) environments and that's not the case for such things.
And in the end, if your superiors ask you to use a photograph, do so. Hopefully you have separate devices and/or accounts for everything so that should only concern work, where arguably you are being paid to indulge your employers.
I've found that using an image that has some relation to you, for example a favorite character from a TV show or movie, computer game, etc. ( nothing offensive, or open to interpretation, of course! ) used consistently across the different mediums can work quite well.
It lets colleagues associate your icon with some personality ( much better than simply your initials or a generic stock image ) without need for a profile picture. You may even get some interesting conversations out of it!
The problem in team meetings otherwise is that it becomes difficult to tell who is speaking at a glance - humans are quite visual. Thus the desire for profile pictures. Simply refusing to post one can be perceived as being uncooperative, so that's the solution I've come up with, and most of my colleagues now recognize my image quite readily.
I'm not sure why you do not wish to post a photo of yourself, but it may also be an alternative to use the camera - while you're still showing yourself, this is more ephemeral, and may therefore also suit you better.