I work as a freelancer, remotely. And unless you live in my city it is very rare for me to come over to your house or office. Whether you’re one of my team members, a friend, or a client, sooner or later we’ll get in touch via Skype!

Most of the people in my life are on Skype: teammates, parents, best friends, my dog, former high school fellows and business contacts from 10 years ago whose birthday I’m reminded of every now and then.

So here’s a little status indicator 101. Sometimes I want to call or message one of them. I carefully check their status and see one of the following icons…

Skype status: Available

Option 1:

Great, you’re available. I can call you, message you, hug you and add you to group calls. Since you’re using this status only when you’re online I assume you’re really at your desk and you don’t mind if getting disturbed every now and then.

Option 2:

You’re available all the time, even at 3am, because you have Skype installed on your phone and put it under your pillow in order to track your sleep rhythm. You’re never offline but you also never respond to my IMs because you’re doing a safari in the Tanzanian savanna or coding the night away at your Macbook Air. In either case, it doesn’t make a difference, because you don’t care!

Skype status: Away

Option 1

You probably just went out to get a coffee and pastry at the closest bakery, because you’re a busy person who needs some nutrition for the next phone conference which is going to take place in 5 minutes, and at which point you’re going into “Do Not Disturb”. Perfect, you’re as transparent as a window pane and show professionalism wherever possible.

Option 2

You’re away all the time and I’m not sure if you have gone for a pee, a 3-hour conference call or on an around-the-world trip since I last caught you online three weeks ago. Your online status is completely vague and obscure to others, so they’ll start guessing what you’re up to by pinging you at random hours of the day.

Option 1

OK, You don’t want to be disturbed. I’ll get back to you later. Since you’re using DND occasionally you must be really busy right now and I don’t want to interrupt you while you’re “in the zone”. I understand.

Option 2

You’re in “Do Not Disturb” all the time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You must be working 100 hours per week like Elon Musk, and will soon build an innovative car or human colonies in outer space. It also means the door to your office is permanently locked, you don’t want anyone to come in, interrupting your holy focus mode, or sharing your wisdom alongside a hot cup of coffee. Dude, you’re really isolating yourself from our society!

Can you identify yourself with one of the above mentioned patterns? Or did it remind you of any of your online contacts?

As you can see, people have very different Skype habits and whether it’s conscious or unconscious, your status there will always be interpreted in one way or another by your online contacts.

So which Skype status shall I use?

I realised that surprisingly my parents—probably the least tech-savvy people on my contact list—are doing it the way everyone should do it:

They come online when they are in front of their computers. They are set to “Away” automatically after a couple of minutes of inactivity, and they’re never in “Do Not Disturb”. Instead, they switch off Skype and go offline when they have to leave.