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I work with different teams and use office IM frequently. I also have a cartoon picture as my display picture.

One of my colleagues has said this is very childish. I am not sure how to evaluate whether or not I should change my picture as a result.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Jim G., Monica Cellio, jcmeloni, CMW, jmac Mar 14 '14 at 1:39

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Do as the rest do. If in doubt then ask your immediate superior and follow their suggestion. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Mar 10 '14 at 14:50
  • If this said "should I" it would be opinion-based. As it says "how to evaluate whether I should" it is Good Subjective. – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jun 21 '14 at 23:32
  • My official job duties involve interacting with other staff via computer, & I often see a list of names pop up on my computer screen, with profile pictures. Those who have useful photos do make my job easier/quicker to find the person I'm thinking about, and quickly click on the right person's name. In one case, one of our newer staff members is using a photo that is a bit older, and shows him having a beard, when I've never seen him with one. This does slow me down a bit, and isn't much more useful than those with just the generic "person" picture. Cartoons may be happier, but less useful – TOOGAM Jul 2 '17 at 20:39
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This depends a lot on the culture of your company.

I worked at a large enterprise in a 3000-person IT department, at which having a picture that wasn't a sober, business-dressed headshot would have been considered dangerously deviant behavior.

I also worked at a SaaS company, where everyone had weird pictures (mine was Fisto from He-Man) and anyone showing up and putting a besuited Glamor Shot as their profile picture would be roundly derided.

So you have a two step path in front of you.

  1. Figure out the cultural norm. Your fellow employee's comment indicates that he thinks it's unusual; what percent of other IM profiles are a cartoon? if it's 50%, you just have an opinionated but ignorable co-worker. If it's "no one but you" then you're outside the norm. You can also ask your supervisor or someone else who is a notable incumbent at the company about their thoughts.
  2. Decide how much you want to be outside the norm. Depending on your role, seniority, company culture, etc. you may want to deliberately deviate from the norm, or you may want to adhere tightly to the norm. Some places you get ahead by taking up golf and the political opinions of your boss, some places you are expected to forge your own path. Navigate the complex equation of what your company wants, what you want to do, how much fun, risk, etc. you expect out of life.

Do keep in mind that a 'real' picture does have some advantages, especially for someone new, in terms of helping people put a name to a face and it can help build personal relationships in the office. But there's a wide variety of situations and types of business out there, and that may be a factor in your case or not.

  • Also, in a big distributed company sometimes it helps to see the face of the person you're talking too, especially if face-to-face meetings are rare. OTOH, if everybody knows everybody, seeing the same faces all around is boring and creative avatar helps diffuse the boredom. – StasM Mar 9 '14 at 5:27
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    I would also add that different levels of a company may have different cultural norms, so where one level might be less professional and OK with cartoon avatars, another might not - or even a different department at the same level. Look at the avatars those around you use, and determine whether or not yours is appropriate compared to theirs, or whether you feel they would judge you for 'inappropriate' use of avatar (beyond just one co-worker, unless you value his opinion greatly). – Zibbobz Mar 10 '14 at 16:42
  • I compromised and used an avatar generator that looks enough likely that people have come up to me unprompted and said "you look just like your avatar". This works well enough that people can ID me and I don't have to compromise my feelings on working in a lookist society. – k-den Mar 7 '17 at 22:25
6

Simple, but great question, thanks for asking! Some people will perceive even the consideration of which profile picture to choose as being really trivial while to others it will be a life changing decision - well maybe not that important...

However profile pictures 'do' matter, in a professional context keep your profile exactly that 'professional' it is a simple as that. There's no need to get creative, save that passion for your actual work. Your profile photo should be a head and shoulders shot then there's no mistaking that it is you. Think about your LinkedIn profile photo too, would you choose a cartoon figure to represent yourself on that website? If so, take a good hard look at yourself!

There is no need to represent yourself with an alter ego or some other strange graphic or symbol that is important to you and no one else, you are sending out the message you have issues that you are not confident with yourself, how you look etc. or you want to be private, also don't be lazy by choosing the default avatar you're sending out the message "I don't care", "I'm way too important to bother choosing a photo" etc.

So in summary, choose a photo of yourself that makes you happy and presents you in the most professional light then there is no mistaking that it is you and every time someone engages with you 'virtually' you have set the right tone before you even typed.

Also, this is a really good article and offers some great advice: http://blogs.atlassian.com/2013/07/profile-photos-matter/

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    There's nothing wrong with your answer, but to be honest, I'm bored of boring professional photos on LinkedIn and the like. I'm now a self employed consultant and I'm sticking steadfastly to the picture you see on my profile here. Anyone daft enough to think it makes me unprofessional isn't someone I wish to work with. – Dan Mar 8 '14 at 17:25
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    also don't be lazy by choosing the default avatar you're sending out the message "I don't care", "I'm way too important to bother choosing a photo" etc says someone with a Gravatar for his profile photo. – Lie Ryan Mar 9 '14 at 0:22
  • "you are sending out the message you have issues that you are not confident with yourself". That is quite a bold statement, and does not take cultural differences into account. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Mar 10 '14 at 14:49
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From the Wikipedia article on Avatar (in computing):

In computing, an avatar (usually translated from Sanskrit as incarnation) is the graphical representation of the user or the user's alter ego or character.

While an avatar can certainly be a cartoon or alter-ego, I have an argument for it to be unprofessional not to use a real, actual photo that depicts who you are in the real world: I work in a very large organisation, and sometimes I use the person's profile picture to find out what they look like, so when I go searching near their desk I can find them. If you're in a small team then this obviously isn't a problem, but if you have new people in the company and there are a lot of people, then pictures that actually look like you can be really helpful.

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    Hello. Welcome to the Workplace SE. On our site, we prefer answers to be standalone. Since we're not a discussion forum, answers are ordered by their score, not by timeline. This makes it awkward to refer to previous answers using words like "above" or "previous". I instead did some editing that I believe supports your perspective. The information is valuable and you make good points! See tour for a more detailed overview of how our site works. Hope this helps. – jmort253 Mar 9 '14 at 21:58
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Is the colleague your supervisor or in your management team? If so, then what may have been couched as casual criticism might have been a subtle suggestion to change the avatar on your IM. If they are not, then this is probably an attempt by an individual with control issues to make you conform to their office "decorum." Changing the avatar may be a test by that person to see if you'll conform with his need to extort dominance over his environment.

If your management has no issues with your use of an avatar (and by extension your job performance) I would advise you to continue your use of the cartoon. It harms no one and it may add a degree of humor to an environment which may lack it. If your supervisor/manager speaks with you about the matter, simply change it to a neutral image or one which they find to be more appropriate.

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If you have frequent chats with strangers, and these people need to know who you are when they see you, it's a good idea to have a photograph. I can see situations like this in combat operations, law enforcement, large hospitals, law firms, etc. where time is precious and if someone you've never met sees you in the hall they associate a name with a face and you associate their face with particular messages. You could approach this from the rationale that lives might be at stake, or certain privacy matters might be subject to compromise otherwise.

If you're working for a hair styling salon chain, funkiness is probably more appropriate. Even in a large insurance company, you would have to figure out whether you have a limited or large scale community, and whether sensitive client information is being discussed with people you've barely met. If it's 'tech to tech' or 'bean counter to bean counter' it's hard to imagine it would matter.

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